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September 1, 2010


Apple Genome and the Dinosaurs; Sugarbeet Conundrum; Learning from the Bt Brinjal Episode; Super Salmon


* Scientists Crack the Genome of the Apple
* Ruling on RR Sugarbeets Puts Growers In Difficult Position
* Anti-Biotech Activists’ Court Win Is Loss for Farmers, Consumers
* What can Philippines and Bangladesh Learn from the Bt Brinjal Episode In India?
* India: 90% of Cotton Area Under Bt
* Ease GM Rules or Face Food Crisis, CLA Warns
* AquaBounty's Response to the Press Release Titled 'Coalition Demands FDA Deny Approval of First Genetically Engineered Food Animal'


Scientists Crack the Genome of the Apple

- Richard Alleyne, Daily Telegraph (UK), Aug 29, 2010 http://www.telegraph.co.uk

'The complete genetic code of an apple has been mapped for the first time in a development that could lead to healthier and tastier varieties.'

The findings suggest that a major step in evolution of the fruit was caused by a catastrophic environmental event, possibly the same one that killed the dinosaurs.

The international team of scientists sequenced the DNA make up of the "Golden Delicious" apple and discovered why it is so different to other fruits

The breakthrough is expected to help farmers pinpoint what makes apples crispy, flavoursome and healthy. It could lead to new hardier varieties that can grow in harsher environments. The consortium also found that the apple, like the pear, has more than double the chromosomes than other fruits like raspberries and strawberries which could be why it has its distinctive features.

“Now we have the sequence of the apple genome, we will be able to identify the genes which control the characters that our sensory scientists have identified as most desired by consumers – crispness, juiciness and flavour, ” said Dr Roger Hellens, at New Zealand's Institute of Plant & Food Research.

The domesticated apple appeared in the Near East approximately 4,000 years ago. The apple crop is the main fruit crop of temperate regions and worldwide apple production now exceeds 60 million tons, or approximately 20 pounds of apples per year per person. It is the fourth most economically important fruit crop worldwide

The sequencing has revealed that large lengths of apple chromosomes are copied in other chromosomes. This duplication would explain why the apple, and closely related pear, genomes have 17 chromosomes, while all other plants in the Rosaceae family (including peach, raspberry and strawberry) have between 7 and 9 chromosomes.

Many of the genes in these duplicated areas are related to fruit development and this larger number compared with other fruit may have enabled the distinctive features seen in apple. The findings suggest that a major step in evolution of the fruit was caused by a catastrophic environmental event, possibly the same one that killed the dinosaurs.

Evolutionary analysis tracked the event to around 60 million years ago. It is thought to be a survival response to an event that caused mass extinctions of other species, including the dinosaurs. Other well adapted plant species, such as poplar, have been shown to have undergone a similar evolutionary response at the same time. The research is published in the journal Nature Genetics.

The sequencing of the genome will assist scientists in identifying the genetic controls of characteristics that consumers desire in new varieties of apples, such as texture, taste and colour. Genetic markers developed from these key genes will be used to screen thousands of apple seedlings in conventional breeding programmes to preselect those with the right combination of traits for commercial success.

“It seems that at some point, around 50 to 65 million years ago, the apple ancestor separated from its Rosaceae cousins on the evolutionary pathway," said Dr Hellens.

By duplicating almost all of its genome, apples now have very different fruit characteristics to related plants, such as peaches, raspberries, and strawberries. The time frame for this evolutionary change coincides with similar events in other plants and mass extinctions of some species, including the dinosaurs. This suggests that a major environmental event forced certain species, including apple, to evolve for survival.”


Ruling on RR Sugarbeets Puts Growers In Difficult Position

- Dale Hildebrant, Farm & Ranch Guide August 25, 2010 http://www.farmandranchguide.com/

'Approximately 95 percent of the sugarbeets grown in the U.S. this year were transgenic beets'

The pre-pile sugarbeet harvest is just beginning, but sugarbeet growers have more to worry about than the upcoming harvest campaign.

In addition to harvest pressure, producers are wondering what they will plant in 2011 now that U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White ruled that genetically altered sugarbeets cannot be planted until the U.S. Department of Agriculture completes an Environmental Impact Study (EIS).

However, in his ruling on Aug. 13, White declined a request to issue a permanent injunction that would have imposed a permanent ban on biotech beets which had been developed by Monsanto. In revoking the USDA’s approval for biotech beets, White said the ag department must go back to the drawing boards and complete a more thorough review of how the scientifically engineered crops affect other plants.

This ruling puts area beet growers in a bad situation, according to Mohamed Kahn, North Dakota State University Extension sugarbeet specialist, who was surprised by the judge’s ruling. This season biotech beets accounted for 95 percent of the sugarbeet acreage grown in the United States, according to Kahn.

The ruling raises at least two areas of concern for beet growers. First, there is the uncertainty as to what seed to order for the next season, depending on if the ruling is reversed or satisfied by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service arm of USDA. And if only conventional beets are allowed to be planted in 2011, where will the chemicals come from to control the weeds.

And, if farmers are left with just conventional beets, another concern is whether or not there will be enough conventional beet seed to meet all the farmers’ needs.

“This past year, 95 percent of the sugarbeet acres were planted to Roundup Ready sugarbeets and the chemical companies, as far as I am aware, have not been making any more conventional herbicide,” Kahn said. “So it’s going to be very difficult to get conventional herbicides for sugarbeets. And if you are a chemical company, why would you want to start producing a large amount of conventional herbicides for sugarbeets if you are not sure they will be needed?”

Kahn added that these conventional herbicides for sugarbeets can’t be sold to corn and soybean growers because they are specific for sugarbeets. Since the bulk of the research in recent years has centered on biotech sugarbeets, Kahn fears if the growers have to revert back to conventional seed, which could be several years old, the genetics of the crop may actually be going several steps backwards.

Doing a complete EIS could take several years, according to Kahn, as was the situation in the recent case with Roundup Ready alfalfa (Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms). That case was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, which ruled that APHIS may adopt interim measures while the assessment is ongoing.

In a statement released the day following Judge White’s decision the Sugar Industry Biotech Council said, “Under the Court’s ruling (Judge White’s decision), and the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, APHIS may adopt interim measures regarding future planting of Roundup Ready sugarbeet crops that are compliant with federal legal requirements. The sugarbeet industry will provide its full support to USDA to allow full consideration of appropriate interim measures that allow continued production of Roundup Ready sugarbeets.”

Others, including U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., are hoping the judge’s ruling will be overturned in the appeals court. “It makes no sense that a judge in San Francisco should be able to stop plantings in the Red River Valley based on perceived threats in Oregon,” Pomeroy said in a statement following White’s San Francisco District Court ruling. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture already had completed an extensive review of these beets. I strongly urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture to appeal this wrong-headed ruling which places the livelihood of our sugarbeet producers in the Red River Valley at risk and puts next year’s crop in limbo.”


Anti-Biotech Activists’ Court Win Is Loss for Farmers, Consumers

- Cory L. Andrews, Forbes, August 31, 2010 http://blogs.forbes.com

The price of domestic sugar is going up, thanks to a recent federal district court ruling that threatens to severely limit the supply of genetically modified beet sugar, which accounts for some 95% of all planted sugar in the United States.

The case, Center for Food Safety v. Vilsak, centers on the USDA’s decision to deregulate the sale and distribution of a strain of genetically modified sugar beets developed and marketed by Monsanto Co. Known as Roundup Ready beets, this new variety of beets is resistant to Monsanto’s widely used agricultural herbicide Roundup. The use of Roundup Ready beets allows farmers to apply Roundup to their entire field of beet crops, rather than more expensive and less environmentally friendly herbicides that must be applied more frequently.

Before a genetically modified plant seed may be sold commercially, federal law requires the manufacturer to obtain approval from the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a division of the USDA. The approval process is designed to ensure that the seed is safe, that the danger of cross-pollination with other seed varieties is minimal, and that the possibility of cross-pollination is not a significant harmful impact on the human environment.

After years of field testing, APHIS conducted an environmental assessment (EA) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and determined that Roundup Ready beets would not have a significant impact on the environment. Accordingly, APHIS approved Roundup Ready beets for marketing and distribution in March 2005.

Anti-biotech activist group Center for Food Safety then filed suit against APHIS, alleging that its EA was inadequate under NEPA and demanding a full environmental impact statement (EIS). U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California agreed that APHIS was required to prepare a more extensive EIS and recently issued an order vacating APHIS’s decision to deregulate. In doing so, Judge White denied the plaintiffs’ request for a permanent injunction that would ban any further planting of the crop, relying on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms. That essentially means that APHIS will decide what interim measures will govern the planting of genetically modified sugar beets pending the agency’s preparation of a full EIS.

But it remains unclear what, if anything, APHIS is prepared to do to protect the many farmers who depend on the genetically modified crop for their livelihood. Nor is it known whether APHIS will appeal the district court’s ruling that the agency violated NEPA in failing to prepare an EIS. Until APHIS’s intentions are known, we can expect more uncertainty in the marketplace.

Cross-posted at Washington Legal Foundation’s The Legal Pulse.


What can Philippines and Bangladesh Learn from the Bt Brinjal Episode In India?

- Robert Wager and C. S. Prakash, AgBioView, September 1, 2010. http://www.agbioworld.org

The recent debacle of the genetically modified (GM) crop Bt Brinjal in India throws light on how the anti-biotech activists scuttled the regulatory approval process. This is especially instructive because despite the Indian government's moratorium on the Bt brinjal, both Bangladesh and Philippines are moving forward with their regulatory approval process for this crop. The policy makers in these two countries can learn from the Indian experience in ensuring that science and not fiction dictates public policy.

In India, the press was always trying to present both sides of a story. The environment minister, who eventually imposed the moratorium on Bt brinjal, listened to a wide range of 'stake holders' before his decision. However, what happens when one side of the argument is not based on sound science?

Greenpeace was very very active in the Indian press on the Bt Brinjal debate. It seemed every story about Bt Brinjal had at least one quote from a Greenpeace spokesperson or Greenpeace sponsored critic of GM crops. Last December the Greenpeace-India website carried the headline; “GM pose irreversible health risk.” This sounds ominous. However a closer look at the facts behind the headline would have eased the fear substantially.

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a soil bacteria that product a series of Cry-proteins that are toxic to selected insect pests. Organic farmers have been safely using this naturally derived bacterial insecticide for decades. The UN-OECD 2007 report on the safety of transgenic (GM) crops containing Bt proteins states: “Throughout several decades of use of commercial microbial B. thuringiensis products, mammalian toxicity has been evaluated. The toxicological database on B. thuringiensis shows no mammalian health effects attributed to the delta-endotoxins [Cry proteins]”. (1)

Further, the growing of Bt crops results in significant health benefits for the farmers who grow these crops. With over 90 percent of the countries cotton farmers now planting Bt cotton, India’s commercialization of Bt cotton has been an epic success. Increased yields, reduced input costs and reduced exposure to chemical insecticides are all positive outcomes from the rapid adoption of Bt cotton by Indian farmers.

Bt Brinjal is a GM product that has been in development for over eight years. Extensive testing is part of the development for all GM crops and Bt Brinjal is no different. Studies on food and feed safety, including toxicology and allergenicity tests, have been conducted on rats, rabbits, fish, chickens, goats and cows. These studies have confirmed Bt Brinjal is as safe as its non-Bt counterpart.

Greenpeace-India claimed in January that Austrian researchers proved Bt maize (MON810 maize) was harmful to mice and therefore an example of the dangers of Bt crops. This statement refers to a non-peer report widely disseminated by critics of GM crop technology. Closer examination of that research by world experts came to a very different conclusion.

The inventor of the reproductive assessment by continuous breeding (RACB) method for the National Toxicology Program of the USDA, Dr. J.C. Lamb, states; “I have found some significant errors in the data calculations that led to the important misinterpretations of the findings by the authors-0--These errors directly impact the interpretation of the MG and the RACB studies----In the end, the authors did not see a treatment effect in this study.”

The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) GMO Panel studied the Austrian report and concluded: “--- the GMO Panel identified various deficiencies in data reporting, methodologies and statistical calculations, which do not allow any interpretation. Therefore the GMO Panel considers that these data do not invalidate the conclusions of the GMO Panel on the safety of MON810 maize.” (2)

Peer review would likely have caught these errors before publication. Although not perfect, peer-review remains the gold standard for quality research. Without it the media would be wise to be very skeptical.

Greenpeace has a significant history of putting forward research that claims harm from GM crops and food. Upon examination by world experts, invariably the experts come to different conclusions. It would appear that once again Greenpeace supported research is in need of proper evaluation.

When one looks at the position of Greenpeace on Bt crops it is very difficult to understand how they can endorse the use of Bt bacteria in organic agriculture but denounce genetically modified Bt crops. The UN-OECD states: “The use of Bacillus thuringiensis delta-endotoxins in transgenic plants poses some of the same kinds of risk concerns as the use of microbial Bt preparations--” (1)

The latest research put forward by Greenpeace contains shortcomings which make interpretation impossible. It seems clear the time has come to question any stories about the alleged harm from genetically modified crops more thoroughly, especially if it is solely based on Greenpeace spokespersons. Greenpeace has a long track record of misleading claims against GM crops and food. The statement on their website that describes Greenpeace as “part of the Safe Alliance, a network of organizations and individuals who want to stop GM food from being approved as safe” makes it clear they have decided on the safety issue and no amount of properly carried out science will deter them.

Governments must look at well documented, well researched and well evaluated science to help guide their decisions. The Indian government has helped evaluate dozens of GM crops using sound science and its experience with Bt cotton shows an excellent example of how to move a safe product to market. And yet, its environment minister single handedly ignored the sound science, and used junk science to thwart the development of agbiotech in India.

Let us hope that decision makesrs in Bangladesh and Philippines recognize from the Indian saga that that when bad science dictates public policy, we get bad public policy.


1) OECD Environment, Health and Safety Publications Series on Harmonisation of Regulatory Oversight in Biotechnology, No. 42, Consensus Document on Safety Information on Transgenic Plants Expressing Bacillus thuringiensis - Derived Insect Control Protein. Environment Directorate Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris 2007

2) The EFSA Journal (2008) 891, 1-64 Request from the European Commission related to the safeguard clause invoked by Austria on maize MON810 and T25 according to Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC1 Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms (Question No EFSA-Q-2008-314)

Rob Wager, Malaspina University-College, B.C. Canada; C. S. Prakash, Tuskegee University, AL, USA


India: 90% of Cotton Area Under Bt

- Dilip Kumar, Business Standard (India), August 31, 2010 http://www.business-standard.com/commodities/storypage.php?autono=406361

Bt cotton has surpassed 90 per cent of cotton acreage this kharif season with farmers continuing to gain from the high-yielding seed since its commercialisation in 2002.

Over the last eight years, farmers have got better output through Bt cotton seeds compared to the conventional seeds. “Although, the final figure is yet to be assessed, we can safely say that the Bt area has crossed 90 per cent of the total cotton acreage this year,” said A B Joshi, textile commissioner. India is one of the fastest adopters of Bt cotton, especially after the introduction of Bollgard II, an insect-resistant genetically modified (GM) seed that reduces pesticide use by up to 80 per cent, two years ago.

However, 100 per cent use of Bt may not be possible as a section of farmers continue with conventional seeds, says Joshi. India’s cotton sowing area has increased substantially over the last three years to 110 lakh ha this kharif season, from 103 lakh ha and 98 lakh ha in 2009 and 2008, respectively.

Ashok Damji Daga, a Coimbatore-based cotton trader, attributed this growth to a significant rise in the minimum support price (MSP) and higher yield in the area under Bt seed. Till August 26, about 106 lakh ha was covered under cotton, thanks to a favourable climate. Total cotton output this year is estimated at 325 lakh bales (1 bale = 170 kgs) as against 295 lakh bales in the previous year, according to data by the Ministry of Textiles.

With mill consumption estimated at 221.5 lakh bales and export cap at 49.5 lakh bales, total mill cotton demand in the country is expected to fall to 315.5 lakh bales this cotton year (October ‘10 - September ‘11) as against the availability of 370.5 lakh bales. Last season, the total demand was estimated at 333 lakh bales against supply of 373.5 lakh bales.

According to sources at the ministry of textile, the evolution of Bt in the cotton sector has created additional value in the country worth Rs 40,000 crore until 2008. (Additional value from cotton sector includes income from exports, saving foreign currency through lower imports, technology tax to the government and cheap raw material available for local users, including ginners and textile manufacturers).

India earned Rs 2,800 crore through exports in 2008, while potential savings through lower imports was at Rs 7,545 crore. The user industry earned Rs 500 crore through availability of locally originating lint which has now become an import substitute.

Availability of cottonseed oil has eased pressure on vegetable oil, while cottonseed meal exports have fetched an additional Rs 3,500 crore. Processors like ginners earned Rs 720 crore. Farmers became rich with an additional income of Rs 20,000 crore due to higher yield with Bt technology.

Farm labourers recorded a growth of Rs 1,300 crore and technology providers earned a gross fee of Rs 280 crore. Hybrid seed companies shared less than one per cent of the total additional income with a sale of 238 packets worth Rs 110 crore.

Jagresh Rana, director, Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) said, “Year-on-year, farmers have continued to adopt Bt cotton, which has resulted in higher yields and significant higher incomes.”

“Adoption of cotton technology in over 90 per cent of the cotton acreages this year, clearly demonstrates the benefits farmers are experiencing from Bt Cotton. Their increasing vote in favour of Bt cotton technology is an example of how innovation and technology have helped them increase farming efficiencies, get better yields and better income. It is testimony to the fact that there is a growing need to create an environment where farmers have access to more such beneficial technologies.”

(I crore = 10 million; 1 lakh = 100,000; Rs. 1 crore = Approx. US$213,000; 1 US$ = Rs. 46)


Ease GM Rules or Face Food Crisis, CLA Warns

- Barry Alston, August 18, 2010, Farmers Guardian (UK) http://www.farmersguardian.com/

A warning that the UK is unlikely to be unable to feed itself within a generation unless there is a major rethink on the use of genetically modified crops came at yesterday’s opening day of the Pembrokeshire County Show. According to Walter Simon, the county’s CLA president, GMs should be considered as one of a range of technologies that could help boost food production.

He is calling on the Welsh Assembly Government to remain involved in discussions about GMOs. “This is a new technology and unless we start using it we will never know what can be achieved,” he said. “When we started using medicines, it was a new technology - but now we can’t live without them.

“As long as GMs are used sensibly, I cannot see a problem. We need to keep talking about GM technology and about conventional tools such as pesticides and agrochemicals because if we don’t we will be even less able to feed ourselves.”

Global factors had already seen the price of wheat jump from £90 a tonne to £150 in just three months. That was an indication of what could happen and GMs could bring opportunities to breed crops to survive in adverse conditions such as drought or salinity.

He also said he foresaw problems with Wales wanting to remain GM free and imposing such strict cross compliance conditions on plantings. EU proposals for individual member states to make their own decisions on GMO cultivation in their territory would be a “nightmare” in terms of trade within the EU.


AquaBounty's Response to the Press Release Titled 'Coalition Demands FDA Deny Approval of First Genetically Engineered Food Animal'

-- AquaBounty Technologies via PRNewswire http://www.aquabounty.com/

WALTHAM, Mass., Aug. 31 -- The following is a statement by Ronald L. Stotish, Ph.D., Executive Director, President and CEO of AquaBounty Technologies:

This press release is inaccurate, deliberately misleading, and intended to create fear and misunderstanding. AquAdvantage salmon are, quite literally, the most studied fish in the world. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has spent the last fifteen years creating a robust regulatory process to ensure these fish and other transgenic animal applications are appropriately evaluated and regulated.

AquAdvantage salmon are a possible solution to many of the environmental concerns associated with salmon production. AquaBounty has taken unprecedented steps to assure that the fish cannot interact with wild populations. Not only are they all sterile females, as a condition of approval they will be raised in land-based contained aquaculture systems – making escape into the wild an impossibility. Furthermore, the author of the Trojan gene hypothesis raised by the coalition has specifically said it does not apply to salmon, nor to AquAdvantage salmon in letters both to AquaBounty and to members of the coalition.

AquAdvantage salmon represent an opportunity to avoid many of the concerns associated with conventional salmon aquaculture, and also present a lower carbon footprint and environmental impact because of their efficient growth. They can be grown economically closer to population centers, reducing the need for long distance transportation, a huge benefit to the environment. AquAdvantage Salmon represent an opportunity to provide a safe and sustainable supply of high quality seafood to a growing world population. In an era of shrinking wild fish stocks, AquAdvantage salmon should be applauded by environmentalists and responsible people concerned with food security.

About AquaBounty Technologies: Our mission is to play a significant part in "The Blue Revolution" – bringing together biological sciences and molecular technology to enable an aquaculture industry capable of large-scale, efficient, and environmentally sustainable production of high quality seafood. Increased growth rates, enhanced resistance to disease, better food-conversion rates, manageable breeding cycles, and more efficient use of aquatic production systems are all important components of the sustainable aquaculture industry of the future.