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September 23, 2010


Waiting for Technology; Botanical Biopharming; Challenges and Responsibilities; Use Science, not Fiction; Don't Be Afraid of Frankenfish


* How genetically modified seeds can help - and hurt - Africa's farmers
* Botanical Biopharming
* Approval is One Thing, But Will the Public Swallow GM Foods?
* Challenges and Responsibilities for Public Sector Scientists
* Food insecurity, Hunger and Malnutrition: Necessary Policy and Technology Changes
* On Bt eggplant: ‘Use science, not fiction’
* Genetically Modified Rice Causing a Scandal in the Philippines
* Biotechnology for Sustainable Crop Production and Protection: Challenges and Opportunities
* PBS: On information requirements for LMO-FFPs under the Biosafety Protocol
* Convention on Biological Diversity - COP-MOP 5
* Preparing Agriculture for Climate Change
* Don't Be Afraid of Frankenfish

How genetically modified seeds can help - and hurt - Africa's farmers

- Drew Hinshaw, Christian Science Monitor, September 23, 2010 http://www.csmonitor.com/

Proponents say genetically modified seeds arm Africa's family farms in the war against pests, droughts, and depleting soil. Critics cite concerns about biodiversity and health.

Well, if you're talking about the Nairobi-bred Bt Sweet Potato (sic), which is genetically-hotwired to sheen itself in an antiviral protein coat, it's hard to fathom a more contentious root vegetable.

Unless, perhaps, you're discussing the sweet potato's subterranean cousin, West Africa's Bt Cassava plant. Geneticists rewrote that crop's DNA to fight an endemic virus. Then there's Tanzania's Bt Cotton, which conveniently secretes its own toxic bacterial pesticide. The toxin shoos flies, but is that the kind of thing you want your tube socks made of?

Proponents of these lab-perfected plants say they arm Africa's family farms in their war against pests, droughts, and depleting soil. Climate change, they add, has hit the arid and famine-prone areas of Africa harder than most other regions of the world, altering regular rainfall schedules and pitting increasingly hungry tribes against one another. Also, say backers of genetically modified (GM) seeds, without hardier seeds, the planters of the continent are essentially being asked to foot America's gigantic carbon bill.

But in its latest report, the African Center for Biosafety in Johannesburg, South Africa argues the counter case: Far from sowing prosperity for small farmers, South Africa's adventure into genetically modifying corn has bankrupted its agriculturalists.

The breadbasket's corn planters, the report says, have been left with a surplus of corn that they can't sell, thanks to international bans on GM crops. "They are unable to really compete," Director Miriam Mayet says.

For the moment, such concerns are confined to South Africa, the continent's only country where GM seeds are commercially planted. (Many nations, like Malawi, won't even accept GM crops in their food aid shipments.) Africa warms up to GM crops

But many of Africa's less food-secure countries are cozying up to the technology. Consider Uganda: That's where humanity first domesticated the banana, delivering Africa's first great agricultural revolution.

Now, Uganda's Agricultural Research Center is tinkering with the millennia-old staple crop to pack more nutrients under its peal. Nearby Tanzania is launching new field trials for Bt Cotton, which it says could triple its cotton yield.

Within five years, Ghanaian GM food researcher Walter Alhassan thinks drought-tolerant corn and fly-fighting cowpeas could sprout across Africa's Sahel.

"There are a whole host of other food crops which are now receiving attention for research and development," he says. "This is technology that can help poor farmers." The case for GM

The European Union maintains a de-facto ban on GM foods. In America, the seeds are blamed for sprouting a crop monoculture, where whole once-sundry states have been reduced to sprawling cookie-cutter corn fields, and everything from apples to gas tanks to your soda-slupring stomach is coated in corn.

But Mr. Alhassan says new seeds would be widely welcomed in arid areas of West Africa, where food security issues are hot politics.

"African farmers have to spend a lot on inputs, especially in agro-chemicals which present health hazards to them," he says. "To combat the effects of climate change, we need to go easy on biochemicals. Using biotechnology we can reduce the quantity we use."

The case against But Mayet worries that foreign agro-corps could stamp out Africa's splendid plant diversity, surrendering whole swaths of some the world's richest farmland into endless rows of untested Frankencorn.

That wouldn't just be unhealthy for the economy, she says, but for the human body. "There has been no robust, independent, postcommercial testing [of most GM crops]," she says. "In South Africa, GM maize is consumed daily by millions of vulnerable people."

Moreover, Mayet worries that Alhassan's GM revolution would make the continent's family farms dependents of multinational seed corporations like the St. Louis-based Monsanto.

"The true beneficiaries of GM technology," she writes “are not farmers but those supplying seeds, external inputs, the grain traders, and the animal feed industry.”

For a hungry world, this is no small potatoes. Africa is hogging 60 percent of the world's unfarmed arable land. The question remains how those gorgeous stretches of leafy Congolese riversides, and sandy Senegalese steppes will be sown: By family farmers subsuming new techniques into their centuries-old farming routines, or by 21st century megafarms, sowing seeds on the behest of Monsanto.

Alhassan says he hopes that outcome will fall somewhere in between. "The small farmer will always be there," he says.

But when it comes to cereals, he warns, "I can see farms growing in size. Small scale farmers will risk being displaced."


Botanical Biopharming

- Megan Scudellari, The Scientist, Sept. 1, 2010, Vol. 24, Issue 9, Page 69 http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/57657/

'Green-thumbed biotechs say they can use plants to make drugs faster, cheaper, and better than top pharmaceutical companies.'

In 2001, ProdiGene was a poster child for the plant biotechnology industry. A privately owned biotech in College Station, Texas, ProdiGene was the first to successfully commercialize a product made from a transgenic plant—a protein called trypsin produced in corn kernels and sold to the pharmaceutical industry for mammalian cell culturing. They also had more than 18 other plant-made products in development, including vaccines for traveler’s diarrhea, hepatitis B, and AIDS. That spring, the MIT Technology Review voted ProdiGene’s oral vaccine patent one of the “five patents that will transform business and technology.”

But a year later, things began to spiral downhill. In September 2002, the US Department of Agriculture ordered ProdiGene to destroy 155 acres (63 hectares) of corn in Iowa that may have cross-pollinated with a nearby test site of ProdiGene’s transgenic corn. Then in October, the USDA seized 500,000 bushels of soybeans contaminated by ProdiGene’s corn in Nebraska. In the end, ProdiGene was slapped with over $2 million in fines and clean-up fees by the government. “That was the end of ProdiGene,” says Zivko Nikolov, former vice president of bioprocessing at the company.

It wasn’t the end for all plant biotechnology companies, however. Since the first human-like enzyme was produced from transgenic tobacco in 1992 at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, the biotech industry has seen a wave of companies try their hand at “biopharming”—plant-based pharmaceutical production. These companies challenge the status quo of biomanufacturing, purporting that plant-based technology has the potential to produce complex biomolecules cheaper, easier, and faster than traditional pharmaceutical facilities.

Rather than grow human or animal cells on expensive, nutrient-rich media, for example, biopharming derives its manufacturing energy from the sun. Genes can be inserted into the cells of plants such as corn, tobacco, and alfalfa, and the plant does the hard work transcribing and folding the protein, using only the Earth’s abundant raw materials—water, carbon dioxide, and soil. Plants can also be grown in large fields, offering a much greater volume of product than a constricted, multimillion dollar manufacturing plant.

But with major obstacles remaining—such as the introduction of the first plant-made human pharmaceutical product to the market—the handful of plant biotechs in existence today remain a bit uneasy. “Until we actually get one of these over the goal line, you can never say you are out of troubled waters,” says Joseph Boothe, VP of research and development at SemBioSys, a plant biotech based in Canada.

Still, these companies are convinced the model is a good one, and having learned from the failures of the 60 or so plant biotechs that have flourished, then floundered, they are working hard to push their products to the market. With new, alternative crops and techniques, and the first product on the cusp of FDA approval, it may be the beginning of a new era for plant biotech. “There are no major bottlenecks now. We have to just go and do it,” says Nikolov. “This is just about the time we’re going to see the first successes from plant biotech.”

Read on http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/57657/#ixzz10AItMOaz


Approval is One Thing, But Will the Public Swallow GM Foods?

- Martin Hickman, Independent (UK), Sept. 22, 2010 http://www.independent.co.uk/

Genetic modification isn't something that particularly vexes the public – at least for now. Research shows that public "concern" about the issue has fallen from 43 per cent in 2001 to 27 per cent in 2008.

Only 6 per cent of people spontaneously mention GM as a concern compared with 20 per cent at the peak of the "Frankenstein Foods" row in 2003. This drop-off is probably because people think GM has been "dealt with", according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which did the polling.

Admittedly, GM is officially dead in the UK. Following a public uproar in the early Noughties, no supermarket stocked it for fear of a shopper rebellion. But many people are unwittingly consuming GM-related products: meat from cattle-fed GM soya is legally sold without labelling, and some caterers illegally use GM vegetable oil without telling diners.

Companies hanker after GM because it is cheaper. Agricultural superpowers such as the US and Brazil grow GM maize and soya with gusto. Last year, non-GM supplies were 10 to 15 per cent more expensive, costing UK shops £24m a year. That could rise to £45m.

Last year, after meeting Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Somerfield, Aldi and Co-op, the FSA said: "Retailers were concerned that they may not be able to maintain their current non-GM sources of supply as producers increasingly adopt GM technology around the world."

It might be, the "stakeholders" pointed out, "timely to inform consumers of the issues surrounding GM and non-GM supply chains". Tesco's outgoing chief executive, Sir Terry Leahy, reflected in a speech last year that giving in to opposition to GM may have been a mistake. He added: "Maybe there is an opportunity to discuss again these issues and a growing appreciation by people that GM could play a vital role in feeding the world's growing population."

The feed-the-world argument seems to be gaining ground. According to campaigners, Whitehall has long wanted GM: after all, Britain's scientists could lead its commercially lucrative development. In a consultation last autumn on boosting food production, the the then Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said GM might help – if it had scientific support.

In June, Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary and a former director of a biotechnology lobbying firm, was quoted as supporting GM crops. But she later told The Independent: "I want a science-led, evidence-based policy towards GM and I think that should be achievable."

Last week the Government pleased campaigners by scrapping a £500,000 "consumer engagement" project, from which two advisers had quit, claiming it was biased in favour of GM.

David Willetts, the Science minister, said the Government wanted to review past dialogues on scientific controversies "to ensure we understand how best to engage the public over such issues".

How long can Britain hold out against GM? It depends not just on whether the process wins support from scientists, but whether politicians and retailers think the public can stomach it


Challenges and Responsibilities for Public Sector Scientists

- Marc Van Montagu, New Biotechnology, August 2010. Full paper at http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journaldescription.cws_home/713354/ description

Current agriculture faces the challenge of doubling food production to meet the food needs of a population expected to reach 9 billion by mid-century whilst maintaining soil and water quality and conserving biodiversity. These challenges are more overwhelming for the rural poor, who are the custodians of environmental resources and at the same time particularly vulnerable to environmental degradation. Solutions have to come from concerted actions by different segments of society in which public sector science plays a fundamental role.

Public sector scientists are at the root of all the present generation of GM crop traits under cultivation and more will come with the new knowledge that is being generated by systems biology. To speed up innovation, molecular biologists must interact with scientists from the different fields as well as with stakeholders outside the academic world in order to create an environment capable of capturing value from public sector knowledge. I highlight here the measures that have to be taken urgently to guarantee that science and technology can tackle the problems of subsistence farmers.

Critics of plant biotechnology have mounted a campaign of misinformation that warns that GM crops are the monopoly of the multinationals and will enslave the third world even more. The detractors go on saying that GM crops will lead to a loss of biodiversity and they have not been sufficiently tested. This is not the case. Despite the claims, no adverse effects of GM crops have been reported for consumer health or the environment; on the contrary, a number of health and environmental benefits have been reported. Sadly, the result of the present ‘anti-GM’ environment is that, currently, GM crops are one of the most over-regulated technology sectors in existence. Only the multinationals can afford to pay the costs associated with regulatory filings and bring new biotech products to market. No SME or third world country can develop and market such technology.

Whilst decision making continues to ignore a science-based rationale, threats to food security and health problems will remain in the developing world, and the brain drain will continue in parts of the industrialised world. The public sector needs an improved understanding of the impact of the emerging regulatory framework on the delivery of the public goods R&D agenda, it needs a better understanding of the consequences of the regulations on the total costs of research projects and needs to rethink research project definitions and funding criteria accordingly. Until then, regulatory policy that is poorly structured and implemented will continue to have a disastrous impact in Europe and all countries seeking to trade with Europe.


Another mechanism public sector scientists must use to reduce the unnecessary regulatory burden that halts the innovation chain is to engage in the dialogue with society. Regulatory policy is a political issue and as such sensitive to public opinion. Public sector scientists have to create channels to share with the different stakeholders the facts and information, as well as to discuss the concerns, potential and opportunities related to this new technology. We must convey this important message to society: agriculture, be it classical or organic, is very detrimental to the environment and biodiversity. GM agriculture is our biggest opportunity of having a less environmentally damaging agriculture and still meet the food needs of an ever-growing population. Actually biotechnology brings us as close as possible to the ideal agriculture system: a high yielding organic agriculture. Only through cooperation and mutual understanding will it be possible to capture and develop the true potential of this exciting technology to create a more livable and environmentally stable society.

(Institute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries, Ghent University, Belgium)


Food insecurity, Hunger And Malnutrition: Necessary Policy and Technology Changes

- Joachim von Brauna, New Biotechnology, August 2010. Full paper at http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journaldescription.cws_home/713354/ description

Ending food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition is a pressing global ethical priority. Despite differences in food production systems, cultural values and economic conditions, hunger is not acceptable under any ethical principles. Yet, progress in combating hunger and malnutrition in developing countries has been discouraging, even as overall global prosperity has increased in past decades. A growing number of people are deprived of the fundamental right to food, which is essential for all other rights as well as for human existence itself. The food and nutrition crisis has deepened in recent years, as increased food price volatility and global recession affected the poor. In a strategic agenda, it will be necessary to promote pro-poor agricultural growth, reduce extreme market volatility and expand social protection and child nutrition action.

Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Germany


On Bt eggplant: ‘Use science, not fiction’

- Lyn Resurreccion, Business Mirror (Phillipines), Sept. 18, 2010 http://www.businessmirror.com.ph

The policymakers in [the Philippines and Bangladesh] can learn from the Indian experience in ensuring that science, and not fiction, dictates public policy [on the issue of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant].”

This statement of experts Dr. Rob Wager of Malaspina University-College, British Columbia, Canada, and Dr. Channapatna S. Prakash of Tuskegee University, Alabama, Unites States, which was published in AgBioWorld’s e-newsletter came as critics of modern biotechnology in the Philippines are calling for the termination of the multi-location field trials of Bt eggplant in the country. “The recent debacle of the genetically modified [GM] crop Bt brinjal [as eggplant in known in the South Asian country] in India throws light on how the antibiotech 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,” Wager and Prakash said in the article “What can Philippines and Bangladesh Learn from the Bt Brinjal Episode In India?”

Wager and Prakash advised that “governments must look at well-documented, well-researched and well-evaluated science to help guide their decisions.”

Ban of Bt eggplant cultivation in India India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh announced in February the ban on the cultivation of Bt eggplant, the country’s first genetically modified (GM) food crop. Ramesh admitted to having been influenced by massive opposition to the introduction of GM crops in the country.

Ramesh’s ban on the cultivation of Bt eggplant in India came after Genetic Engineering Approval Committee approved its cultivation on October 14, 2009.

The introduction of Bt brinjal in India has not been as smooth as that of Bt cotton with over 90 percent of the country’s cotton farmers are now planting. Wager and Prakash acknowledged that India’s commercialization of Bt cotton has been an “epic success.” They said, “Bt brinjal is a GM product that has been in development for over eight years.” They added that “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,” they said. “However, what happens when one side of the argument is not based on sound science?” they asked, apparently referring to criticisms against GM crops, including Bt eggplant.

Wager and Prakash cited that in December the Greenpeace-India web site carried the headline; “GM pose irreversible health risk,” which, they said, “sounds ominous.”

Bt crops benefits farmers However, they said that a closer look at the facts would have eased the fear substantially. They pointed out that Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a soil bacteria that produce a series of Cry-proteins that are toxic to selected insect pests—not to humans. They explained that organic farmers have been safely using this naturally derived bacterial insecticide for decades.

They cited the United Nations-Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 2007 report on the safety of transgenic or GM crops containing Bt proteins which 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].”

They said the growing of Bt crops “results in significant health benefits for the farmers” who grow these crops. They pointed out that with more than 90 percent of India’s cotton farmers now planting Bt cotton, increased yields, reduced input costs and reduced exposure to chemical insecticides are positive outcomes they derive from the rapid adoption of Bt cotton.

The experts also disproved the Greenpeace-India claim in January that Austrian researchers proved Bt maize (MON810 maize) was harmful to mice and an example of the dangers of Bt crops.

Wager and Prakash said this statement was based on a “nonpeer report” widely disseminated by critics of GM crop technology. They said, “Closer examination of that research by world experts came to a very different conclusion.”

They quoted Dr. J.C. Lamb, the inventor of the reproductive assessment by continuous breeding method for the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Agriculture, who said: “I have found some significant errors in the data calculations that led to the important misinterpretations of the findings by the authors…. In the end, the authors did not see a treatment effect in this study.”

At the same time, the European Food Safety Agency GMO Panel which studied the Austrian report concluded: “[T]he 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.”

Peer review is ‘gold standard’ for quality research Wager and Prakash pointed out that “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,” Wager and Prakash said, adding, however, that “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 two experts said.

They said 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.” They lamented, however, that India’s 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 makers in Bangladesh and Philippines recognize from the Indian saga that when bad science dictates public policy, we get bad public policy,” Wager and Prakash said.

Multilocation trial in the Philippines In the Philippines, the fruit-and-shoot-borer-resistant (FSBR) Bt eggplant is at the stage of multilocation field trials as required by government regulatory agencies, including the Bureau of Plant Industry, “to ensure safety and determine the performance of the product” in the country before it is approved for commercial release.

Field trials are currently held in Bicol, Los Baños and Pangasinan. However, the field trial in Los Baños is set to be terminated today. Field trials are also set in Iloilo and Leyte in the Visayas, and Davao and Cotabato in Mindanao. The second planting for the field trials in Luzon will be in October. Visayas and Mindanao will also have second planting, a regulatory requirement of a minimum of two seasons before the FSBR eggplant’s commercial release.

After the field trials, the government may release the FSBR Bt eggplant for commercial planting by late 2011. Having eggplants resistant to fruit and borer insects, or the Bt eggplant, is important to Filipino farmers because they lose 50 percent of the harvest to borer infestation. To prevent infestation, farmers spray insecticides to the crops up to 72 times—or every other day—per season of three to five months, making the cost of spraying amount to 24 percent of the production cost.

Besides, the financial drain to the farmers, frequent insecticide spraying was also linked to health and environmental hazards. Eggplant is among the favorite vegetable among Filipinos.

It’s importance in the Filipino diet is also highlighted because of its high nutritional value. It has energy, carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fiber, fat, protein and vitamins and minerals like vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and manganese.

The Bt eggplant research in the Philippines is being led by Dr. Desiree Hautea, FSBR eggplant project leader and research professor at the Institute of Plant Breeding-University of the Philippines Los Baños, and supported by the Department of Agriculture, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications and the Agriculture Biotechnology Support Project II.


Genetically Modified Rice Causing a Scandal in the Philippines

- Jenara Nerenberg, Fast Company, Sept 22, 2010 http://www.fastcompany.com

'A war between synthetic and organic is brewing in the Pacific.'

Genetically Modified (GM) foods have caused quite the scandal in the U.S. over the years, but the new ground zero is the Philippines—a country often seen as an example to other developing parts of Asia for its agricultural sector.

Researchers at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are intent on developing a variety of rice that produces beta carotene and if they proceed, they will be the first to grow GM rice commercially. Meanwhile, the country's agriculture secretary, Proceso Alcala, is fiercely opposed to the scientists' plans and is making his opinions known--this is shaping up to be quite the domestic and potentially global controversy.

Alcala's main concerns are that the rice should first be proved safe for eating and that organic farming be given a fair chance as an alternative to GM foods. Betacarotene is converted to Vitamin A and is thus beneficial for various health outcomes, such as preventing blindness in children, which means that the golden variety of rice being proposed for genetic modification should be grown in some way, shape, or form, organic or not.

The production is set to run as a field test and is scheduled to be carried out in December in one central location for a four-month period. PhilRice and IRRI already received permission to do field trials from the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines before Alcala came into office, so both research institutions feel no obligation to delay their trials.

Who will come out on top? Whether organic or GM, the Philippines has a role to play in setting agricultural trends and standards. "The Philippines has been a model for the developing world. The country has good scientists working with professional regulators who move slowly and carefully to good decisions," said food safety and GM expert, Bruce Chassy. "The developing world is watching."


Biotechnology for Sustainable Crop Production and Protection: Challenges and Opportunities

- T. M. Manjunath Electronic Journal of Plant Breeding, 1(4): 357-359 (July 2010). Full paper at http://sites.google.com/site/ejplantbreeding/current-issue

In 2009, transgenic crops were grown on 134 million hectares in 25 countries, including India, in six continents by about 14 million farmers, marking an 80-fold increase in the area since their first commercialization on 1.7 m ha in the USA and five other countries in 1996. The dominant transgenic traits were herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, deployed either alone or both stacked in the same plant. A recent survey of the global impact of biotech crops estimated that in 2008 alone, the total crop production gain globally for the 4 principal biotech crops - maize, soybean, cotton and canola - was 29.6 million metric tons while the net economic benefit to the biotech farmers was US$ 9.2 billion.

The cumulative benefits for the period 1996- 2008 were yield gains of 167 million tons and economic returns of US$ 51.9 billion. In India, the area planted with Bt-cotton increased significantly from year to year since its introduction in 2002 and reached 8.4 million hectares in 2009. The overall benefits from Bt-cotton included an yield increase of up to 63% due to effective control of bollworms, pesticide reduction by 50%, net profit to farmers up to Rs.10,000/hectare and turned India from an importer to a major exporter of cotton. These indicate that biotechnology has made significant contributions to higher productivity, lower costs of production and increased economic benefits and that it has enormous potential for the future with new traits, events and crops.

Over 60 countries, including India, are engaged in research on about 55 crop species to incorporate transgenes to bestow various traits such as resistance to pests, diseases or herbicides; tolerance to environmental stresses like drought, cold or salinity; enhanced crop yields, nutrition or shelf-life, etc. However, unreasonable opposition to biotechnology and undue delays in regulatory approvals are some of the major challenges that need to be addressed so as to make full use of this technology which has the potential to revolutionize agriculture.


New Notes from the Program for Biosafety Systems on information requirements for LMO-FFPs under the Biosafety Protocol

Two new notes from the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) summarize results from studies on the economic implications of introducing stringent information requirements for shipments of living modified organisms for food, feed or processing (LMO-FFPs) under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety Article 18.2(a). The first (PBS Note 17) focuses on implementation challenges for Kenya, and shows that the enforcement of “does contain” strict requirements, compared with the default “may contain” option, would create additional costs and challenges in the difficult implementation of import regulations. The second note (PBS Note 18) summarizes a global economic study of the trade and price effects of introducing a strict documentation option in the case of maize. The results show that it would increase maize prices and distort international trade, with significant economic losses in Protocol member countries.

The two notes are available on the IFPRI website:




Convention on Biological Diversity - COP-MOP 5

- Nagoya, Japan, from 11 to 15 October 2010 s http://www.cbd.int/mop5/

The fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Protocol (COP-MOP 5) will take place in Nagoya, Japan, from 11 to 15 October 2010. Building upon the achievements of the first fourth meetings held in February 2004 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, May/June 2005 in Montreal, Canada, March 2006 in Curitiba, Brazil and May 2008 in Bonn, Germany respectively, COP-MOP 5 is expected to arrive at decisions on a number of issues to further facilitate the implementation of the Protocol. The meeting will address a number of standing issues on the COP-MOP agenda as well as substantive issues arising from the medium-term programme of work arising and previous decisions of the COP-MOP.

Substantive Issues Arising from the Medium-term Programme of Work and Previous COP-MOP Decisions

Handling, transport, packaging and identification of LMOs : At this meeting, the Parties will consider a synthesis report on experience gained with the use of documentation to further harmonization of a documentation format to fulfil specific identification requirements, including consideration of the need for a stand-alone document. COP-MOP 5 is also expected to review a document on experiences of international bodies in the establishment and implementation of rules and standards relevant to Article 18. Furthermore, it is also expected that a summary of the outcome reflecting the full range of views expressed of the Online Forum on Standards for LMO Shipments will be reviewed.

Risk assessment and risk management: At its fourth meeting, the COP-MOP, established and mandated an Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group (AHTEG) on Risk Assessment and Risk Management to, among other things, prepare a "roadmap", e.g. a flowchart, on steps for conducting a risk assessment in accordance with Annex III to the Protocol with examples of existing guidance documents for each of step. The COP-MOP 5 is expected to consider a report from the expert group and to take appropriate action.

Public awareness and participation: Under this meeting, it is expected that Parties will adopt a comprehensive programme of work on public awareness, education and participation concerning the safe transfer, handling and use of LMOs. The meeting will also consider a synthesis of views submitted on possible elements of a programme of work. Furthermore, COP-MOP 5 will consider a report on progress and initiatives made by governments and organizations in promoting public awareness, education and participation concerning the safe transfer, handling and use of LMOs, including experiences gained and lessons learned from the national biosafety frameworks and taking into account information contained in the Biosafety Clearing-House.


Preparing Agriculture for Climate Change

- Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, India; February 6-9, 2011 http://icpacc.pau.edu

The world, especially the southern hemisphere, could see a significant drop in agricultural productivity as a consequence of climate change.

Agricultural losses related to climate change are expected to hit developing countries hard, as agriculture employs a substantial number of people and contributes greatly to economic growth. Further, poverty in developing world is largely rural with a significant proportion of the population still dependent on agriculture. Continuous population growth and increased wealth in developing economies will also translate into increased demands for food, necessitating a further productivity gains .The required productivity increases, will however, have to be build on increasing our resources' efficiency while safeguarding the agriculture from the consequences climate change.

To develop a consensus global view on this, we are organizing this international conference on the following themes: 1) Agriculture: abettor and sufferer 2) Mitigation strategies – Policy and Management interventions 3) Adaptation strategies: Genetic options/interventions 4) Climate change and biodiversity: Extinction and new emergence


Don't Be Afraid of Frankenfish

- JAMES C. GREENWOOD. Wall Street Journal. Sept. 23, 2010

'Genetically engineered salmon will meet growing demand for protein-rich food without depleting wild fish stocks.'

Right now, the government is deciding whether it's safe for us to eat genetically engineered salmon. The fish, called AquAdvantage, is being developed by a Massachusetts biotech firm and is in every measurable way identical to Atlantic salmon—except it grows to normal size twice as fast. If officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) give it the green light, it would be the first time that a genetically engineered animal is approved for food use.

Genetic engineering usually conjures up images of Frankenstein. But modern day biotech researchers are anything but mad scientists. Their ground-breaking work has the potential to address world hunger and protect the environment. The AquAdvantage salmon in particular could ease pressure on wild fish stocks, reduce the environmental impact of traditional fish farming, and help feed the growing world population.

Overfishing and pollution are quickly wiping out the native global fish supply. Already 80% of fish stocks world-wide are fully exploited or overexploited, according to a May 2010 U.N. report. If current trends continue, virtually all fisheries risk running out of commercially viable catches by 2050.

Fish farming has helped address this problem: About half of seafood consumed world-wide is now farm-raised. But it's expensive. Shipping farm-raised salmon to the United States from Chile, where most of our fish originates, costs as much as 75 cents per pound.

Faster-growing genetically engineered salmon could help restore America's domestic fish farming industry, trimming costs and reducing energy consumption. If the FDA approves the fish it would also spur investment in other food products. This could help meet the world's growing demand for protein-rich food.

Through biotechnology, scientists at a firm in South Dakota have developed cattle that are resistant to mad cow disease. Canadian researchers have asked the FDA to approve their "Enviropig," a pig genetically engineered to produce manure that is less polluting. Biotech researchers are also exploring ways to fortify food plants with enhanced nutritional content, which could help alleviate malnutrition and certain diseases in the developing world. And researchers are engineering animals that can better utilize nutrients in feed.

Critics contend that genetically engineered fish haven't been sufficiently researched and could harm our health. But the truth is that these faster-growing salmon are the result of more than two decades of research. Plus, the FDA's system to ensure the safety of such animals has been in development for over a decade.

There's nothing peculiar about this fish's genetic makeup. To create the faster-growing salmon, scientists took a gene from the Chinook salmon, which matures rapidly, along with a gene from a salmon relative called ocean pout, which produces growth hormones all year. Aside from these two tweaks, the AquAdvantage salmon is chemically and biologically identical to the salmon we purchase at the local grocer.

Critics also fear that these salmon could crossbreed with wild fish and pollute their gene pool. This is highly unlikely given the protections put in place and the realities of the science. By treating the genetically engineered eggs, all AquAdvantage salmon will develop as sterile females. And these fish will be grown in contained, land-based tanks, away from any interaction with wild fish and the ocean.

When genetically engineered crops were introduced 14 years ago, critics worried that "frankenfood" would hurt human health and the environment. Since then, farmers have grown corn, soybeans, cotton and other products that are resistant to disease and pests, and tolerant of herbicides. These innovations have reduced production costs, increased agricultural productivity and reduced agriculture's footprint on the environment. To date, not a single adverse health effect has been caused by a food derived from genetically engineered crops.

Genetically engineered animals are the next intelligent step in food innovation. As Josh Ozersky, a James Beard Award-winning food writer, has observed, "There are no Black Angus cows grazing in the wild; they're the product of breeding for size, marbling and fast growth, not unlike the genetically-modified salmon."

Public dialogue on any new technology is important. But the discourse must be based on sound science. And regarding faster-growing salmon—and other genetically engineered foods of the future—science shows clearly that they can provide us with the safe and sustainable food source we need.

Mr. Greenwood is president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization.