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October 4, 2010


GM Cowpea; Hurt by Regulations; Lesser of Two Evils; Countering Global Warming; Blackwater


* Scientists claim GM cowpea could generate US$1 billion
* Growth of biofuel industry hurt by GMO regulations
* GM 'Lesser of two evils'
* Genetically altered trees, plants could help counter global warming
* Genetically Engineered Crops and U.S. Agricultural Sustainability
* Uganda prepares to plant transgenic bananas
* First Global Conference on Biofortification
* Monsanto Response to Nation Magazine Story, "Blackwater Black Ops"

Scientists claim GM cowpea could generate US$1 billion

- Busani Bafana, http://www.scidev.net, October 2010

A pest-resistant version of the black-eyed pea, a subspecies of the cowpea, is on track for commercial introduction, promising higher yields and claimed savings of up to US$1 billion on a crop that has found new popularity among African smallholders.

The cowpea, actually a bean, is rich in protein and is an important crop for both tackling malnutrition and adapting to climate change as it tolerates hot, dry conditions.

But infestation by the Maruca vitrata pod borer has cut the value of crops by up to US$300 million for smallholders in Africa, who produce nearly 5.2 million tonnes of the bean. The continent currently accounts for about 70 per cent of global production.

Now, scientists at the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) at Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria, in collaboration with other institutes including the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, Kenya, have engineered an insect-resistant Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cowpea that they say could be on shelves in six years.

The cowpea an ancient African crop has been making a comeback in recent years, with increased yields seen across Africa, delegates heard this week (27 September1 October) at the 5th World Cowpea Conference in Dakar, Senegal.

"The cowpea is emerging as one of the most important food legumes because of its early maturity and its fit as a niche crop in multiple cropping systems," said B. B. Singh, an international cowpea breeder and visiting scientist at Texas A&M University in the United States.

He noted that there has already been a six-fold increase in world cowpea production in the last few decades, a "quiet revolution that is greater in magnitude than that of cereals and all other pulses".

Christian Fatokun, a cowpea breeder at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria, said that, as the crop is grown on a small scale by ill-resourced farmers, no commercial seed company will service this sector. And, because the cowpea is self-pollinating, companies also have little incentive to supply seeds.

The Bt cowpea will raise the status of the bean, claimed its developers. It could also generate up to US$1 billion by 2020 for farmers.

"Up until now, nobody in the scientific world was able to introduce resistance to this insect into cowpea," said Mohammad Faguji Ishiyaku, principal investigator of the Bt cowpea project and a researcher at the IAR.

"Our research will mean increased income by using less insecticide and increased productivity for areas growing cowpeas. Farmers will also have reduced exposure to harmful chemicals."

IITA agricultural economist, Ousmane Coulibaly, said surveys on cowpea in Nigeria, Benin, Mali and Burkina Faso have found that farmers are using a lot of expensive and sometimes harmful pesticides. In Nigeria the largest producer and consumer of cowpea in Africa net gains from not using pesticides could be about $500 million, he said.


Growth of biofuel industry hurt by GMO regulations

October 1, 2010 http://www.physorg.com/news205157589.html

Faster development of the promising field of cellulosic biofuels - the renewable energy produced from grasses and trees - is being significantly hampered by a "deep and thorny regulatory thicket" that makes almost impossible the use of advanced gene modification methods, researchers say. In a new study published today in the journal BioScience, scientists argue that major regulatory reforms and possibly new laws are needed to allow cellulosic bioenergy to reach its true potential as a form of renewable energy, and in some cases help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. "It's extraordinary that gene modification technology, which has been adapted more rapidly than any other technology in the history of agriculture, and had some profound environmental and economic benefits, has been regulated virtually out of existence for perennial cellulosic biofuels crops," said Steve Strauss, a distinguished professor of forest biotechnology at Oregon State University, and lead author of the paper. In the report, the authors noted that exotic plant species pose a serious risk of spread and ecosystem impacts, but face much less stringent regulation or obstacles than genetically engineered crops, which are carefully designed to solve problems, not cause them. A genetically modified plant in which one or a few genes have been changed is treated as more of a risk than an invasive species that has thousands of new genes, and as a result is often resistant to multiple pests and has novel adaptive traits such as drought and heat tolerance, they said. Companies that have the technical expertise to conduct advanced research have been forced to stay away from gene modification methods, rather than adopt them to speed breeding progress and insert novel traits important to the growing biofuels industry. Traits that could be improved with gene modification include enhanced stress tolerance, reduced costs of conversion to liquid fuels, reduced use of water and fertilizer in cultivation, avoiding dispersal into the environment, and synthesis of new, renewable products such as industrial enzymes. But virtually none of that potential is now being developed, they said. The current environment poses enormous legal risks that can and have cost some companies millions of dollars in civil lawsuits, the scientists said, sometimes for damages that were more of perception and market issues, than of safety or environmental impact. "Even research on traits expressly intended to reduce environmental impacts face the same legal risks and regulatory barriers as other traits," Strauss said. "Our own federally-funded research on means to promote ecological containment of gene-modified and exotic biofuel crops has been brought to a standstill by regulations." The scientists said that the end result of a gene modification project - the trait produced, and whether it is safe and beneficial or not - should be the primary consideration for regulation, not the process used to produce it. Low-level risk and high benefit projects should be identified and allowed to move forward with much less stringent regulation or none at all. They also made several other suggestions for reform to make the overall system less slow, costly and uncertain. "It is essential that we create an intelligent regulatory system that does not indiscriminately penalize the gene modification process and obstruct essential field research," Strauss said. "The one-size-fits-all style system of today treats the process of genetic modification as inherently dangerous, although many high-level science panels have concluded that the process is at least as safe as conventional breeding methods." In some cases, the stringent regulations make it virtually impossible to do the very research needed to adequately understand issues of value and safety, the researchers said. "The regulations in place, forthcoming, and those that have been imposed by legal actions result in the presumption that all forms of gene modified trees and grasses are 'plant pests' or 'noxious weeds' until extensive experimentation and associated documentation 'prove' otherwise," the scientists wrote in their report. Solving these problems will require new ways of thinking and strong scientific and political leadership to create a regulatory system that enables, rather than arbitrarily blocks, the use of gene modification as a tool to accelerate and diversify the breeding of perennial biofuel crops, the researchers concluded. Provided by Oregon State University


GM 'Lesser of two evils'

- ANDREW MARSHALL, Stock and Land (Australia), Oct 4, 2010 http://sl.farmonline.com.au

THE Singaporean boss of fast-growing global agricultural commodities trader, Olam International, says his company won't buy genetically modified (GM) crops, but he thinks they are an inevitable "must" to feed a hungry planet.
"Our board of directors will not be involved in GMs, but I believe one way we can meet the food challenge is to adopt GMs as one of the solutions," says Olam's group managing director, Sunny Verghese.

Addressing the who's who of Australian agribusiness at this year's Rabobank Agribusiness Leadership dinner, Mr Verghese said China alone was increasing its food consumption demand by 20 per cent every year, yet for the past 15 years Chinese food crop production had been almost flat. "In time we will see that GMs are the lesser of two evils and the world will embrace this technology to lift agricultural production rather than opt to go hungry," he said.

With world population numbers growing at 75 to 80 million people every year, he said the reality of food supply and demand couldn't be ignored, nor could the need for research investment into better food production efficiency.


Genetically altered trees, plants could help counter global warming

http://www.physorg.com/news205130872.html October 1, 2010

Forests of genetically altered trees and other plants could sequester several billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year and so help ameliorate global warming, according to estimates published in the October issue of BioScience. The study, by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, outlines a variety of strategies for augmenting the processes that plants use to sequester carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into long-lived forms of carbon, first in vegetation and ultimately in soil. Besides increasing the efficiency of plants' absorption of light, researchers might be able to genetically alter plants so they send more carbon into their roots--where some may be converted into soil carbon and remain out of circulation for centuries. Other possibilities include altering plants so that they can better withstand the stresses of growing on marginal land, and so that they yield improved bioenergy and food crops. Such innovations might, in combination, boost substantially the amount of carbon that vegetation naturally extracts from air, according to the authors' estimates. The researchers stress that the use of genetically engineered plants for carbon sequestration is only one of many policy initiatives and technical tools that might boost the carbon sequestration already occurring in natural vegetation and crops. The article, by Christer Jansson, Stan D. Wullschleger, Udaya C. Kalluri, and Gerald A. Tuskan, is the first in a Special Section in the October BioScience that includes several perspectives on the prospects for enhancing biological carbon sequestration. Other articles in the section analyze the substantial ecological and economic constraints that limit such efforts. One article discusses the prospects for sequestering carbon by culturing algae to produce biofuel feedstocks; one proposes a modification of the current regulatory climate for producing genetically engineered trees in the United States; and one discusses societal perceptions of the issues surrounding the use of genetically altered organisms to ameliorate warming attributed to the buildup of greenhouse gases. Provided by American Institute of Biological Sciences


Genetically Engineered Crops and U.S. Agricultural Sustainability

David Ervin and Rick Welsh, Guest Editors Choices Magazine (Agricultural & Applied Economics Association) 2nd Quarter 2010 | 25(2) http://www.choicesmagazine.org/magazine/block.php?block=48&utm_source=choices&utm_medium=email&utm_content=theme2&utm_campaign=10Q2M

Theme Overview: Genetically Engineered Crops and U.S. Agricultural Sustainability David Ervin and Rick Welsh Genetically engineered (GE) crops cover approximately half of U.S. cropland. Although delivering environmental and economic gains for adopting farmers, the long-term potential of the crops to foster sustainable agriculture remains controversial. We develop a set of principles that can guide GE crop development and deployment consistent with sustainable agriculture. Environmental Opportunities and Challenges of Genetically-Engineered Crops LaReesa Wolfenbarger, Micheal D. K. Owen, and Yves Carrire Over the past 15 years of widespread adoption of genetically-engineered (GE) crop cultivars, herbicide-resistant crops have facilitated soil conservation practices and insect-resistant crops have reduced insecticide use. These trends may be in jeopardy without management of resistance in weeds and insects attributable to production practices of GE crops. The Economic Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops David Zilberman, Steve E. Sexton, Michele Marra, and Jorge Fernandez-Cornejo Agricultural biotechnology has been adopted very quickly in some crops and banned in others. Its adoption has tended to increase yields and farm income, improve environmental performance, and reduce food prices. The distributional benefits vary among sectors. Tapping the potential of agricultural biotechnology will be affected by future research and regulation. Social Equity and the Genetically Engineered Crops Controversy Leland L. Glenna and Raymond A. Jussaume Jr. The controversy over the sustainability of genetically engineered (GE) crops is perpetuated by the tendency of competing groups to define sustainable superficially. This paper examines the social equity issues in the GE controversy and considers the social structural changes needed to enable GE crops to contribute to sustainable agriculture. Can Genetically Engineered and Organic Crops Coexist? Catherine Greene and Katherine Smith Consumer demand supports markets for products differentiated on the basis of GE status. Maintaining the integrity of those markets relies on interventions like physical distancing or product segregation. The cost required to support coexistence of all markets is borne disproportionately by producers and consumers of organic food in the United States. What Drives Academic Bioscientists: Money or Values? Sharmistha Nag, Hui Yang, Steven Buccola, and David Ervin We surveyed U.S. academic bioscientists to analyze what factors affected their research programs related to GE crops. Industry, and to a lesser extent state and USDA, funding encourages applied over basic research. Industry sponsorship also leads to less molecular-level research. Surprisingly, professional norms have greater research impact than funding sources do.


Uganda prepares to plant transgenic bananas

Linda Nordling, Nature, Oct. 1 2010

Banana plants growing at Uganda's National Agricultural Research Institute. Field trials of a GM variety are set to begin next week.Linda Nordling Scientists in Uganda will next week start field trials of a banana variety genetically engineered to resist a bacterial disease that has been decimating crops across central Africa.

The new variety is part of a wider effort to improve the East African Highland banana, a fruit so important to Ugandans that its name, matooke, is synonymous with 'food' in one of the local languages. But delays to a law regulating the commercial growing of genetically modified (GM) food in the country means it is not clear when the improved banana could be released to farmers.

The bananas have a gene from green pepper to protect against banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW), which costs farmers in Africa's Great Lakes region an estimated half a billion dollars every year. Bananas infected with BXW ripen unevenly and prematurely, and eventually the entire plant wilts and rots. The disease was originally found in Ethiopia, but was discovered in Uganda in 2001 and has rapidly spread to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi. The sweet pepper gene produces a protein called HRAP that strengthens the plant's ability to seal off infected cells. The idea was pioneered by scientists at the Academia Sinica in Taiwan, where it has been shown to improve the disease resistance of vegetables including as broccoli, tomatoes and potatoes.

GM crops remain controversial in Uganda.Linda Nordling The Ugandan research team, based at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories in Kawanda, received a royalty-free licence to use the technology in 2006.

Six of the eight GM banana strains developed with the green pepper gene showed 100% resistance to BXW in the lab1.

"This is the first time this gene has been used in Africa, and it is the first time the technology is going to be tested in the field," says Leena Tripathi, a biotechnologist from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Kampala, and lead investigator of the Ugandan project.

The field trials will also screen GM banana varieties with resistance to BXW for resistance to fungal diseases and analyse whether the breed affects the composition of microorganisms in the soil. These plants will grow side by side with another GM banana variety developed at the laboratory, which has been fortified with vitamin A and iron to help to combat blindness and anaemia in rural areas.

Legal roadblock

But the future of Uganda's biotechnology advances remains uncertain. Scientifically, Uganda is one of Africa's leaders in developing GM varieties of local staples. But its government has yet to pass a law to regulate the commercial release of GM organisms.

"Uganda is doing very well with the resources that it has at the moment," says Felix M'mboyi, executive director of the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum, which is based in Nairobi. "They have built their own local capacity, especially doing research on their own variety of banana."

Three African countries South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso are growing GM crops commercially, and Kenya expects to start doing so in 2012. Several others are hosting field trials or are about to start hosting them (see map, left). Many will focus on local staples such as cowpea (or black-eyed pea), cassava and sweet potato.

Uganda's biosafety law has been stuck in the country's legislative system for years. A draft law exists, based on a biotechnology and biosafety policy adopted in 2008, that would allow controlled commercial releases of GM crops.

But with general elections expected to be held in February next year, MPs will be too busy focusing on re-election to have time to debate the law before then. Although political resistance to the introduction of GM food has softened in recent years, several MPs remain sceptical. And once the new parliament has been elected, resistance could grow once more, says M'mboyi.

Urban Ugandans are more opposed to GM crops than their rural counterparts are, according to a PhD thesis published earlier this year2.

But many city dwellers change their tune when they realise that they may unwittingly have eaten GM maize, for example, in breakfast cereals imported from South Africa, says Wilberforce Tushemereirwe, who heads the country's National Banana Research Programme. "Every time you tell them that, they say 'Oh, is that it?'" he says. He says that the current delays are a temporary setback. "There will be a law in one to two years time."

But the situation is not satisfactory for the country's researchers, concedes Maxwell Otim, deputy executive secretary of the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology, which coordinates the country's interim biosafety regulations. "There is an anxiety, which must be alleviated," he says.


First Global Conference on Biofortification

- November 9- 11, 2010, Washington, DC


Will take stock of progress, share lessons learned, and chart the future of biofortification. This three-day event will bring researchers, policymakers, donors, and business leaders together to advance biofortificationthe breeding and delivery of nutrient-rich crops that will reduce malnutrition.

We have an exciting line-up of speakers and panelists to start off each day, as well as afternoon symposia where ideas will be shared. See the Agenda and Invited Speakers tabs for more information.

Cost for the conference is $450. This includes breakfasts, lunches, coffee breaks, and a gala dinner on Tuesday, November 9th. Opportunities to exhibit at the conference are available. Contact biofortconf@cgiar.org for more information.

The First Global Conference on Biofortification is organized by HarvestPlus, a global alliance of research institutions and implementing agencies that are working together to breed and disseminate crops for better nutrition. HarvestPlus is coordinated by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and is a Challenge Program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).


Nation Magazine Story, "Blackwater Black Ops" Refers to Monsanto and Security Firm

-Monsanto Press Relese, Sept.16, 2010 http://www.monsanto.com/

On September 16, 2010, an article titled Blackwaters Black Ops by Jeremy Scahill was posted by The Nation, a weekly journal covering political and social topics. The article includes commentary and quotes relating to a firm called Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS), their connection to the private security firm Blackwater, and services that TIS provided to Monsanto.

Monsanto did not hire Blackwater nor did we approve of the firm infiltrating any groups as was suggested in the Nation article. In 2008, 2009 and early 2010, a firm called Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS) provided Monsanto s security group with reports about activities or groups that could pose a risk to the company, its personnel or its global operations. The safety of our people is our utmost priority and we value the communities in which we operate. All information provided by TIS was developed by monitoring local media reports and other publicly available information. The subject matter ranged from information regarding terrorist incidents in Asia or kidnappings in Central America to scanning internet blogs and websites. Prior to retaining TIS, Monsanto specifically enquired about and was informed that TIS was a completely separate entity from Blackwater. Beyond the content of the Nation article, we have not engaged people to infiltrate firms/activist groups and we do not condone that type of behavior.



- Crop biotech update, Oct 1, 2010

ISAAA's new biotech video "Clive James Speaks"articulates the staggering growth of biotech crops from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 134 million hectares in 2009 the 80-fold increase in adoption of biotech crops. The video features a clear trend in the growth of biotech crops in favor of developing countries as compared to industrial countries. In 2009, some 16 of 25 biotech crop growing countries were developing countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America which planted almost as large an area of biotech crops as the 9 industrial biotech crop countries.

"Clive James Speaks" sharesthesuccess of biotech crops in the first decade of commercialization of biotech crops from 1996 to 2005 and elucidates the path of achieving a target of biotech crop adoption to 200 million hectares by 20 million farmers in 40 countries by 2015 the second decade ofcommercializing biotech cropscoinciding with the UN Millennium Developing Goals (MDG). In the same vein, the video also highlights the adoption, impact and future of biotech crops globally.

A high resolution downloadable video is available athttp://www.isaaa.org/indiaRequest a copy of the video fromb.choudhary@cgiar.organdk.gaur@cgiar.org