* Monsanto on Sharing Seeds for Research
* Judge Orders Another Hearing In Genetically Modified Beet Case
* Grainy Season: Engineering Drought-Resistant Wheat
* Africa: Continent Urged to Embrace Scientific Agriculture
* Use GMOs and Breastfeeding to Curb Malnutrition
* Stakeholders in Zambia Push for Bt Cotton Trials
* India: ABLE Seeks Commercialisation of Bt Brinjal in the Country
* Fighting for the Future of Food: Activists versus Agribusiness in the Struggle over Biotech
* Union of Concerned Scientists, Union of Concerned Faux Scientists
Monsanto Relaxes Restrictions on Sharing Seeds for Research
- Emily Waltz, Nature Biotechnology, v28 , p996; Oct. 2010
‘Agronomic research scientists are now free to study Monsanto's commercial seeds.’
Public sector scientists who complained last year that seed companies were curbing their rights to study commercial biotech crops are negotiating research agreements with industry. In August, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), an agency within the US Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC, finalized an umbrella license with St. Louis-based Monsanto that gives ARS scientists the freedom to study Monsanto's commercial seeds without asking the company for permission on each project. “[The agreement] is extremely good and specific. ARS will be allowed to do basically everything that could be desired,” says one ARS scientist who asked to remain anonymous.
ARS scientists were part of a group of 26 researchers who lodged an anonymous public complaint in February 2009 that charged that seed companies were thwarting public sector research. They said a legal contract called a “stewardship agreement” forbid research from being conducted on the companies' crops and seeds, no matter how they were obtained. The scientists said they felt forced to seek permission from the seed companies before conducting studies, even on crops that had been on the market for years (Nat. Biotechnol. 27, 880–882, 2009). “No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions involving these crops” because of company-imposed restrictions, the scientists wrote in their public comment.
In response to the complaint and the press reports that followed, seed companies reexamined their research agreements with the public sector. Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences, Basel-based Syngenta and Johnston, Iowa–based Pioneer Hi-Bred have all begun discussions with ARS over new umbrella agreements, according to the companies. These industry players, along with Monsanto, have also been working with universities on similar licenses.
The Monsanto-ARS agreement obtained by Nature Biotechnology allows ARS scientists to conduct agronomic research—studies on how crops interact with local environments and which varieties perform best. Studies outside of agronomic research, such as breeding, reverse engineering or characterizing the genetic composition of the crop, require separate contracts with the company.
The agreement is nearly identical in scope to Monsanto's licenses with universities, but is more specific. An appendix included in ARS's license lists more than 25 examples of the specific types of studies that are considered “agronomic” and therefore permissible—a definition that has been unclear to public sector scientists in the past. “It allows us to do our research under a blanket agreement instead of negotiating everything [with Monsanto] every time,” says Larry Chandler, an area director at ARS who facilitated the negotiations. “This is much more efficient for all parties.
Judge Orders Another Hearing In Genetically Modified Beet Case
- Jeanette Borzo, Dow Jones, Oct 22, 2010 http://www.nasdaq.com
San Francisco - A federal judge ordered environmental groups and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to present more evidence at a coming hearing, insuring that a courtroom battle over the legality of some genetically modified beets will continue for at least a few more weeks.
On Friday, Judge Jeffrey White of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California asked the government to provide the plaintiffs with unredacted copies of permits the USDA issued to agricultural companies producing the altered beet seeds. He also told the government to provide information to him about acreage that has been planted with the genetically modified seeds.
In the case, the Washington-based Center for Food Safety and other groups are objecting to the planting of genetically modified beet seeds. Those seeds were planted with the USDA's approval.
The case is critical to the U.S. sugar industry. Sugar production will fall by about 20% if farmers are banned from planting genetically modified beets next year, according to data the U.S. Department of Agriculture prepared for the case.
Genetically modified beets, approved just five years ago, currently account for about 95% of the U.S. sugar-beet crop. In August, White threw out a USDA approval for the use of the seeds, saying the department hadn't done enough research into the seeds' environmental impact. Despite that ruling, the USDA granted permits to some seed companies to begin seed production.
Strict tariffs imposed by the U.S. on sugar imports mean it will be difficult to make up any shortfall by bringing in sugar from other countries. Already, tight supplies globally are driving up sugar prices.
A number of seed companies--including Monsanto Co. (MON) of St. Louis, Mo.; Betaseed Inc., a subsidiary of KWS SAAT AG (KWS.XE) of Einbeck, Germany; and Syngenta SA (SYT) of Basel, Switzerland--have intervened in the case. The companies were represented in court on Friday.
Grainy Season: Engineering Drought-Resistant Wheat
- Dan Charles, National public radio, Oct 22,
Last summer's drought in Russia pushed wheat prices to their highest levels in years, and the fallout is a reminder of how much humanity depends on the rain. Now, scientists are searching for novel approaches to make wheat less vulnerable to drought.
Some efforts are trying to replace the genes that made possible the dramatic boost in wheat harvests in the latter half of the 20th century in India known as the Green Revolution.
Few people can see the accomplishments of the Green Revolution more clearly than Kulvinder Gill, who grew up in a village in India where, half a century ago, some predicted catastrophe because food production wasn't growing as fast as the population. "It was a common belief that this world is going to end because of the starvation," Gill said. "People are going to fight for food and kill each other."
But scientists such as Orville Vogel at Washington State University bred new varieties of wheat that included a mutant gene that kept the plant short. When you gave these plants lots of fertilizer and irrigated them, they didn't just get tall and fall over like ordinary wheat — they produced more grain. A lot more.
So Gill left his village in Punjab and became a wheat geneticist. He now occupies the Orville Vogel Endowed Chair in wheat breeding at Washington State.
And he's hoping to not only repeat what Vogel did, but improve on it. That's because the dwarfing genes of the green revolution — which are now in 90 percent of all the wheat that farmers grow around the world — have an unfortunate side effect, he says: They make it harder for the plant to thrive when water is scarce.
For instance, when it's dry, farmers have to plant seeds deeper because that's where the moisture is. So he's now on the hunt for a different and better dwarfing gene. He knows exactly what he's looking for: It's a mutation that already exists in corn and sorghum. It doesn't shrink the whole plant the way the green revolution genes do. Instead, it blocks the normal flow of a crucial growth hormone.
"So the plant reduces in height, but at the same time, the cob is bigger, the stem is thicker and stronger, and the plant looks great," Gill says.
To create this kind of wheat plant, Gill and a group of collaborators have treated thousands of seeds with a chemical that makes random changes in DNA. Now these mutant wheat plants are growing in the greenhouse, and Gill has to see if any of them have the one change he wants. "It is very difficult to know at this point if the mutant is the one — the kind we are looking for," he says.
A Global Effort To Reprogram Crops
Gill's project is just one small part of a global campaign to reprogram crops genetically so they can survive water shortages. People are trying everything from low-tech traditional crop breeding to high-tech gene splicing.
One approach, somewhere in the middle, involves looking for useful genes in wheat's ancestors. Scientists are retrieving seeds from the refrigerated vaults of gene banks and taking a fresh look at those plants. Thousands of years ago, three of them somehow combined in the wild to form modern wheat.
David Bonnet, a wheat geneticist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center based in Mexico, says scientists can re-create that merger in the laboratory. "So we can go back and bring in more genetic variation for a whole range of traits, but certainly drought tolerance is one of them," Bonnet says.
But the approach that's getting most of the attention and most of the money these days is genetic engineering.
Agricultural giant Monsanto has inserted a gene from bacteria into corn and it says this variety yields 8 to 10 percent more under drought conditions. The gene is called a transcription factor — a kind of master gene that activates many others when the plant is under stress.
The company says if it gets a green light from regulators, it will start selling the corn within two years. Monsanto has also donated the gene to a group of government-supported research institutions in Africa that are starting greenhouse trials of corn-containing the gene this year.
The Potential of Genetic Enhancement
In the scientific community, there's a lot of curiosity about the Monsanto product and some skepticism that it will work as advertised.
But many of them, including Mahyco, a leading seed company in India, also are looking for genes to splice into crops. "In our program, we are looking at transcription factors from drought-tolerant crops — sorghum, acacia trees or other crops that are known to be drought-tolerant," says Usha Zehr, Mahyco's chief technology officer.
And geneticist Bonnet says there's no shortage of genes that seem like they might possibly help a plant use water more efficiently. "We have access to quite a lot of candidates ourselves, and we think they have as much or more potential as what Monsanto has," he says.
Actually realizing that potential may become increasingly important as the globe warms up. Climate models predict that many parts of the world — including major crop-growing areas — will see more droughts in the coming years.
Africa: Continent Urged to Embrace Scientific Agriculture
- Jennifer Dube, The Zimbabwe Standard, Oct. 24 2010 http://allafrica.com
New York — There is need to embrace scientific interventions in agriculture in order to improve Africa's poor yields, especially in light of food crises on the continent, former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan has said.
Speaking on Africa's agriculture to students and journalists at Columbia University in New York recently, Annan said many countries on the African continent had made strides towards millennium development goals like education and health but need to do more to reduce poverty.
Annan's comments followed a number of disturbing indicators that food prices could reach the dangerous levels of 2007 to 2008, when riots broke out in several hunger-stricken African countries and the number of people suffering from hunger reached a record high.
In Zimbabwe, says the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), at least 1,68 million people will still need food assistance next year.
In response to the indicators, the World Bank, which said it expects high volatility in food prices to continue until at least 2015, reactivated its Global Food Crisis Response Programme (GFRP), dedicating up to US$760 million to countries at risk.
With 100 million hectares of land under crop production and producing about 100 million tonnes of corn per year, Africa is seen as faring badly in agriculture. Other continents have much higher yields compared to Africa, with Latin America, South and East Asia having an average of three tonnes per hectare, with China and North America and Europe having five and 10 respectively.
Low production forces the continent to import between 35 and 40 million tonnes of corn per year. "We have the soils, the environment, the seeds and the models but there are a lot of poor and food insufficient people on the continent," Annan said.
"For a long time, we did not have the right seeds and our soils have been used over and over again, most of our farmers are smallholders who cannot afford fertilisers yet in many cases, they hardly get any help from government and they have no access to finance.
"We need a unique African green revolution."
Annan, who initiated the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) which supports small-scale farmers, said there was need to embrace technology to improve yields, highlighting that in the Agra project, small-holder farmers worked with scientists to improve varieties of their local staple foods.
Columbia University- based agronomist Pedro Sanchez said in some parts of Africa, poor performance can be partially blamed on some misconceptions about agriculture.
He said one of the misconceptions, a controversial one for Zimbabwe, is the way genetically modified (scientifically enhanced) organisms are viewed. "You hear people saying that farmers now have to buy seed every year because of GMOs," Sanchez said. "But this has always been the case even with hybrid (naturally enhanced) seeds since the 1970s. "All crops are GMOs in the sense that there has been a gene transfer from one plant to another. Wheat for example, is a product of a gene transfer from one grass to another."
Sanchez said there was no scientific evidence that GMOs were harmful to humans and the environment, adding that some of these have yielded positive results for other countries including South Africa. He also said some ecologists are dealing the sector a heavy blow by discouraging the use of fertilisers.
"They say agriculture should mimic natural systems which are closed in terms of nutrients cycle," he said. "But agriculture is an open system in which nutrients are exported and do not come back to the same field. "Therefore to balance the cycle, which is ecologically sound to do, the exports should be replaced by inputs to nutrilise the soils like fertilisers or manures in order to get high production."
Sanchez said some people, including donors, were discouraging farmers from using chemical fertilisers saying they were bad and advocating for organic farming which he said cannot work well in Africa as it required highly fertile soils yet most of Africa's soils continue to lose nutrients and will require decades and even centuries to nutrilise.
He dismissed the notion that local foods were good and better for the environment. Sanchez said while some local seed varieties may have low yields, others from elsewhere may produce higher and better yields.
Annan called for closer co-operation among African governments, donor countries and civil society organisations. He also said governments and financial institutions should avail cheap loans to farmers.
"We also need to link them with markets, improve storage and processing so they do not incur losses with their produce getting spoiled," he said.
Use GMOs and Breastfeeding to Curb Malnutrition
- Peter Muthamia, The Citizen (Tanzania), Oct. 2010 http://thecitizen.co.tz/
Three-year Maria (not her real name) has puffy cheeks, potbelly, thin hair, deathly pale skin, generally weak body and other symptoms that bespeak malnutrition.
These were indicators, which rural folks often associate with other illnesses or witchcraft. There are two possibilities; she might grow up physically and mentally retarded or die. Such situations are common in the rural areas.
If harrowing malnutrition figures published by Policy Forum, Sikika and other NGOs are anything to go by, then there is a very cause to be alarmed. Its gravity notwithstanding, malnutrition attracts very little attention if any of the policy makers and the media alike.
Ramifications wrought by malnutrition are dire in both short and long run. Poor approaches to problems that can easily be solved baffles this writer. It is estimated that 10 years ago, more than 600,000 children five years and below have died from malnutrition. In 2010 alone, 43,000 children will die from diseases associated with poor nutrition.
Genetic modified foods (GMOs)
Matters relating to genetically modified foods for national consumption have raised a lot of controversies especially among the activists.
There is no shred of scientific evidence that GMOs are harmful. Indeed, Americans have been using GMOs for many years with no negative ramifications.
There comes a time when the country should choose to listen between donor funded activists and the citizens crying for food.
While over the years climatic changes have had adverse effects on the food production and in turn the country’s food security there is the need to reconsider the stance.
Tanzania just like other countries in the region has had to face food crises due to shortage of rainfall.
Genetically modified foods yield more food per hectare. Mere filling of the stomachs with food is not the only advantage of GMOs. Genetic engineering has been used in other countries to fortify grains with vitamins and other nutrients.
For example, researchers have been able to breed certain strains of rice, sweet potatoes, bananas other foodstuffs that have been fortified with vitamins and minerals.
By using GMOs therefore, the country will raise its yields and at the same time, tame malnutrition.
Stakeholders in Zambia Push for Bt Cotton Trials
- Crop Biotech Update, Oct 22, 2010. Isaaa.org
Zambia has to develop the necessary research and development capacity not only to regulate but also to eventually enable the use of new technologies including biotechnology that can contribute to economic growth. This remark was forwarded by Hon. Lameck Mangani, Deputy Minister for Science, Technology and Vocational Training in his opening speech during the 2nd Zambia stakeholders meeting on biotechnology and biosafety held on 8 October 2010.
The Deputy Minister said that issues of modern biotechnology, notably genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are here to stay and that it may not be possible to continue sidelining the issues any longer. "We have to rise above the ideological divide and work in partnership towards what is rational and beneficial to Zambia's future," he said.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA), Dr. Cris Muyunda, noted that agricultural productivity and competitiveness requires the right mix of policy choices and the use of available technological options including biotechnology. Restricting farmers' access to technology is restricting their flexibility to meet their potential in productivity, he said.
The Cotton Development Trust, the Cotton Association of Zambia, and representatives of smallholder farmers strongly appealed to Biosafety Authorities in the country to approve trials of Bt cotton. They said that Zambia should learn from the experience of countries such as Uganda and Kenya which have been able to conduct trials of several GM crops while building biosafety capacity in an incremental manner. The participants argued that a rigid precautionary and GM-free stance was likely to discourage potential development partners and technology developers.
For more information email Dr. Getachew Belay, Senior Biotechnology Policy Advisor, ACTESA/COMESA at gbelay@actesa comesa.org.
India: ABLE Seeks Commercialisation of Bt Brinjal in the Country
- Business Standard, October 25, 2010 http://www.business-standard.com/
The Association of Biotechnology-led enterprises (ABLE) has demanded the early introduction of Bt Brinjal in the country for the benefit of farmers with withdrawal of moratorium on the commercialisation of the crop.
“The introduction of Bt Brinjal should not be delayed in the country and commercialisation of the crop should be allowed for the benefit of farmers,” Kameshwar Rao, executive secretary of Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, and a member of ABLE said here at the weekend.
The Centre has put a moratorium on the commercialisation of genetically modified brinjal crop due to opposition from certain section of civil society on the safety of the crop in last February.
Union environment minister, Jairam Ramesh had announced that commercialisation of the crop would not allowed in the country till such time independent scientific studies establish, to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals, the safety of the product from long-term view on impact on human health.
After imposition of the moratorium, the matter has been referred to six academic bodies for further studies. “Though the academic bodies have given positive feedback to the government regarding the introduction of Bt Brinjal, centre is yet to act on it,” T M Manjunath, consultant, agri-biotechnology and IPM and a member of ABLE said. He also said that the introduction of Bt crops should not be stalled without any scientific facts implying adverse impact on the human health.
ABLE also cited the success story of Bt Cotton for replication in food crops like brinjal among others. “When Bt Cotton was introduced in the country, there was a lot of opposition to it on the grounds of safety to the lives of livestock. However, today Bt cotton is successfully cultivated in most of the cotton-growing regions of the country without any adverse impact on livestock,” he said.
Bt cotton is grown in most of the cotton-growing regions of the country with higher yield and production level, he added. The industry body, also, said that the country has to embrace the Bt crops in order to feed its burgeoning population.
“Public policy is not driven by sentiments, rather should be determined by rationality of our future needs. Genetically modified crops are the solution to increase both production and productivity of most of the crops in the country,” Manjunath added.
He also said that introduction of Bt brinjal would not only save 75-80 per cent of pesticide requirement of the farmer, but also would improve productivity level in the crop.
Fighting for the Future of Food: Activists versus Agribusiness in the Struggle over Biotechnology
- New book by Rachel Schurman and William A. Munro, Aug. 5, 2010. Amazon.com price $14.99. 280 pages, Univ of Minnesota Press; ISBN-10: 0816647623
When scientists working in the agricultural biotechnology industry first altered the genetic material of one organism by introducing genes from an entirely different organism, the reaction was generally enthusiastic. To many, these genetically modified organisms (GMOs) promised to solve the challenges faced by farmers and to relieve world hunger. Yet within a decade, this "gene revolution" had abruptly stalled. Widespread protests against the potential dangers of "Frankenfoods" and the patenting of seed supplies in the developing world forced the industry to change course. As a result, in the late 1990s, some of the world's largest firms reduced their investment in the agricultural sector, narrowed their focus to a few select crops, or sold off their agricultural divisions altogether.
Fighting for the Future of Food tells the story of how a small group of social activists, working together across tables, continents, and the Internet, took on the biotech industry and achieved stunning success. Rachel Schurman and William A. Munro detail how the anti-biotech movement managed to alter public perceptions about GMOs and close markets to such products. Drawing strength from an alternative worldview that sustained its members' sense of urgency and commitment, the anti-GMO movement exploited political opportunities created by the organization and culture of the biotechnology industry itself.
Fighting for the Future of Food ultimately addresses society's understanding and trust (or mistrust) of technological innovation and the complexities of the global agricultural system that provides our food.
Rachel Schurman is associate professor of sociology and global studies at the University of Minnesota. She is coeditor of Engineering Trouble: Biotechnology and Its Discontents.
William A. Munro is professor of political science and director of the international studies program at Illinois Wesleyan University. He is author of The Moral Economy of the State: Conservation, Community Development, and State-Making in Zimbabwe.
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — In the 1970s, scientists worked out how to move genes across species. The world buzzed with possibilities for recombinant DNA. This breakthrough led agricultural scientists to eventually develop genetically modified (GM) seeds in the 1990s, which was hailed as a potential step to ending hunger by creating plants that might withstand adverse weather. Soon after, however, widespread protests of "Frankenfoods" emerged, along with a highly political debate about genetically modified organisms (GMO) that continues today.
In his new book, Fighting for the Future of Food: Activists versus Agribusiness in the Struggle over Biotechnology (University Of Minnesota Press, 2010), Illinois Wesleyan Professor of Political Science William Munro has joined Rachel Schurman of the University of Minnesota to explore the debate over genetically modified seeds.
According to Munro, the main focus of the book is to "go beyond labels" of those involved in the debate. "These are two different adversaries from two different life worlds," he said. "They did not and do not meet and speak to each other. I think the two sides would get better traction with one another if they understood each other, rather than label one another."
The book does not take sides on the issue, but is a scholarly analysis that includes extensive interviews of those involved in the debate over GMs, including anti-GM activists, GM scientists and those incorporations working to advocate GMs. Munro and Schurman examined the debate as it evolved in Europe, then the United States, and finally how it is currently developing in Africa. "Our goal is for people to come to understand the issue and what is at stake for activists and proponents," he said.
Although once hailed as the key to ending world hunger, GMs are now viewed more as part of a potential arsenal to battle hunger. In the book, Munro and Schurman suggest it was the efforts of the activists that changed the trajectory of the biotechnologies. "Through the debate, it is becoming understood that this is a political technology," he said. "Some corporations made the mistake of trying to sell it as a silver bullet to end hunger, and it backfired. When activists challenged this idea, it helped define the use of GMs, allowing them to be incorporated into broader technologies to solve hunger."
The debate over GM food still rages. Last month, the FDA was close to approving the sale of genetically modified salmon, which grow twice as quickly as salmon in the wild. One U.S. Senator dubbed the salmon "frankenfish," and activists protested the race to get the fish to market. Yet Munro said speed is generally in the nature of producing GM foods. "The person who funds the research decides how to use it," said Munro. "There is a built in aggression to market the products, so corporations can recoup research and development costs." Munro sees the technology drifting away from privatization on some levels. "Look at the Gates Foundation, which has made a commitment to deal with world hunger," he said. "They are very careful to say that GMs can be part of the solution."
No matter how the debate proceeds, Munro said GMOs are here to stay. He noted GM corn and soybeans appear in everything from high fructose corn syrup to soy milk. "There is no way to get it out of the food chain now." He hopes the book, which is part of the University of Minnesota's Social Movements, Protest, and Contention Series, will inspire people, especially students, to discuss GMOs. "This book is a way for people to talk about social movements, and give them the tools to talk about the issues," he said.
Munro, who has a doctorate in political science from Yale University, joined the Illinois Wesleyan faculty in 2000. He is the director of Illinois Wesleyan's International Studies Program, and the author of The Moral Economy of the State: Conservation, Community Development, and State-Making in Zimbabwe.
Union of Concerned Scientists, Union of Concerned Faux Scientists: Concerned About Concerned Scientists
- Joseph A Olson, Canada Free Press, October 23, 2010
All true scientists should be wringing their hands over the powerful sounding name of a political pressure group parading beneath the banner of science. Adding to this deception is the use of the word ‘union’, implying the exact ‘settled science’ that we all now recognize as a front for Faux Science.
Well practiced in the art of deception, the Union of Concerned Faux Scientists have been issuing unsupportable statements on virtually every liberal talking point. The Center for Consumer Freedom offers a good analysis of some of these Faux Science positions at Activistscash.com, and enter ‘Union of Concerned Scientists’.
Highest on this elitist front group agenda is global warming/change/disruption, or whatever the catch phrase de jour is for this completely fabricated crisis. The UCS webpage states:
“Global warming is one of the most serious challenges facing us today. To protect the health and economic well-being of current and future generations, we must reduce our emissions of heat-trapping gases by using technology, know-how and practical solutions at our disposal.”
Well, my “know-how” includes knowing how the elitists game the system at every possible level. Creating high sounding front groups, funded by tax exempt foundations parading as ‘philantropic’ institutions is the bottom of the crimes against humanity barrel. But that is exactly where we find this union of cut-outs, modelers, posers and frauds.
Read on at http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/29128