* Leading environmental campaigners support nuclear and GM
* What the Green Movement Got Wrong
* The Economist Live Debate on Biotechnology
* Ag Biotech International Conference 2011 (ABIC 2011) - South Africa
* Travel Grants for the AgBiotech meeting in South Africa
* Scientists learn from Nigeria’s BT cow peas
* If GMO genes escape, how will the hybrids do?
Leading environmental campaigners support nuclear and GM
- Richard Gray, Daily Telegraph, Nov 3, 2010 http://www.telegraph.co.uk
Leading environmental campaigners have performed a u-turn on two key technologies they have opposed for decades by openly calling for greater use of nuclear power and genetically modified crops to help the world tackle climate change.
For years they campaigned against nuclear power and genetically-modified food. But now some leading environmental campaigners have performed a U-turn and said that they got it wrong.
The activists now say that by opposing nuclear power they encouraged the use of polluting coal-fired power stations, while by protesting against GM crops they prevented developing countries from benefiting from a technology that could have helped feed the hungry.
Mark Lynas, a campaigner who has been a member of action groups on GM foods and climate change, said the environmental lobby was losing the battle for public opinion on climate change because it had made too many apocalyptic prophecies and exaggerated claims.
He said: "We have got to find a more pragmatic and realistic way of engaging with people."
Stewart Brand, an American activist and former editor of Whole Earth Catalog, said: "I would like to see an environmental movement that says it turns out our fears about genetically engineered food crops were exaggerated and we are glad about that. It is a humble and modest stance to take to the real world.
"Environmentalists did harm by being ignorant and ideological and unwilling to change their mind based on actual evidence. As a result we have done harm and I regret it."
Patrick Moore, one of the founding members of environmental campaign group Greenpeace, added: "We were right that the nuclear industry had problems, but that didn't mean we should be against nuclear energy completely.
"We have caused extra gigatons of greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere by being so precious about nuclear."
The activists feature in the Channel 4 documentary What the Green Movement Got Wrong, which will be broadcast this week.
They say that by successfully lobbying against the building of new nuclear power stations, environmentalists forced governments around the world to build new coal fired power stations instead, resulting in billions of extra tonnes of carbon dioxide and pollution being poured into the atmosphere.
Mr Lynas, who along with other activists ripped up trial GM crops in the 1990s, said that GM food had now been consumed by millions of people in the US for more than 10 years without harm, and this had convinced him to change his views.
The campaigners say that since they expressed their change of position, they have been vilified by traditional sections of the environmental movement
What the Green Movement Got Wrong
- Channel 4, UK , Nov 4 2010 http://www.channel4.com/programmes/what-the-green-movement-got-wrong
A group of environmentalists across the world believe that, in order to save the planet, humanity must embrace the very science and technology they once so stridently opposed.
In this film, these life-long diehard greens advocate radical solutions to climate change, which include GM crops and nuclear energy. They argue that by clinging to an ideology formed more than 40 years ago, the traditional green lobby has failed in its aims and is ultimately harming its own environmental cause.
As author and environmentalist Mark Lynas says, 'Being an environmentalist was part of my identity and most of my friends were environmentalists. We were involved in the whole movement together. It took me years to actually begin to question those core, cherished beliefs. It was so challenging it was almost like going over to the dark side. It was a like a horrible dark secret you couldn't share with anyone.'
Krishnan Guru-Murthy chairs a studio debate to discuss the issues raised in the documentary, What the Green Movement Got Wrong.
The film's leading protagonists, former anti-GM activist and author Mark Lynas and Stewart Brand, a pioneer of the original green lobby, face critics from today's green movement in front of an informed studio audience.
Leading policy makers, commentators, scientists, entrepreneurs and economists debate the impact the green movement has had on global climate change and whether embracing the very science and technology the greens once so stridently opposed, such as GM crops and nuclear energy, would be more successful in reducing the risks to the planet from global warming.
The Channel 4 documentary is scheduled to air tonight. Must be really good as it got many greens riled up against it. see
The Economist Live Debate on Biotechnology
This house believes that biotechnology and sustainable agriculture are complementary, not contradictory.
Do you agree with the motion?
From the moderator - Tom Standage
For many years advocates of agricultural biotechnology, notably genetically modified (GM) crops, have been at loggerheads with proponents of organic farming. GM and organic are widely regarded as being at opposite ends of the farming spectrum. The former is usually characterised as high-tech, dominated by large seed companies and favouring large-scale industrial farming; the latter is seen as more traditional, less dominated by corporate interests and favouring small farms.
But look beyond these crude stereotypes, and it turns out that the two camps have things in common. Maximising yields while minimising the use of expensive or dangerous chemicals is the goal of both organic farming and much GM research. Both camps are looking for new techniques to produce food sustainably: in other words, methods that minimise environmental impact, maximise farmers' welfare, can cope with climate change and can be scaled across the developing world. The two camps agree on the ends, if not the means.
So the idea of a rapprochement between these two approaches is not totally out of the question. And speaking in favour of the motion in our debate we are delighted to welcome Pamela Ronald, professor of plant pathology at the University of California, Davis, who has made one of the most detailed cases to date for cross-fertilisation, as it were, between GM and organic techniques. That is because in addition to her work as a researcher, developing new strains of GM rice that are resistant to disease and flooding, Ms Ronald is the author of "Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food", a book co-written with her husband, an organic farmer. The book calls for a reconciliation between biotechnology and organic techniques, arguing that both camps can learn valuable lessons from each other.
Speaking against the motion we are pleased to welcome Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at the Organic Centre in Oregon. Advocates of organic farming and opponents of GM are sometimes accused by their opponents of being anti-scientific Luddites, but that certainly cannot be said of Mr Benbrook, who has co-authored many peer-reviewed articles on agricultural science, technology, public health and environmental issues, and who served on the Board on Agriculture of the National Academy of Sciences for seven years. He has, in particular, looked closely at the question of whether the use of pest-resistant GM crops really does reduce the amount of pesticides that have to be applied, a crucial point that is likely to figure prominently in the debate.
The case for GM crops as a path to sustainable farming leans to some extent on the theoretical benefits of crops that have not yet been developed: drought-resistant or more nitrogen-efficient varieties, for example, which are perpetually just around the corner, but have so far proved elusive. How much longer should GM be given the benefit of the doubt? The case against a new combination between biotechnology and organics, meanwhile, can seem to rest on political and cultural arguments as much as scientific ones. Would new GM varieties produced by governments or NGOs, with seeds given freely to farmers, help assuage concerns about the creeping corporatisation of agriculture?
My aim is to keep the debate focused on the relationship between biotechnology and sustainability, rather than a rehearsal of the familiar "GM versus organic" arguments. Is it possible for supporters of these very different approaches to find common ground, or are the differences in philosophy too great to be overcome? Whatever the outcome, I hope this debate will encourage all the participants to question their assumptions about the best approach to sustainable agriculture.
The proposer's opening remarksNov - Pamela Ronald
The number of people on Earth is expected to increase from the current 6.7 billion to 9 billion by 2050 with food demands expected to rise by 70%. How will we feed them? If we continue with current farming practices, vast amounts of wilderness will be lost, millions of birds and billions of insects will die, scarce water will be wasted, greenhouse gas emissions will increase and farm workers will be exposed to harmful chemicals. Clearly, the future of our planet requires that we improve the environmental, economic and social impacts of our global farming systemsthe three essential pillars of sustainable agriculture. Genetically engineered crops will continue to play an important role in this future.
After 10,000 years of crop domestication and innovation, virtually everything we eat has been genetically altered and every farm today grows such crops. Genetic engineering (GE) differs from conventional methods of crop modification in two basic ways: it introduces one or a few well-characterised genes; and genes from any species can be introduced into a plant. In contrast, most conventional methods of genetic alteration (artificial selection, forced inter-specific transfer, random mutagenesis and grafting of two species to create a new variety) introduce many uncharacterised genes from closely related species.
There is broad scientific consensus that GE crops currently on the market are safe to eat. The National Research Council (NRC), a non-profit institution that provides science, technology and health policy advice to the US Congress, reports that the process of genetic engineering poses a similar risk of unintended consequences as conventional approaches of genetic alteration. After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, GE crops have not caused a single instance of harm to human health or the environment. The NRC findings have been confirmed by leading scientific agencies around the world. For instance, the Joint Research Centre, the European Union's scientific and technical research laboratory and an integral part of the European Commission, recently concluded that there is a comprehensive body of knowledge that adequately addresses the food safety issue of GE crops and that the crops currently on the market have not caused any known health effects. In contrast, every year there are thousands of reported pesticide poisonings (around 1,200 each year in California alone; 300,000 deaths globally).
Well-documented benefits of GE crops include massive reductions of insecticides in the environment, improved soil quality and reduced erosion, prevention of destruction of the Hawaiian papaya industry, proven health benefits to farmers and families growing GE crops as a result of reduced exposure to harsh chemicals, economic benefits to local communities, enhanced biodiversity of beneficial insects, reduction in the number of pest outbreaks on GE farms and neighbouring non-GE farms, and increased profits to farmers.
GE crops have also dramatically increased crop yields (more than 30%) in many farming communities. Because substantial greenhouse gases are emitted from agricultural systems, and because the net effect of higher yields is a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions, development and deployment of such high-yielding varieties will be a critical component of a future sustainable agriculture.
In the near future, conservative models predict that planting of Golden Rice, a rice engineered to produce provitamin A, will reduce diseases caused by vitamin A deficiency, saving the lives of thousands of children. Golden Rice is likely to be more cost-effective than alternative vitamin A interventions, such as food supplementation or fortification. In Africa, where three-quarters of the worlds severe droughts have occurred over the past ten years, the introduction of genetically engineered drought tolerant corn, the most important African staple food crop, is predicted to dramatically increase yields for poor farmers.
A premise basic to almost every agricultural system (conventional, organic and everything in between) is that seed can only take us so far. The farming practices used to cultivate the seed are equally important. GE crops alone will not provide all the changes needed in agriculture. Ecologically based farming systems and other technological changes, as well as modified government policies, undoubtedly are also required. Yet it is hard to avoid the conclusion that ecological farming practices using genetically engineered seed will play an increasingly important role in a future sustainable agriculture. Each new variety will need to be tested on a case-by case basis in light of the criteria for a sustainable agricultural system.
There is now a clear scientific consensus that GE crops and ecological farming practices can coexistand if we are serious about building a future sustainable agriculture, they must.
The opposition's opening remarksNov 2nd 2010 | Charles Benbrook
Biotechnology is not a system of farming. It reflects no specific philosophy nor is it guided by a set of principles or performance criteria. It is a bag of tools than can be used for good or evil, and lots in between.
Virtually all contemporary applications of molecular biology, in any field, are part of biotechnology, and many aspects of biotechnology can and should be tapped to advance science and promote sustainable agriculture on all types of farmslarge, small, conventional, sustainable, or organic.
But that is not what this debate is about. The issue at hand is whether genetically engineered (GE) seeds "go together" with sustainable agriculture. This debate must be grounded in how, and for what purposes, genetic engineering is used today on the farm, in contrast to sustainable agriculture.
Sustainable agriculture, otherwise known as agroecology:
integrates crop farming with livestock;
promotes diversity in the crops a farmer grows, in livestock enterprises and in human diets, which in turn promotes health and system resilience and minimises the risk of catastrophic crop failure;
relies as fully as possible on local resources, and farmer skills and labour, while lessening dependence on off-farm inputs;
builds soil quality and fertility to produce higher-yielding crops (ie, the "brown revolution" recently called for by Howard Buffett);
strives to prevent problems by altering the biology and/or ecology of system interactions, rather than treating problems by adding a new input, practice, or technology into the system.
Today, biotechnology on the farm consists almost exclusively of corn, cotton and soyabeans engineered to make plants herbicide-tolerant (HT) and/or resistant to certain insects. HT crops account for 84% of the global biotech acreage, 62% as a stand-alone trait and 22% combined with insect resistance.
HT technology allows farmers to rely largely or exclusively on one broad-spectrum herbicide. Multiple herbicide applications can be made, including after the crop has germinated, applications not possible prior to HT technology because the crop would be damaged too.
Scientists accurately predicted the dominant impact of HT technologyan increase in reliance on chemical herbicides and, in particular, on one herbicide (glyphosate, or Roundup).
In the light of the intended purpose and impacts of HT crops, lets assess whether biotechnology and sustainable agriculture "go together".
Does HT technology help or hinder integration of crop farming with livestock? It is essentially neutral.
Does HT technology promote diversity in crop rotations and human diets? No, on both counts. It promotes specialisation and farm consolidation, and shifts acres to grain crops mostly fed to animals, or used for ethanol or food-processing ingredients. In Argentina, HT soyabeans have displaced 4.6m hectares of diverse crops and pasture, reducing local access to a healthy, diverse diet.
Does it seek to make full use of local resources and farmer skills? No, HT crops reduce the need for labour and skill, and increase reliance on high-cost, often proprietary inputs from outside the region.
Does HT technology help prevent problems through management? Definitely not. It is a treatment-based intervention that when overused creates new weed problems. In the case of HT soyabeans, it also impairs the uptake of micronutrients from the soil and worsens some plant diseases.
It is hard to get to "Yes", biotech and sustainable agriculture go together, with one neutral and three "No" answers to the above questions.
Corn and cotton have also been genetically engineered to manufacture natural toxins from a soil bacterium which are lethal to some insects. Bacillus thuriengensis (Bt) crops account for 38% of biotech acres worldwide, of which 22% are combined with the HT trait.
Bt corn and cotton are largely neutral in terms of crop-livestock integration, and like HT crops do not promote diversity in food production or self-reliance. They do help reduce insect feeding damage and lessen the need for toxic, broad-spectrum insecticides, and as a result, help build populations of beneficial insects and promote above-ground biodiversity, two key sustainable farm-management goals.
But these Bt crop benefits come at a cost. Toxins are produced constantly in all plant tissues, not when and only where they are needed. This increases the risk that common corn and cotton insects will develop resistance. In regions where Bt-resistant insects routinely overwinter in fruit and vegetable crops, farmers will no longer be able to rely on Bt insecticide sprays, which are currently their safest and cheapest option. Technologies that solve one problem at the expense of others cut against the grain of prevention-based sustainable agriculture.
Single-tactic solutions to complex farming-system problems often work well for a while, but organisms and systems co-evolve, often opening the door to new problems. Multiple-tactic systems composed of "many little hammers" offer the best hope for sustained progress. Biotechnology can help create new hammers and harden existing ones through marker-assisted breeding and the development of new diagnostic tools, vaccines, biopesticides and soil inoculantsbut not the way it is being used today on the farm.
Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference 2011 (ABIC 2011)
- Johannesburg, South Africa; September 6- 9, 2011 http://www.abic2011.co.za/
This conference aims to provide an in-depth understanding of the advances and innovations that are significant and sustainable in moving nations towards a global Bioeconomy.
ABIC 2011 will bring together leading International researchers in the AgBio sector with industry partners and investors. The theme for ABIC 2011 will be Agricultural Biotechnology for Economic Development. Agricultural Biotechnology is no longer viewed as just part of the agricultural sector. It is now recognized that agricultural biotechnology can play a significant role in economic development at the community, provincial, national and international levels.
ABIC 2011 will address these issues in the following ways:
Arrange speaker sessions that allow leading International experts to exchange ideas and stimulate innovation;
Provide informative and educational speaker sessions that highlight the benefits of an AgBio economy to the non- scientist;
Hold forums that address key policy and risk management issues such as commercial trials;
Provide an opportunity for AgBio companies and research organizations to meet with industry partners; and
Bring major investors in the AgBio sector together with AgBio companies and research organizations seeking funding to develop their innovation.
Warm Regards, Prof. Jocelyn Webster, AfricaBio
Travel Grants for the AgBiotech meeting in South Africa
- Johannesburg, South Africa; September 6- 9, 2011
ABIC: Supporting Networking and Learning in Agricultural Biotechnology
The ABIC Foundation is accepting applications for a travel bursary for the forthcoming ABIC 2011 Conference to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa from September 6- 9, 2011. The deadline for submission of applications is February 15, 2011 with award announcement set for April 2011.
The ABIC Foundation has set aside funds to provide for one travel bursary for ABIC 2010. The bursary will cover the cost of return travel, accommodation and meals while attending the conference, as well as registration fees to attend ABIC 2010.
The annual bursaries were created to encourage ABIC attendance from among young scientists in emerging nations. With this gesture, the ABIC Foundation assists promising new researchers by making the ABIC network of ag-biotech contacts more accessible.
More details: firstname.lastname@example.org
Scientists learn from Nigeria’s BT cow peas
- LOMINDA AFEDRARU, Daily Monitor (Uganda), Nov. 3, 2010 http://www.monitor.co.ug/
Cow peas have emerged as one of the most economically important African grain legume and a major item in the regional trade especially within West and Central Africa. This trend has urged crop science researchers in the region to engage in research about the genetically modified cow pea species which is at field trial stage in Nigeria.
Crop scientists in Nigeria have embarked on research to biologically enhance cow pea using the Biotechnology (BT) method. Biotechnology is the manipulation of living organisms for purposes of developing another product. This is all in a bid to improve its quality and eradicate pests and diseases that have been destroying the traditional crop. And the cow pea pod borer called Maruca testulalis is a key problem affecting the crop globally.
In Uganda, researchers are conducting their trials using the conventional method at the National Semi-Arid Resource Research Institute (NaSARRI) at Serere in Soroti District. According to Mr Martin Orao, a senior breeder majoring in cow pea breeding, researchers started the process in 2007 with a major aim of testing resistance of the legume plant against a virus called cowpea aphid-borne mosaic virus which is the commonest in Uganda as well as testing its yields.
The project which is funded by Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) will run until June next year. Right now, the conventional method, that the researchers use is crossing the indigenous cow pea varieties with those they have acquired from Nigeria.
“We have collected some varieties that are resistant to diseases, virus and pests, from the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture based in Nigeria which we cross to those varieties we have here. We mostly use the flowers for crossing exercise,” Mr Orao said.
He explains that before the crossing exercise, they are planted in the green house and after germinating and shading flowers, the crossing exercise begins. To carry out this exercise, the researchers remove the petals to establish both the male and female parts of the plant in the evening and culture them in the mornings hours when the stigma is active.
“We use the male pollen and brass it to the female part and if the end result aborts it means there could be contamination in the stigma. But if we see the pod maturing within a few days, it means the exercise is successful,” Mr Orao said.
His team has so far selected nine varieties from the exercise with three colours including black, brown and white. They will continue planting and selecting the best variety after going through the same exercise for about four times. Once they obtain a table variety free from virus, the team will then take them to farmers fields for further testing. If the result from that is good, the product will be submitted to the National Relief Committee, Ministry of Agriculture for approval.
Thereafter, researchers will be free to release it to farmers and seed companies for further multiplication. The team is working closely with farmers from the districts of Soroti, Kumi, Apach as well as other research institutes such as the National Crop Resources Research Institute in Namulonge
The Biotechnology cow pea in Nigeria is an initiative of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), which aims at promoting both classical plant breeding and novel GM approaches to increase incomes and food security for the rural poor in sub-Saharan Africa.
The project manager of Cow pea and rice Research in Nigeria, Dr Nompumelelo Obokoh, says cow pea is a legume grown in most parts of Africa and it is used as grain for preparing dishes as well as fodder which is why attention has to be focused on it.
Dr Obokoh says the first phase of the research was completed last year in December.
The researchers have now gone into the second phase of further testing to establish if this variety is resistant to the pod borer. The research work will continue for 15 to 20 years for purposes of collecting enough data. They hope to release the variety in 2015 but on condition that the Nigerian government will have passed the biosafety law which will be used to regulate the use of the crop.
The objective of this study is to estimate the potential impacts of Biotechnolology cow pea adoption on regional cowpea trade and welfare of cow pea producers and consumers.
In contrast to much of eastern and southern Africa, there is political support for adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops in west and central Africa.
Major cowpea producing countries in Africa are Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Uganda, Mozambique, Tanzania, and to some extent, Ethiopia, Gabon, Mali and Togo. Nigeria has developed bio-safety regulations and procedures that will allow testing of GM crops.
If GMO genes escape, how will the hybrids do?
- American Journal of Botany http://www.amjbot.org/cgi/reprint/97/10/1610
GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms, may raise concerns of genes escaping from crops and having unknown effects on natural, wild species. But what is the real risk that traits associated with GMOs will actually migrate to and persist in their wild relatives? Interest in plant ecology, crop production and weed management led John Lindquist and his colleagues from the University of Nebraska and USDA-ARS to investigate how gene flow from a cultivated crop to a weedy relative would influence the ecological fitness of a cropwild hybrid offspring. They published their findings in the recent October issue of the American Journal of Botany (http://www.amjbot.org/cgi/reprint/97/10/1610).
Grain sorghum (Sorghum bicolor subsp. bicolor) is an important food and feed crop throughout the world. The reduced digestibility of sorghum seed relative to other grains makes it a less efficient resource, even though it is highly adapted to growth in semiarid environments common to Africa, India, and the Southern and Western Great Plains of the United States. There has been considerable interest in modifying the quality traits of grain sorghum using GMO technology to enhance its nutritional value to both humans and animals raised for human consumption.
A major challenge to sorghum producers is the limited number of products available to control weeds within the crop—too many of the common products cause crop damage. To address this challenge, one of the major U.S. seed companies is developing herbicide-resistant grain sorghum using traditional breeding (non-GMO) strategies and plans to deploy them in the United States within the next 5 years.
There is inherent risk in deploying grain sorghum containing novel genes because several related species (e.g., johnsongrass, shattercane) are capable of interbreeding with grain sorghum.
Lindquist and his colleagues focused their research on gene flow between sorghum and its closely related, wild, weedy relative, shattercane (Sorghum bicolor subsp. drummondii). Lack of information on the potential gene flow from grain sorghum to shattercane is an important problem because it limits our fundamental understanding of gene transfer and potential hybridization between grain sorghum and shattercane. Their goal was to obtain baseline data using non-GMO sorghum and shattercane that would improve our ability to assess the potential risks of introducing novel genes in grain sorghum into U.S. agroecosystems.
Variation in alleles contributes to the ability of a population to adapt to a variable environment. Yet, this variation is often controlled in cultivated crops for ease of production—for example, with sorghum, all seeds germinate at roughly the same time, plants grow to a uniform height, and seeds ripen at the same time. In contrast, shattercane has seeds with variable states of dormancy, plants that grow taller than sorghum, and seeds that disperse via a shattering mechanism, ensuring dispersal before the sorghum crop is harvested. By crossing shattercane with cultivated sorghum, the authors compared how the crop-wild hybrid performed relative to its crop and wild parents in a number of traits that may be important to its ecological fitness.
By experimentally manipulating temperature conditions, the authors found different germination patterns for the three types of seeds. Although the crop-wild hybrid responded to low temperatures similarly to its wild shattercane parent—both in terms of percentage of seeds that germinated and by staying dormant and delaying germination—it responded to high temperatures similarly to its cultivated sorghum parent; non-germinated seeds of both sorghum and the hybrid died. This may be linked to their seed structures. Shattercane seeds are completely enclosed by glumes, whereas those of sorghum are only partially covered, a factor that makes them much easier to mill but does not protect them well from environmental extremes. The glumes on the hybrids are more similar to sorghum, so it is possible that despite their ability to be dormant, they may not survive well in extreme environmental conditions.
When the authors compared growth factors under natural field conditions, they found that the hybrid grew taller than either of its parent types, had greater leaf area than the shattercane but less than sorghum, and leaf emergence was earlier than in the shattercane. The authors speculate that if the three types were grown in mixture in the field, the hybrid would likely be able to capture more light and thus be more competitive than the two parent types. However, the hybrid produced fewer seeds than either sorghum or shattercane (although they were similar to shattercane at one site).
"Genes from grain sorghum, including a transgene or a traditionally bred specialty trait such as the herbicide resistance traits in sorghum, could be successfully transferred to a weedy shattercane population," Lindquist concludes. Indeed, in this case the relative fitness of the hybrid may be equivalent to that of the wild parent.
However, further research is needed. "It is imperative to know the rate of outcrossing from sorghum to shattercane," Lindquist emphasizes. "In other words, what proportion of seed on a shattercane plant will be pollinated by a nearby grain sorghum population, and how far can that pollen go?"
"Next, we want to be able to predict the overall likelihood that a gene from grain sorghum will enter the weedy shattercane population."