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November 15, 2010


Healthier Chocolate; Europeans Optimistic on Biotech; Food Security in a Two-Degree World; Philippine Farmers Want GM Eggplant


* Scientists Working to Create GM Chocolate - To Make You Healthy
* EFSA Updates Guidance on Environmental Impact of GM Plants
* Sterile Pest Could Do Away with Bt Cotton In Arizona
* Europeans Positive about Life Sciences and Biotech
* Europeans and Biotechnologies in 2010 - Winds of change?
* Americans Are Wary of Genetically Engineered Foods (?)
* The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa
* 2C and Rising: Food Security in a Two-Degree World, How to Cope
* A Golden Opportunity to Rethink Genetically Modified Foods
* Philippine Farmers Back Field Trials for GM Eggplant
* Journal of Social & Economical Issues of Biotechnology - Open Access
* Organic Questioned As Food Challenges Mount

Scientists Working to Create Genetically Modified Chocolate - To Make You Healthy

- Janice Burns, Daily Record (UK), Nov 15 http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/

FORGET penicillin, space travel and the silicon chip. Science is on the verge of its greatest discovery - chocolate that's good for you.

DNA experts are working with sweet giants Mars to create genetically modified chocolate that fights heart disease and diabetes and won't make you fat. They've already been at it for two years. And they claim that in another five, they could unlock the secret of how to make chocolate healthy.

The scientists say the secret lies in the genetic code of the cocoa bean. The beans contain chemicals called flavonols which lower blood pressure and help keep the heart healthy.

And the scientists believe they can change the DNA of the cocoa tree so it produces beans with far higher levels of flavonols. They also hope to produce beans that fight diabetes, as well as making the fat in cocoa much healthier.

Dr Howard-Yana Shapiro, global director of plant science and research at Mars, said: "The idea is that this is something that wi l l become the norm - healthy fats, high levels of flavonols. "Chocolate will become something quite different in 10, 15, 20 years, and we are on that track now. "It is not something we can deliver tomorrow, but maybe in f ive years we can."

Dr Shapiro, who is also a professor at the Universit y of Cal i fornia, got 6million from Mars to fund the cocoa DNA project. Computer giants IBM, who analyse the data, and the US Department of Agriculture are also involved. It took two years to disentangle the cocoa tree's 420 million units of DNA.

Dr Shapiro and his team are now checking all 34,997 of the tree's genes in a bid to find the ones that will help them make healthy chocolate.

Let's hope they finish their work soon. Then they can move on to chips, crisps, curries and pies.


EFSA Updates Guidance on Environmental Impact of GM Plants

- European Food Safety Authority, Italy (EFSA). Nov 12, 2010

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published updated guidance for the environmental risk assessment (ERA) of Genetically Modified (GM) plants, reflecting the scientific state-of-the-art in this field.

Scientific experts on EFSAs GMO Panel have updated and further developed its guidance for the environmental assessment of GM applications submitted for authorisation in the EU, in particular with respect to data generation, collection and analysis. The ERA guidance document also addresses the evaluation of possible long-term effects of GM plants and potential effects on non-target organisms (NTOs)[1]. This guidance implements the stringent requirements for the environmental risk assessment of GMOs as provided by Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release of GMOs in the environment.

The European Commission requested EFSA in 2008[2] to further develop and update its guidance on environmental risk assessment, enabling EFSA to build on the work it had initiated in this area in 2007.

In accordance with the conclusions of the Environment Council of December 2008, Member States and stakeholders were closely associated with the review of this guidance. EFSA organised a series of technical discussions on the guidance document with representatives of EU Member States[3], with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and with GM applicants[4] to exchange views on the scientific issues. A draft version of the ERA guidance was also launched earlier this year for public consultation[5] which received 494 comments.

In order to assess the safety of a GM plant submitted for authorisation in the European Union, EFSA requires all applicants to follow its guidance documents which specify the type of data and information that should be submitted. In the ERA guidance, EFSA reviewed and updated seven specific areas that need to be addressed when assessing the environmental impact of a GM plant. These include in particular the persistence and invasiveness of the GM plant, taking into account possible plant-to-plant gene transfer; the likelihood and consequences of gene transfer from the plant to micro-organisms; the potential evolution of resistance in target organisms; the potential effects on non-target organisms; the biogeochemical processes, such as changes in soil composition, and the potential impact of the cultivation, management and harvesting techniques of the GM plant.

The guidance document includes detailed requirements for: the choice of appropriate non-GM comparators[6] and types of receiving environments to be considered; long-term effects and the experimental design of laboratory and field studies; and their statistical analysis.


Sterile Pest Could Do Away with Bt Cotton In Arizona

- Nature November 8, 2010 http://www.scidev.net/

Farmers in Arizona, United States, have all but eradicated a major pest from their land using a combination of genetically modified cotton and billions of sterilised versions of the pest's parent moth.

The farmers had been growing Btcotton for several years. The cotton is genetically engineered to produce Bt toxin, which kills pink bollworm, a serious cotton pest. Bt cotton had reduced the pest population one-million-fold. To prevent the spread of resistance to Bt among the bollworm, farmers are required to plant refuges of conventional cotton nearby. These harbour moths that will mate with any resistant moths that emerge among the Bt plants to prevent resistance developing.

However, farmers have started to resent the refuges because they also allow the bollworm to persist costing them millions of dollars annually in crop losses and insecticide sprays.

They therefore asked the US Environmental Protection Agency for permission to dispense with the refuges and instead begin releasing sterile moths, which then conducted mathematical modelling that showed such a strategy could indeed work.
The strategy of releasing large numbers of sterile insect has previously been used to drive down populations of the Mediterranean fruit fly in Guatemala, Mexico and the United States; screw-worms in Central America, Libya and the United States; and tsetse flies in Zanzibar.

In 2005 Arizona's Pink Bollworm Rearing Facility began treating moths with just enough radiation to damage the chromosomes in their reproductive cells without causing injuries that would prevent their survival in the wild. Two billion sterile pink bollworm moths were released over the next four years.

The scheme seems to have worked: last year only two larvae were found in the crop, and this year none have been found so far.

In Arizona, says Bruce Tabashnik, an entomologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, it is conceivable that farmers will someday no longer have a use for Bt cotton at all, as sterile insects drive the pest populations to economically negligible levels.


Europeans Positive about Life Sciences and Biotech

- Lynne Taylor, Pharma Times, November 12, 2010
see http://www.ec.europa.eu

A new survey shows that Europeans hold generally optimistic opinions about life sciences and biotechnology, but also that a lack of knowledge about important areas such as nanotechnology is widespread.

53% of people responding to the Eurobarometer survey said they believe biotechnology will have a positive effect in the future while 20% feel its effects will be negative - a further 20% said they did not know. But the poll also reveals a significant lack of knowledge in some important areas; for example, 55% have never heard of nanotechnology, 67% are unaware of the existence of biobanks and 83% have no knowledge of synthetic biology.

Optimism about biotechnology was found to be particularly strong in Estonia, where 77% held positive views, and also in Sweden (72%) and Finland (69%). The only European Union (EU) member state where those who felt biotechnology will have a negative effect outnumbered the optimists was Austria, with 41% for and 35% against. The Eurobarometer study took opinions from citizens of 32 European countries.

It found overwhelming support for medical applications of biotechnology, subject to strict laws. 68% of respondents said they approve of stem cell research and 63% now support embryonic stem cell research, compared to 59% in 2005, while 69% conditionally support other stem cell research, up from 65% five years ago, and 63% are positive about gene therapy, up from 54%. Another 15%-18% said they were prepared to accept these applications in special circumstances. The countries where most respondents were supportive of these applications overall were the UK, Spain and Denmark.

The researchers conclude that this latest survey shows that there is no rejection by Europeans of the impetus towards innovation; in general, people are in favour of responsible innovation with appropriate regulation to balance the market, and wish to be involved in decisions about new technologies when social values are at stake. They also note that there has been an increase since 2005 in public trust in most of the key actors - such as doctors, scientists, the EU, national governments and industry - to do a good job in taking decisions on biotechnology issues.

Commenting on the studys findings, EU Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn said it reveals three things. First, Europeans are mostly rather positive about biotechnology, although they remain uneasy about some particular aspects. Second, many people feel that they lack basic information on important aspects of biotechnology, so there is a major communication challenge. I intend to take it up and I urge all stakeholders to do the same. Third, all decisions on biotechnology should be rooted in sound science and take due account of ethical, health and environmental factors - we cannot be led either by emotional reactions or by short-term commercial considerations, she said.

The study also found that 61% of Europeans are opposed to genetically-modified (GM) food, up from 57% in 2005, and only 18% support animal cloning for food.


Europeans and Biotechnologies in 2010 - Winds of change?

Full commentary at

(Nanowerk News) The European Commission has released their new report "Europeans and biotechnology in 2010 - Winds of change?" . This latest Eurobarometer survey on the Life Sciences and Biotechnology, which also specifically addresses nanotechnologies in the context of biotechnology, is based on representative samples from 32 European countries and conducted in February 2010.

The report points to a new era in the relations between science and society. While entrenched views about GM food are still evident, the crisis of confidence in technology and regulation that characterised the 1990s a result of BSE, contaminated blood and other perceived regulatory failures is no longer the dominant perspective.

In 2010 we see a greater focus on technologies themselves: are they safe? Are they useful? And are there 'technolite' alternatives with more acceptable ethical-moral implications? Europeans are also increasingly concerned about energy and sustainability. There is no rejection of the impetus towards innovation: Europeans are in favour of appropriate regulation to balance the market, and wish to be involved in decisions about new technologies when social values are at stake.

Here is an overview of the findings:

Technological optimism - A majority of Europeans are optimistic about biotechnology (53 per cent optimistic; 20 per cent say 'don't know'). In comparison, they are more optimistic about brain and cognitive enhancement (59; 20), computers and information technology (77; 6), wind energy (84; 6) and solar energy (87; 4), but are less optimistic about space exploration (47; 12), nanotechnology (41; 40) and nuclear energy (39; 13).

Time series data on an index of optimism show that energy technologies wind energy, solar energy and nuclear power are on an upward trend what we call the 'Copenhagen effect'. While both biotechnology and nanotechnology had seen increasing optimism since 1999 and 2002 respectively, in 2010 both show a similar decline with support holding constant but increases in the percentages of people saying they 'make things worse'. With the exception of Austria, the index for biotechnology is positive in all countries in 2010, indicating more optimists than pessimists Germany joining Austria in being the least optimistic about biotechnology. But in only three countries (Finland, Greece and Cyprus) do we see an increase in the index from 2005 to 2010.
GM food - GM food is still the Achilles' heel of biotechnology. The wider picture is of declining support across many of the EU Member States on average opponents outnumber supporters by three to one, and in no country is there a majority of supporters. What is driving the continued opposition to GM food? Public concerns about safety are paramount, followed by the perceived absence of benefits and worry GM food is seen as unnatural and makes many Europeans 'uneasy'. Across the period 1996-2010, we see, albeit with fluctuations, a downward trend in the percentage of supporters. Denmark and the UK, at the higher end of the distribution of support, are exceptions, as is Austria, at the lower end. Those among the 'old' EU countries with a ban on GM crops in place consistently show low values of support, with Italy joining the group. In contrast, Member States where GM crops are grown tend to show among the highest values, suggesting a link between private attitudes and public policies.

Animal cloning for food product - Cloning animals for food products is even less popular than GM food with 18 per cent of Europeans in support. In only two countries Spain and the Czech Republic does animal cloning attract the support of three in ten. This contrasts with 14 countries in which support for GM food is above 30 per cent. Is this an indication of broader public anxieties about biotechnology and food? The idea of the 'natural superiority of the natural' captures many of the trends in European food production, such as enthusiasm for organic food, local food, and worries about food-miles. And if 'unnaturalness' is one of the problems associated with GM food, it appears to be an even greater concern in the case of animal cloning and food products.

Cisgenics - is the genetic modification of crops adding only genes from the same species or from plants that are crossable in conventional breeding programmes. It could be employed, for example, in the cultivation of apples to provide resistance to the common apple diseases and thereby reduce pesticide use. In all EU countries, cisgenic production of apples receives higher support (55 per cent) than transgenic apples (33 per cent), with the former attracting majority support in 24 countries (including Austria).

GM food and transgenic apples are both seen to be unnatural by three out of four respondents. However, support for GM food (27 per cent) is a little lower than for transgenic apples (33 per cent). Transgenic apples are more likely to be perceived as safe and not to harm the environment. It is likely that the preamble in the survey describing transgenic apples as a technique that would 'limit use of pesticides, and so pesticide residues on the apples would be minimal'' suggested an attractive benefit both to food safety and the environment. Cisgenics might be seen as a hypothetical example of the socalled 'second generation' of GM crops. Here, the benefits of GM apple breeding are achieved with a technolite process, a consumer benefit is offered and as such it achieves better ratings in terms of benefits, safety, environment, naturalness, and double the support of GM food.

Governance of science
Europeans' views on the governance of science were sought in the context of two examples of biotechnology: synthetic biology and animal cloning for food products. Respondents were asked to choose between, firstly, decisions making based on scientific evidence or on moral and ethical criteria, and secondly, decisions made on expert evidence or reflecting the views of the public. 52 per cent of European citizens believe that synthetic biology should be governed on the basis of scientific delegation where experts, not the public decide, and where evidence relating to risks and benefits, not moral concerns, are the key considerations.

However, nearly a quarter of Europeans take the opposite view: it is the public, not experts, and moral concerns, not risks and benefits, that should dictate the principles of governance for such technologies (the principle of 'moral deliberation'). For animal cloning (compared to synthetic biology) some 10 per cent fewer opt for scientific deliberation and 9 per cent more opt for moral deliberation. It seems that moral and ethical issues are more salient for animal cloning for food products than for synthetic biology: altogether 38 per cent of respondents choose a position prioritising moral and ethical issues for synthetic biology, with 49 per cent doing the same for animal cloning for food. To put this another way, the European public is evenly split between those viewing animal cloning for food as a moral issue and those viewing it as a scientific issue.

Trust in key actors
The re-building of trust in regulators and industry from the lows in the 1990s is in evidence. On an index capturing a trust surplus or trust deficit, we find 'national governments making regulations' up 23 per cent since 2005. 'Industry developing biotechnology products' is up 9 per cent since 2005 and 62 per cent since 1999, and 'the EU making laws across Europe' is up 14 per cent since 2005. On this index, 'university scientists' maintain a trust surplus of around 80 per cent. There is a robust and positive perception of the biotechnology system. It seems fair to conclude that Europeans have moved on from the crisis of confidence of the mid to late 1990s. It is also notable that both national governments and the EU carry almost equivalent trust surpluses in the majority of countries. It seems as if the idea of national regulation within a framework of European laws is accepted amongst the publics of the European Member States.

Familiarity and engagement
The link between familiarity and engagement with technology is not straightforward. On the one hand, views of nanotechnology are clearly related to the extent of public familiarity and engagement. Those who are actively engaged in finding out about nanotechnology tend to be much more inclined to perceive of it as safe and beneficial and something not to worry about, compared to those for whom nanotechnology is unfamiliar. On the other hand, when it comes to the two controversial biotechnologies, GM food and animal cloning in food production, levels of familiarity and engagement are only weakly related to perceptions of them. These technologies similarly tend to invoke worry, and are perceived as less beneficial and safe than nanotechnology.

Religion and education
Overall, the non-religious are more optimistic about the contribution of technologies to the improvement of everyday life and are more likely to support human embryonic stem cell research. But when faced with a conflict between science and religion they are almost evenly split on which pillar of the truth should prevail not that different to people in the major European religious denominations. Religious commitment appears to be associated with greater concerns about ethical issues in stem cell research and with a belief that ethics should prevail over scientific evidence. However, here again there are many highly religious people who say that science should prevail in such a conflict of opinion.

As to the effect of education the findings show that socialisation in a scientific family and having a university education in science are associated with greater optimism about science and technology, more confidence in regulation based on scientific delegation, and more willingness to encourage the development of both nanotechnology and GM food. However, the findings also show that scientific socialisation either in the family or at university is not a magic bullet it is not the panacea to the issue of resistance to innovation. For example, a majority of those coming from a scientific family background or with a degree in science are not willing to support the development of GM food.

Public ethics, technological optimism and support for biotechnologies
Analysing the range of questions in the survey that address issues of public ethics the moral and ethical issues raised by biotechnology and the life sciences we find five clusters of countries. Key contrast emerge between clusters of countries. First, those that prioritise science over ethics and those that prioritise ethics over science, and second those countries that are concerned about distributional fairness and those who are not. In combination these contrasts are related to people's optimism about the contribution of technologies to improving our way of life and support for regenerative medicines and other applications of biotechnology and the life sciences. Where ethics takes priority over science, concerns about distributional fairness lead to a profile of lower support; but in the absence of sensitivities about distributional fairness, the profile of support is relatively higher. When science taking priority over ethics is combined with concerns about distributional fairness, then we find only moderate support; but here again the absence of sensitivities about distributional fairness reveals a profile of high support.


Americans Are Wary of Genetically Engineered Foods

-Scott Hensley, National Public Radio, USA, Nov 12, 2010 http://www.npr.org/

Would you eat a genetically engineered salmon? Are you even sure what the difference is between the regular variety and one that's been tweaked to grow faster?

Don't feel bad if you're unsure. Only a quarter of Americans say they fully understand what genetically engineered food is all about, according to a survey of more then 3,000 people conducted for NPR by Thomson Reuters last month.

Press people a little further by asking them if genetically engineered foods are safe, and the uncertainty climbs higher. Only 21 percent of people are convinced the foods are safe. Most are unsure - 64 percent. The remaining 15 percent think the foods aren't safe.

People who are a little older, make more money and have at least a college degree are most likely to think safety is not an issue for the foods, whose qualities have been altered by laboratory manipulation of DNA.

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that a food should say on its label if it's from some genetically modified animal or plant - 9 in 10 people surveyed said so.

But that's not guaranteed. Unless there's a really important difference between the normal food and the engineered one, like, say, a change that could cause an allergic reaction in some people, U.S. regulators aren't in a position to require a label that says a food is the result of genetically alteration in the lab.

Take, for instance, the fast-growing genetically engineered salmon being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration right now. The agency has said there's no material difference between the flesh of the altered fish and the ubiquitous farm-raised Atlantic salmon in markets today. So don't look for FDA to require a special label, if it gives the fish the OK.

Bottom line, would you eat a food that has been genetically engineered? People's willingness to chow down on the altered stuff varied a lot by what sort of food would be on the plate:
- * 60 percent are fine with genetically engineered vegetables, fruits or grains.
- 38 percent said OK to altered meat.
- percent would try a genetically engineered fish.

Now you can't get the fish with tweaked DNA just yet, but engineered grains are kind of hard to avoid. From corn to tomatoes, the FDA has cleared the way for a wide range of modified foods.

Overall, a little more than two-thirds of those surveyed said they knew that already. More than 80 percent of people with a college degree say they were aware that some modified food is on the market. By contrast, only 45 percent with a high school education or less knew that.


The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa

- New book by Calestous Juma, Oxford University Press, http://bit.ly/9PsdtR
ISBN13: 9780199783199, ISBN10: 0199783195, Paperback, 296 pages; Also available: Hardback;,Price: $19.95. http://www.oup.com/

African agriculture is currently at a crossroads, at which persistent food shortages are compounded by threats from climate change. But, as this book argues, Africa faces three major opportunities that can transform its agriculture into a force for economic growth: advances in science and technology; the creation of regional markets; and the emergence of a new crop of entrepreneurial leaders dedicated to the continent's economic improvement.

Filled with case studies from within Africa and success stories from developing nations around the world, The New Harvest outlines the policies and institutional changes necessary to promote agricultural innovation across the African continent. Incorporating research from academia, government, civil society, and private industry, the book suggests multiple ways that individual African countries can work together at the regional level to develop local knowledge and resources, harness technological innovation, encourage entrepreneurship, increase agricultural output, create markets, and improve infrastructure.

* Integrates research and policy ideas from an international panel of some of the most influential thinkers on agricultural development
* Presents enactable policy ideas for advancing agriculture throughout Africa, at the national and regional levels
* Includes a wealth of case study material from Green Revolution and educational initiatives in India, China, and throughout Latin America

"Calestous Juma draws on a rich harvest of research to write a convincing analysis of the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship in the agricultural sectors of Africa. Hopefully, it will be widely read by scholars and policy analysts across Africa as well as outside. It is a great book."--Elinor Ostrom, Professor of Political Science, Indiana University, and 2009 Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences

"Calestous Juma has once again produced a book that will be an important reference for scholars, researchers and practitioners in their search for ways to break the persistent conundrum that is Africa's failure to properly exploit its huge agricultural potential. The book reveals his exceptional ability to express ideas that will be relevant to the emerging trends in Africa's agricultural and political economy."--Monty Jones, Executive Director, Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, and 2004 World Food Prize Laureate

"This book presents a timely analysis of the importance of infrastructure in improving Africa's agriculture. Leaders at national and state levels will benefit immensely from its evidence-based recommendations."--Goodluck Jonathan, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

"This book is a forceful reminder of the important role that African women play in agriculture on the continent.is critical that they are provided with equal educational opportunity as a starting pointbuilding a new economic future for the continent."--Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia

"New technologies, especially biotechnology, provide African countries with additional tools for improving the welfare of farmers. I commend this book for the emphasis it places on the critical role that technological innovation plays in agriculture. The study is a timely handbook for those seeking new ways of harnessing new technologies for development, including poor farmers, many of whom are women."--Blaise Compaore, President of Burkina Faso

"The New Harvest the importance of global learning in Africa's agricultural development. It offers new ideas for international cooperation on sustainable agriculture in the tropics. It will pave the way for improved collaboration between Africa and South America."--Laura Chincilla, President of Costa Rica

Calestous Juma is Professor of the Practice of International Development and Director of the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project at Harvard University. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society, the United Kingdom's scientific academy.


2C and Rising: Food Security in a Two-Degree World, How to Cope

- Audio Press Briefing Wednesday, 17 November 2010 - 9:00 a.m. EST/ 2:00 p.m. GMT

For call-in information, please RSVP here - http://sn.im/1gczid

In the lead up to the UNFCCC COP16 in Cancun, Mexico, five of the world's top experts on food security and climate changefrom research centers in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the United States will speak at an audio press briefing for media on Wednesday, 17 November at 9:00 a.m. EST. The panelists will discuss the challenge of feeding the world's poor in the regions most vulnerable to climate change, and associated increases in temperature and variability in terms of rainfall patterns, growing seasons, and other environmental processes critical to food production in developing countries. They will also announce a sweeping new program to address the nexus between climate change and agriculture.

A two-degree Celsius increase in temperature could have devastating impacts on global food production. Crops currently grown in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia simply will not be able to beat the heat. Shifting weather patterns and less reliable growing periods each year could result in failed harvests one of every two years in the low-lying areas of Africa, for example. At the same time, agriculture is a major contributor to climate change. Nearly one third of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from the farm sector.

WHO: Bruce Campbell, CGIARProgram on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)
Andy Jarvis, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)
David Lobell, Stanford University
Gerald Nelson, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Philip Thornton, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
WHEN:Wednesday, 17 November 2010, 9:00 a.m EST/ 2:00 p.m. GMT


A Golden Opportunity to Rethink Genetically Modified Foods

- James McWilliams, Atlantic, Nov. 10, 2010

Using DNA analysis, Swedish scientists recently discovered that genetic modification a transgenic process routinely maligned as "unnatural" by its critics actually took place under perfectly natural conditions about 700,000 years ago. The cross occurred between sheep's fescue and meadow grass, and the vector of transmission was likely a parasite or pathogen. Professor Bengt O. Bengtsson, one of the researchers involved in the study, was unmoved by the revolutionary finding. "We have suspected this for some time," he noted.

But even Professor Bengtsson, who is generally supportive of transgenic technology, sympathizes "with the unease over the increased use of patents and monopolizing practices in plant breeding." He and others would prefer to see "free and commercially independent research on plant genetics ... carried out in universities" for the common good.

Could Golden Rice, in addition to helping the poorest Asians improve their health, also be a golden opportunity for rethinking the promise of this deeply misunderstood technology?

This is a genuine concern. And it's one that prevents many critics of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from backing this powerful and potentially beneficial technology. It will therefore be very interesting to watch the fallout over Golden Rice, a genetically modified rice that will likely become available to Asians in the next year or two.

Golden Rice was created a decade ago by the German academics Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer for purely humanitarian reasons. By genetically modifying rice to produce beta-carotene, which the body processes into vitamin A, they employed an otherwise controversial technology to create a crop capable of reducing blindness and death among the world's poorest children. The scientists initially predicted it would take three years to take their engineered rice from lab to market.

But the legal complexities of their discovery they inadvertently infringed upon over 70 patentswere Byzantine. This multifaceted infringement led Potrykus and Beyer to settle on a public-private partnership with the biotech giant Syngenta. Syngenta, in a trendsetting move, agreed to usher Golden Rice through an international legal maze while providing considerable research support support that eventually led to major improvements in Golden Rice (most notably, it increased the amount of bioavailable vitamin A). Today, Potrykus and Beyer, after 10 years of clearing regulatory hurdles and undoing Greenpeace propaganda, are finally about to make Golden Rice available to the world's poorest farmers.

Golden Rice is a product that should push critics of transgenic seeds to rethink their categorical opposition to this highly politicized technology. Instinctively, they'll surely balk at the mere mention of Syngenta, which (along with Monsanto) is often accused of trying to corner the world's food supply. But in this case the charge doesn't stick .The relationship between Syngenta and farmers is not only mediated by the non-profit Golden Rice Humanitarian Project, but it's carefully designed to avoid the agricultural dependencies characterizing GM corn, soy, and cotton.

As Dr. Adrian Dubock, project manager for Golden Rice Humanitarian Project (and one time Syngenta scientist) explains, "with Golden Rice you have a project now that is demonstrably public sector where the [genetic] trait will be provided free of charge, there's no license fee, it's for poor farmers, it's for health." One should always be suspicious of any public-private relationship, but this deal seems to be genuinely geared to make Golden Rice freely available to those who need it. Plus, no matter what the depth of your doubt, consider the payoff: a chance for millions of potentially sight-impaired children to see.

It's always been my contention that public discussions of food and agriculture tend toward simplistic extremes. They thus motivate concerned citizens to take sides rather than appreciate the complexities of an issue. This obscures solutions that, while never ideal, have the potential to achieve measurable humanitarian and environmental gains. Golden Rice provides a novel opportunity for concerned consumers to split some important hairs when it comes to transgenic seeds.

Not only might Syngenta's interest in public-private partnerships become a replicable model of technology transfer (Monsanto recently developed a GM cowpea), but we're starting to hear more about applications of transgenic technology that are consistent with the underlying goals of sustainable agriculture: increased nitrogen uptake, drought resistance, and traits that allow for a more diversified agricultural base in poor countries.

Could it be that Golden Rice, in addition to helping the poorest Asians improve their health, is also a golden opportunity for rethinking the promise of this deeply misunderstood technology? Or will our distrust of corporate involvement continue to prevent the invention and distribution of seeds that could help the world's poorest farmers help themselves?
Associate Professor of history at Texas State University, San Marcos.

Philippine Farmers Back Field Trials for GM Eggplant

- Rudy A. Fernandez, Philippine Star, Nov. 7, http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=627705&publicationSubCategoryId=77

LOS BAOS, Laguna, Philippines - Farmer-leaders from across the country have expressed strong support for the multilocation trials of genetically modified (GM) eggplants now being conducted by government researchers.

The farmers endorsed the continuation of the field trials of the GM or Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) eggplants in a resolution they unanimously passed at the Second National Agri-biotech Farmers Conference: Productivity and Sustainability through Agri-biotechnology held recently in Reina Mercedes, Isabela.

The conference was organized by the Asian Farmers Regional Network (ASFARNET)-Philippines. It was supported by the Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology Program Office (DA-BPO), Philippine Maize Federation (PhilMaize), the Los Baos-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture-Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA-BIC), and International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

Farmers from the country’s 15 regions approved unanimously a resolution supporting the continuation of the multilocation trials of the fruit and shoot borer (FSB)-resistant Bt eggplant.

The multilocation trials of Bt eggplant must be pushed as most of the farmers are already looking forward to the Bt eggplant seeds which are expected to raise their productivity, improve their livelihood, and reduce their health hazards due to widespread pesticide use, said Felicito Osorio, board member of ASFARNET-Philippines and PhilMaize.

Reynaldo Cabanao, ASFARNET-Philippines president, said the decision to adopt the Bt eggplant technology is with the farmers. Edwin Paraluman, regional coordinator of ASFARNET from General Santos City (Cotabato), concurred, saying the groups advocacy is farmers choice.

Bt eggplant, according to studies could raise farmers income by P50,000 owing to reduction in pesticide use and labor cost. The Bt eggplant technology is also expected to protect farmers from the health risks associated with chemical pesticides.

The research project primarily aims to develop an eggplant resistant to fruit and shoot borer, the most destructive pest attacking eggplant in the Philippines and other Asian countries. FSB can cause yield losses of 51 to 73 percent.

Eggplant is now the countrys leading vegetable crop, area-wise and volume of production. A good source of vitamins, fibers, and minerals, eggplant is one of the main sources of livelihood of small-scale farmers.

So far, there are no commercial varieties of eggplants with high resistance to FSB in the Philippines.

Bt eggplant produces a natural protein that makes it resistant to FSB. Once an FSB caterpillar feeds on Bt eggplant fruits, leaves, and shoots, it stops eating and eventually dies. The Bt protein in eggplant only affects FSB and not humans, farm animals, and other nontarget organisms.

The Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd. (Mahyco) in India has developed a highly resistant biotech eggplant now used in the Philippines, India, and Bangladesh as source of FSB-resistant traits.

UPLB is developing FSB-resistant eggplant in partnership with Mahyco and Cornell University (New York, USA) and with support from DA, ISAAA, SEARCA-BIC, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSP).


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Organic Questioned As Food Challenges Mount

Gerard Wynn, Nampa-Reuters, Nov. 2010


LONDON – The world may need new ecological farming approaches besides organic food, embracing technologies which will help feed more people with limited land and water, scientists say. Organic farming bans the use of yield-boosting, manufactured, inorganic fertilisers as well as industrial pesticides and genetically modified (GM) crops.

Its supporters say the world produces enough food, and the main problems are affordability, accessibility and diets, where meat production uses up more land. They also point to dwindling resources to produce manufactured soil nutrients and an associated rise in costs.

A rise in food prices towards 2008 peaks is feeding a polarised debate on whether African farmers should use non-organic inputs to haul their way out of hunger stoked by that crisis two years ago.

Adding “a reasonable amount” of fertiliser to maize crops in Africa meant “the difference between starving and not only having enough to eat but enough to sell to get some money”, said Gordon Conway, at Imperial College London. “The organic movement has to evolve, to recognise the enormity of the challenge we’ve got, and look more seriously at sound, sustainable ecological approaches which make minimal use of inorganic fertilisers, industrial pesticides and GM.”

That suggestion is disputed by organic advocates who say encouraging more use of such “external inputs”, not recycled from within the farming system such as animal manure or leaves, made poorer farmers more vulnerable.

“In a world where those external inputs are going to get scarcer and more expensive it would be the kiss of death to African farmers to do that, not enlightened or sensible,” said Peter Melchett, policy director at Britain’s Soil Association.
Melchett saw a threat not from stagnant productivity but from relying on fertilisers at a time of dwindling global supplies of natural gas, used to make inorganic nitrogen, and of mined phosphorus.

The International Energy Agency forecast on Tuesday a ten-year global gas glut. The world population is forecast to grow to about nine billion in 2050 from 6,9 billion now.

Rising food prices is a global issue, stoking inflation at a time of weak economic growth and deflation fears, and throwing government funding into agricultural research and technology.

European Union state officials met in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the EU executive Commission’s proposals to allow governments to decide whether to grow or ban GM crops. Many of the bloc’s largest countries have publicly attacked the plans.

Global organic food and drink sales reached US$46 billion in 2007, treble 1999 levels, according to organic trade body estimates, which also put the US market at nearly four per cent of all US food.

A UN report in July hailed such growth as an example of market forces valuing the diversity of wildlife. By avoiding pesticides and herbicides, which kill weeds and insects, organic farming fosters biodiversity.

However, some experts cast doubt on those benefits. They say the lower yields of organic agriculture mean if it were adopted more widely the global farmed area would have to rise to compensate, threatening forests on the other side of the planet. “The sophistication of the argument today is to take into account that trade off,” said Tim Benton from Leeds University.

“You give the impression this piece of [organic] land is better, but perhaps the argument that’s not been made is if this piece of land is better then somewhere else a piece of land is worse.”

He favoured a popular “conservation agriculture” approach, where farmers tilled the soil less, if at all, and in that way used less fuel but still used some fertiliser and herbicides.
One emerging ecological technique spreading in Africa is an “evergreen” approach, using a particular tree which sheds its leaves through the maize growing season, fertilising without shading the crop. The tree is leguminous, meaning it can produce its own nitrogen, a vital plant nutrient, which it adds to the soil for the crop growing beneath when it sheds its leaves.

“Since we’ve now developed mass propagation systems we can work with millions of African farmers planting these trees,” said Dennis Garrity, head of the World Agroforestry Centre, who estimated that 4,5 million African farmers used the approach now and that figure could rise four-fold.

Inorganic fertilisers would complement the approach, which he said also helped trap the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the trees, a focus ahead of a UN climate conference which starts this month in Cancun, Mexico.