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November 22, 2010


Key to Food for the Future, International Society, Activists Hijack Economist Debate, Learning from the Past; Natural Is Not Always Better


* Partnerships and Science are Key to Food for the Future
* The International Society for GM Crops
* Genetically Engineering Soybean Plants to Control Destructive Parasite
* Gene Discovery Suggests Way to Engineer Fast-Growing Plants
* Anti-GM Activists Hijack Economist Debate on Biotech and Agriculture
* Learning from the past: Successes and failures with ag biotrech - last 20 years
* Monsanto Beachell Borlaug International Scholars Program
* Modern day Luther, Prof. Klaus Ammann takes on the mighty Greenpeace
* Would You Feast on Genetically–Engineered Food?
* How Safe Is the Food You Eat?
* Natural Is Not Always Better
* Pesticides are Everywhere! ... So What?
* Video Game: Plant Tycoon
Partnerships and Science are Key to Food for the Future
- Jess Halliday , Food Navigator, Nov 22, 2010
The EU food sector can remain competitive and tackle challenges that lay ahead by forging strong partnerships, looking outside its own borders, and putting scientific advances to the best use, an expert panel on the future of food concluded.
The first session of the bi-annual congress of the CIAA (Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU) in Brussels on Thursday was a wide ranging debate on the challenges faced by the food sector and food security around the globe.
The congress theme was People Planet Partnership, and Monica Marshall, deputy director and global head of public-private partnerships of the UN World Food Programme, threw down the gauntlet to the industry to engage in more public-private partnerships in developing countries, and to “do well by doing good”
“A generation ago companies had to chose between doing well and doing good”, she said. “Now they do both, but only because they do not have the choice. Food security is the first threshold on the way out of poverty, and poverty is not good for anyone’s business.” Jesus Serafin Perez, president of the CIAA, emphasised the need for innovation and new ideas to support the industry’s competitiveness in his welcoming speech at the congress
“Our industry can help find solutions but in a time of unprecedented economic challenges let’s not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Our industry’s competitiveness needs to be supported not undermined. We must not stop innovation, we must not stymie new ideas.”
His view was shared by farmer Tony Pexton, chair of the UK’s NIAB (formerly National Institute of Agricultural Botany), who said that the emphasis at the start of his farming career was on producing more – and yields have been doubled, quality improved and waste reduced through science. Now, however, there is the same call for higher production, but with additional challenges of the need to limit water, energy and fertiliser use, and to have a lighter footprint.
The answer all along the food chain must be science based research – regulation must be as light as possible, consistent with science, and being aware of the unintended consequences, he said. “Science and knowledge transfer are ways of coming with the perfect storm. We are facing huge challenges now, we have to adapt.”
Pexton and Attilio Zanetti, CEO of Zanetti SpA and vice-president of the CIAA, both urged a reconsideration of genetically-modified foods. Zanetti, who spoke on the need for SMEs to combine the best of new technologies with tradition, said: “GMOs were hastily condemned. It is time to give them balanced reconsideration.
The International Society for GM Crops
The International Society for GM Crops hopes to bring together those from the biological sciences, trait research and development, regulatory agencies, seed producers, growers and consumers who have a common interest in GM crop research and its application. The purpose of the Society is to promote scientific research on genetically modified crops, to improve scientific understanding in this field, and to disseminate and apply this knowledge to the benefit of mankind
The mission of the International Society for GM Crops is to provide a forum for research on genetically engineered crops, to encourage science-based dialogue of related issues, and to bring together those who are interested in promoting scientific understanding of these crops for a better world.
The International Society for GM Crops will fulfill its mission through the pursuit of specific objectives, which are to:
• Inform and educate the public on the science of GM technology and its applications;
• Provide a platform for the GM research community to share and publish new research results;
• Establish links with organizations that have a mutual interest in the fields of genetic engineering;
• Advise policy-makers on issues relating to the safety and regulation of GM crops;
• Promote ethical research conduct and quality science among its members;
• Encourage quality research and publications among its members; and
• Strengthen membership through active recruitment.

The objectives of the Society will be fulfilled in two ways. First, Society members are encouraged to publish their state-of-the-art research in GM Crops, the official journal of the society, which is the foremost scientific publication in this field. Members will also be kept informed of news and forthcoming meetings through the society newsletter. Second, the Society will organize regular scientific meetings dedicated to exploring all aspects of genetically modified crops.

The meeting will initially be organized every four years, potentially becoming more frequent (annual or bi-annual) if desired by its members. International meetings will offer the opportunity for presentation and discussion of the most current research in GM crops, as well as emerging issues and discussion of the differing opinions that surround GM crop research.



Genetically Engineering Soybean Plants to Control Destructive Parasite
- Kansas State University, Nov. 8, 2010
Manhattan -- A recently patented invention from a Kansas State University research team aims to control a devastating parasite that causes millions of dollars in crop damage each year.
The invention, "Compositions and Methods for Controlling Plant Parasitic Nematodes," was developed by four K-State researchers: Harold Trick, professor of plant pathology; Timothy Todd, an instructor of plant pathology; Michael Herman, associate professor of biology; and Judith Roe, former assistant professor of biology.
The researchers focused their work on the soybean cyst nematode, a destructive parasite that attacks the roots of soybean plants. Farmers across the country lose nearly $860 million every year because of the nematode. Kansas isn't exempt from the parasite: Todd said that every eastern and south central Kansas county that produces soybeans has soybean cyst nematodes.
"Trying to solve the problems with soybean cyst nematodes would be huge and very beneficial to U.S. farmers," Trick said. "Getting a handle on it is important."
Through genetic engineering, the team engineered soybean plants with specific traits, so that when nematodes feed on the roots they ingest these traits that turn off specific nematode genes.
"What we did was target genes that we thought would be vital for the nematode to survive," Trick said. "If we could turn these nematode genes off, we essentially can kill the nematode and provide the plant with protection."
For the patent, the research targeted three genes: MSP, or Major Sperm Protein, which causes nematode sperm to move; Chitin synthase, the gene that helps form the eggshell on nematode offspring; and RNA Polymerase II, which is vital for RNA production.
By controlling these three genes, researchers were able to halt the reproduction of the nematodes and saw a 68 to 70 percent reduction in the presence of soybean cyst nematode. The team was also careful to prevent any negative off-target effects, or ways that the altered genes could negatively affect the soybeans or animals and humans who ingest the soybeans.
While the patent is very valuable for soybean production, it has also opened the way for further beneficial research. Since the work on the patent, Trick and Todd have continued similar research on 20 different kinds of gene sequences in other plant and nematode species. They are taking the same method of destroying the soybean cyst nematode and applying it to nematodes that affect plants such as wheat, tomatoes and pineapples.
Trick and Todd have been supported in their research by funding from the Kansas Soybean Commission and the United Soybean Board. They are in the process of filing for additional patents for some of their inventions.
"With this technology -- it may not be the genes under the patent, and it may be other genes that we find or someone else finds -- we're hoping to produce plants with durable resistance to parasitic nematodes," Trick said.
Gene Discovery Suggests Way to Engineer Fast-Growing Plants
- Press Release -- DURHAM, N.C. -- November 12, 2010

Tinkering with a single gene may give perennial grasses more robust roots and speed up the timeline for creating biofuels, according to researchers at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy (IGSP).

Perennial grasses, including switchgrass and miscanthus, are important biofuels crops and can be harvested repeatedly, just like lawn grass, said Philip Benfey, director of the IGSP Center for Systems Biology. But before that can happen, the root system needs time to get established.

"These biofuel crops usually can't be harvested until the second or third year," Benfey said. "A method to improve root growth could have a major role in reducing the time to harvest for warm season grasses."

Benfey's team appears to have found a way to do just that. They took a directed genomic approach aimed at identifying genes that become active when cells stop dividing and start taking on the characteristics of the mature, adult cell they are to become. "We systematically looked for those genes that come 'on' precisely when cells transition from proliferation to differentiation and then turn 'off' again just as quickly," Benfey said.

That genome-wide search in the roots of the familiar laboratory plant Arabidopsis and subsequent screening of mutant lines turned up a single gene, which the researchers call UPBEAT1 (UPB1). Further study showed that UPB1 controls the gene expression of enzymes known as peroxidases.

They then showed that these peroxidases control the balance of free radicals between the zone of cell proliferation and the zone of cell elongation where differentiation begins. (Although free radicals are probably most familiar as agents of stress to be combated with antioxidants, Benfey noted that the balance of free radicals has also been implicated in the control of a similar transition from proliferation to differentiation in animals.)

When the researchers experimentally disrupted UPB1 activity in the plant root, it altered the balance of free radicals such that cells delayed their differentiation and continued growing. Those plants ended up with faster-growing roots, having more and larger cells. When UPB1 activity was artificially increased, the growth of plant roots slowed.

"It's possible that by manipulating a single gene, you could get a plant with rapid growth," Benfey said. Interestingly, UPB1 appears to act independently of plant hormones that play well-known roles in the balance between cell division and differentiation.

From an engineering perspective, the prospect of enhancing growth by taking a gene away, as opposed to adding one, is particularly appealing, Benfey notes.

"It also suggests that plants are not growing at their full potential," he says. That makes sense, of course, as plants in the real world have to make tradeoffs, for example, between growth and reproduction.

In addition to their potential in biofuels production, the findings might also lead to new ways to produce bigger and stronger plants with the capacity to sequester more earth-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Benfey says. His startup company, GrassRoots Biotechnology Inc., has acquired the patent for this discovery with its potential in mind. The company's primary goals are the development of next-generation biofuels and the use of root systems for carbon sequestration.

Anti-GM Activists Hijack Economist Debate on Biotechnology and Agriculture
• Tim Dean , Australian Life Scientist, Nov. 13, , 2010 11:42

A debate on biotechnology and sustainable agriculture hosted by The Economist magazine was hoodwinked by technical difficulties and a strong anti-genetically modified food lobby.
British news and analysis magazine, The Economist, has announced the results of its recent debate on biotechnology and sustainable agriculture finding a majority of voters in opposition of the motion, yet suggesting that technical difficulties and a coordinated effort by anti-GM activists has skewed the result.
The debate, part of The Economist's regular series, put forth the following motion: "This house believes that biotechnology and sustainable agriculture are complementary, not contradictory."
The final result was 62% against and 38% for the motion. However, the vote tally was seen to fluctuate dramatically over the course of the week-long debate, suggesting irregularities.
According to a blog post on The Economist website, these irregularities were caused both by technical difficulties and an organised campaign by "opponents of genetic modification in its current form."
The technical difficulties resulted from The Economist's internal-use staging debate server becoming accessible to the public, with votes posted there and on the official live debate site.
However, because the staging server was not set up to handle the load of public traffic, the volume of votes cast there crashed the server The volume of traffic, in turn, was due to the staging server addressing being circulated in anti-GM circles, encouraging activists to vote on the debate.
The final result tallied by The Economist was a composite of the two servers. The original server saw 46% in favour and 54% against, while the staging server reported 35% yes and 65% no.
The Economist's public debate website is currently offline.
Mark Cantley Sun 14/11/2010 - 01:09
The Economist debate was fine, but the poll result and the weight attributed to it raise suspicion that the whole process of using allegedly random polling as a means of reporting on public opinion has been taken over by well-organised anti-GM interests. Can the survey statisticians not come up with something slightly heavier, in terms of survey methods and objectivity, than offering the (prestigious-sounding) shop-window of the Economist as a vehicle for lobbying? As a means of reporting on "public opinion", this one stinks. There was a survey of its readership by some (Republican-sympathising) magazine when Truman faced his first election, and they predicted his annihilation. They was wrong


Learning from the past: Successes and failures with agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries over the last 20 years

- Summary document of the FAO e-conference http://www.fao.org/biotech/docs/learning.pdf

This document summarizes the major issues discussed by the participants of a moderated e- mail conference hosted by the FAO Biotechnology Forum from 8 June to 8 July 2009, entitled "Learning from the past: Successes and failures with agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries over the last 20 years". It took place as part of the build up to the FAO international technical conference on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries (ABDC-10), that was held in Guadalajara, Mexico on 1-4 March 2010 (www.fao.org/biotech/abdc/).

Participants in the conference shared a wealth of experiences regarding the use of agricultural biotechnologies across the different food and agricultural sectors in developing countries. They provided concrete examples where agricultural biotechnologies were benefiting smallholders in developing countries. They also discussed at length why specific biotechnologies, as well as agricultural biotechnologies in general, had not succeeded in developing countries and they offered suggestions to increase their success in the future. The conference also indicated that there is no general answer to whether applications of a given agricultural biotechnology have succeeded or failed in the past, but that every application is different and its success depends primarily on the local context in which it is used.

Cross-sectoral discussions covered four main reasons for failures of agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries. The first was the lack of funds, facilities and trained professionals, where their negative impacts were highlighted. The second was brain drain, which weakened national capacities, although some participants argued that it should not only be considered in a negative light. The third was inappropriate research focus, where it was argued that researchers were increasingly focusing on basic rather than applied research. The fourth was the lack of political will, where it was considered that there was government apathy to research in general, as well as biotechnology research in particular, while the positive enabling role that government policies could play was underlined.

Cross-sectoral discussions also included four main suggestions for increasing the success of agricultural biotechnologies in the future. The first was that research should be focused on the real problems of the farmers, where discussions included practical recommendations to make this possible. The second was that extension systems should be strengthened, as they can ensure that relevant R&D results actually reach the farmer. The third was that regional and sub-regional cooperation should be increased, and establishment of sub-regional centres of excellence was proposed. The fourth was that public-private partnerships (PPPs) be formed, and participants described some recent examples and discussed the potential advantages and disadvantages of PPPs.

Monsanto Beachell Borlaug International Scholars Program


Applications for the third round of funding from Monsanto's Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program (MBBISP) are currently being accepted until February 1, 2011. Funds are available for scholars pursuing a PhD in wheat and rice breeding students.

MBBISP is a five year, $10 million program to support scholars who are focusing their work on addressing global challenges of rice and wheat. Texas AgriLife Research administers the grants.

To learn more about the program or to apply, please visit http://www.monsanto.com/mbbischolars

Contact - Dr. Ed Runge, MBBISP Program Director and Judging Panel Chair at e-runge@tamu.edu


Modern day Luther, Klaus Ammann takes on Greenpeace

Watch the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEiR5RsXuEk

See the visit of the Greenpeace main office in Hamburg where Prof. Klaus Ammann has, in imitation of Martin Luther, nailed his thesis on the positive aspects of plant biotechnology, (symbolic) at the door of Greenpeace.

Although it is in German, the poker faces of Greenepace at the end of the movie is in itself fun to look at ☺

Thanks Jens for the tip!

See also http://www.gruenevernunft.de/?q=node/500

Ökologie-Professor schlägt Thesen zur Grünen Gentechnik an Greenpeace-Pforte
Forum Grüne Vernunft lädt zum Dialog über die Grüne Gentechnik ein
Hamburg, 19.11.2010

Der Schweizer Botanik- und Ökologie-Professor Dr. Klaus Ammann hat heute Thesen zur Grünen Gentechnik an die Pforte der Zentrale von Greenpeace Deutschland in Hamburg angeschlagen. Ziel der vom Forum Grüne Vernunft initiierten Aktion ist neben der Aufklärung über die in Deutschland kritisch wahrgenommene Grüne Gentechnik auch ein Neustart der Diskussion über diesen Aspekt der Biotechnologie.


Would You Feast on Genetically–Engineered Food?

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter and 'The Frankenfood Myth' co-author Gregory Conko debate the risks and benefits of foods that are genetically engineered.


Stossel blog on this at http://stossel.blogs.foxbusiness.com/2010/11/19/‘natural’-foods-activist-gets-it-wrong/

How Safe Is the Food You Eat?

'Slow Food USA' President Joshua Viertel argues the risks of illness from foods are higher than ever.



Natural Is Not Always Better

- John Stossel,
- http://www.creators.com/opinion/john-stossel/natural-is-not-always-better.html

It's not what we don't know that causes us trouble. It's what we know that isn't so. Whichever famous writer said that (it's been attributed to many), what he said carries truth.

What are some of the things we know that aren't so? Here's one: Grass-fed "free-range" beef cattle are better for the environment — and for you — than factory-farmed corn-fed cattle. It does seem to make sense that the steer raised in the more "natural" environment would be better for the world.

Michael Pollan, the prolific food author and activist, wrote in The New York Times that "what was once a solar-powered ruminant (grass-fed steer) (has been turned) into the very last thing we need: another fossil-fuel machine." How so? Farmers burn fossil fuels to ship corn to feed cows instead of letting them eat what's naturally under their feet.

Restaurants serving burgers supposedly made from grass-fed beef self-servingly claim their foods are healthier for the planet. The American Grassfed Association — surprise, surprise — says its cattle are better for the environment because harmony is created between the land and the animals.

People believe. Nobody likes the idea of cattle jammed into feedlots. When we asked people which kind of cattle were better, we got the expected answers: "Free roaming." "Cows should be outside." "Free-roaming grass-fed cows, because you've got happy cows. They've lived a happy life out in sunshine."

It's logical to think that grass-fed steers might be better for the environment, but so often what sounds logical is just wrong.

Don't believe me? Dr. Jude Capper, an assistant professor of dairy sciences at Washington State University, has studied the data. Capper said: "There's a perception out there that grass-fed animals are frolicking in the sunshine, kicking their heels up full of joy and pleasure. What we actually found was from the land-use basis, from the energy, from water and, particularly, based on the carbon footprints, grass-fed is far worse than corn-fed."

How can that be? "Simply because they have a far lower efficiency, far lower productivity.

The animals take 23 months to grow. (Corn-fed cattle need only 15.) That's eight extra months of feed, of water, land use, obviously, and also an awful lot of waste. If we have a grass-fed animal, compared to a corn-fed animal, that's like adding almost one car to the road for every single animal. That's a huge increase in carbon footprints."

Once again, modern technology saves money and is better for the earth. By stuffing the feedlot animals with corn, farmers get them to grow faster. Therefore they can slaughter them sooner, which is better for the earth than letting them live longer and do all the environmentally damaging things natural cows do while they are alive. "Absolutely right," Capper said. "Every single day, they need feed, they need water, and they give off methane nitrous oxide — very potent greenhouse gases that do damage."

But what about damage to people? Some advocates of grass-fed beef claim that the more naturally raised animals are healthier to eat. "There is absolutely no scientific evidence based on that. Absolutely none," she replied. "There is some very slight difference in fatty acids, for example, but they are so minor that they don't make any significant human health impact."

But what about those hormones the cows are given? Surely that cannot be good for us.

"What we have to remember is every food we eat — whether it's tofu, whether it's beef, whether it's apples — they all contain hormones. There's nothing, apart from salts, that doesn't have some kind of hormone in them."

So the next time you reach for that package of beef in the grocery store tagged with all the latest grass-fed, free-range lingo, remember: Not only does it often cost twice as much, but there's no evidence it's better for the environment or better for you.

It's just another food myth.

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "Give Me a Break" and of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at http://www.johnstossel.com


Pesticides are Everywhere! ... So What?

- John Stossel, Fox Business Network, November 18, 2010


Chemicals are everywhere! Farmers spray their crops with pesticides, fungicides, weed killers -- and some of that residue still lingers on the food when we eat it. fear of those pesticides has helped Organic food become a big business, because organic food is supposed to be "clean" and free of pesticides. The Organic Trade Association says the organic industry made $25 billion in 2009 sales, 5.1% growth over the year before.
I think their customers are suckers. The chemicals residues on cheaper, conventional food are microscopic -- far below levels found to cause harm. On tonight's show (FBN @ 9pm ET), I'll talk to Alex Avery of the Hudson Institute and Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides.

Of course, if people want to buy organic food because pesticides creep them out, or they think organics taste better, they're welcome to pay the higher prices.
But they don’t stop there. Environmentalists want the government to ban chemicals, like the weed killer atrazine. Atrazine has been in widespread use for decades. More than 6,000 studies have been done on its safety. In 2006, the EPA completed a safety review on atrazine and found levels of atrazine "that Americans are exposed to in their food and drinking water ... are below the level that would potentially cause health effects." Still, environmentalists (Should I even call them that? They employ more lawyers than scientists) at the National Resources Defense Council demand that atrazine be banned, and the Obama Administration has launched yet another expensive safety review.

There’s a reason farmers use these chemicals. They are incredibly beneficial. An EPA study found that atrazine boosts yields by 6 percent or more, saving corn farmers as much as $28 per acre -- more than $2 billion in direct benefit. It also makes "No-Till" farming possible, which reduces soil erosion and keeps huge amounts of carbon dioxide trapped in the ground (something I thought environmentalists were supposed to care about).
Chemicals are good. Chemophobia is bad.


Video Game: Plant Tycoon

- ACTIVISION. Platform: Windows XP, Mac | Rated: Everyone, $5.99

The genetically enhanced gardening sim!

In Plant Tycoon you nurture plants and experiment with increasingly rare and valuable species. The object is to breed and cross breed plants until you find the 6 Magic Plants of Isola and solve the genetic puzzle.

You start with a couple of dollars a handful of seeds some soil and water. Grow plants organize and harvest seeds monitor your plants' health age and maturity and protect your plants from dehydration and infestations. Sell some of your creations to fund your research buy better supplies to use in your Nursery and purchase ornaments to customize your virtual garden. Product Features True real-time game: new surprises every time you turn the game on.

Over 500 different species of plants to discover. A wide variety of collectible insects to retrieve. Dozens of different kinds of seeds to experiment with. Simulation Game: virtual plants in a persistent world. Collect seeds Hundreds of

Review by By Julie Ritter (Tennessee)
I like this game. I can play it while cleaning the house and if one of my kids need me i dont have to pause it to see what they need. I think this game is great for parents to just play if you like seeing what you can make by mixing the plants. I think some of the plants look beautiful...wish I had them in my garden. Over all it can get a little boring if you play it too much but it is still fun.