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December 3, 2010


Activist Judge Uproots Beet; Africa Can Feed Itself In A Generation; ET Bacteria


* Calif. Judge Makes Harsh Ruling Against GM-Sugar Beet Seeds
* Judge's Ban on Modified Beets to Be Appealed
* India: Government Proposes Five-Member Biotech Regulator
* Africa Can Feed Itself In A Generation: Study
* Dr. Pamela Ronald to appear on “The Dr. Oz Show”
* Free Membership to the International Society for GM Crops
* Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference 2011
* Demand For Regulatory Services, An African Challenge
* New Bacteria Redefines 'Life As We Know It'

Calif. Judge Makes Harsh Ruling Against GM-Sugar Beet Seeds
- ACSH, December 3, 2010

The saga over genetically modified sugar beets continues to unfold with the latest ruling on Tuesday by Judge Jeffrey S. White of the United States District for Northern California banning farmers from planting Monsanto’s Roundup Ready sugar beet seeds next spring. Judge White also ordered farmers to pull 256 acres of the GM baby beet plants from the ground. Currently, these genetically modified seeds make up 95 percent of the total U.S. sugar beet acreage, and a halt in their production would lead to a 20 percent drop in sugar production over the next two years as well as a concurrent price increase for consumers and food processors.

Judge White issued a similar judgment in August, declaring that the herbicide-resistant sugar beets could no longer be grown until the U.S. Department of Agriculture submitted an environmental impact survey. The USDA was able to provide a temporary order to allow continued raising of the genetically-modified sugar beets until Judge White issued his latest injunction Tuesday in a trial prompted by lawsuits from a number of allied environmental groups acting under the leadership of the Center for Food Safety.

“It’s amazing how small groups have the power to run roughshod over science-based agricultural methods and policies,” notes ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.

“These GM products have been around for a long time, and the Roundup Ready seeds were one of the first herbicide-resistant manipulations introduced. Its danger to human health or possibility of spreading to other fields has been documented to be extraordinarily low,” says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “A more logical Judge would have figured out a way to let farmers continue to plant and harvest these beets, but Judge White decided he was going to teach everyone a lesson, and now there’s great uncertainty over whether they’ll be planted next year.”


Judge's Ban on Modified Beets to Be Appealed
- Scott Kilman and Bill Tomson, Wall Street Journal, Dec , 2010

Monsanto Co. said Wednesday it would appeal a federal judge's order to uproot hundreds of acres of genetically modified sugar-beet plants in Arizona and Oregon next week.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction late Tuesday at the request of environmental groups, which had argued the U.S. Department of Agriculture improperly issued planting permits in September to a handful of companies that produce sugar-beet seeds.

Activists groups, including the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice, are trying to prevent the Obama administration from sidestepping Judge White's August decision that effectively banned U.S. farmers from planting genetically modified sugar beets next spring, and perhaps even in 2012.

"With due respect, we believe the court's action overlooked the factual evidence presented that no harm would be caused by these plantings, and is plainly inconsistent with the established law," said David Snively, Monsanto's general counsel.

The sugar-beet plants at the center of this fight are genetically modified in the same way as the majority of corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the U.S. They contain Monsanto genes that give them immunity to glyphosate-based herbicide, which the St. Louis crop-biotechnology company sells under its Roundup brand.

Monsanto licenses several sugar-beet seed companies to use its herbicide-tolerant gene in their breeding programs.

In Washington, Agriculture Department officials are mulling whether to challenge Judge White's latest ruling. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack complained Wednesday about a legal system in which "a single judge can essentially decide if someone gets to farm or doesn't get to farm."

Judge White sent shock waves through the sugar industry in August, when he decided that sugar-beet farmers had to stop using genetically modified seed until the USDA writes an environmental impact statement about it, a process that the agency predicts would take until the spring of 2012.

Federal officials are trying to figure out a way to allow farmers to plant some genetically modified sugar beets in the meantime amid predictions that a shortage of conventional seed could cause sugar beet acreage to shrivel next year.

About half of the sugar produced in the U.S. comes from sugar beets grown on about 1.1 million acres, and 95% of those plants are genetically modified.


India: Government Proposes Five-Member Biotech Regulator
- PTI, December 04, 2010

New Delhi: The proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority will comprise a five-member panel of experts who will have the final say in deciding the "safety and efficacy" issues of genetically-modified crops leaving no scope for political interference in this field.

The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, being given final touches by the Law Ministry, is likely to be tabled in the Budget Session of Parliament next year. A five-member panel of experts would form the BRAI that will have powers to decide on safety and efficacy of genetically modified products -- be it medicines or plants.

However, a final decision on commercialisation of the product would vest with the respective controllers like the Drug Controller General of India in case of medicines, senior officials of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) said.

The DBT is piloting the Bill to set up the BRAI, which will replace the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee and the Review Committee on Genetic Modification.

The Board of Governors, with representatives from 13 ministries involved in the regulation of biotech products, and the Biotechnology Regulatory Advisory Council will be the two arms of the BRAI. The Council will have representatives of all the stakeholders, including farmers associations, consumer organisations and NGOs.

The Board of Governors, comprising Secretary rank officers, will be headed by the Secretary, Department of Science and Technology.

The BRAI will also identify labs where trials ongenetically-modified products could be carried out, results of which will form the basis of appraisal of the product. "We hope to halve the time taken for product appraisals once the BRAI come into being," M K Bhan, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology told reporters here.

Once an application for product appraisal is received, the Risk Assessment Unit (RAU) will analyse the data related to it and make recommendations, from here the product ruling committee takes over and makes its observations.

The matter is then put up before the five-member BRAI who take a final decision regarding the safety and efficacy of that particular product. After the decision is announced all related documents regarding the product, barring those covering intellectual property rights and commercial issues, will be kept in the public domain for comments.

The Bill also has provisions for setting up an appellate body, to be headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, for redressal of grievances of the applicant.

Since various wings of the BRAI will require "extreme specialists" in regulation matters, the DBT has also proposed to set up a training school for those working with it.


Africa Can Feed Itself In A Generation: Study

Lead author of the study, Calestous Juma, is a professor of international development at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Africa can feed itself. And it can make the transition from hungry importer to self-sufficiency in a single generation.

The startling assertions, in stark contrast with entrenched, gloomy perceptions of the continent, highlight a collection of studies published today that present a clear prescription for transforming Sub-Saharan Africa's agriculture and, by doing so, its economy.

The strategy calls on governments to make African agricultural expansion central to decision making about everything from transportation and communication infrastructure to post-secondary education and innovation investment.

The approach is outlined in an independent study, "The New Harvest, Agricultural Innovation in Africa," led by Harvard University professor Calestous Juma.

And it is gathering political momentum, with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete to launch the report at a retreat of East African Community (EAC) Heads of State in Arusha, Tanzania, Thurs., Dec. 2. Following a presentation by Prof. Juma, President Kikwete will chair a discussion with Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi, Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, on policies and strategies to address persistent food insecurity in the East Africa in light of climate change. (See also an EAC news release online at www.eac.int/about-eac/eacnews/520.html?task=view)

Preliminary results of the study, financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, were adopted earlier this year by the 19-member Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the continent's largest trading bloc.

"African agriculture is at the crossroads," says Dr. Juma, a professor of international development at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and recognized globally for his work in applying science and technology to sustainable development.

With its vast untapped resources, Africa enjoys tremendous potential and opportunities but remains characterized by persistent food shortages, which may be worsened by climate change unless efforts to change direction are stepped up.

"We have come to the end of a century of policies that favored Africa's export of raw materials and importation of food. Africa is starting to focus on agricultural innovation as its new engine for regional trade and prosperity," he says.

"Yet Africa has abundant arable land and labor which, with an agreed common approach and sound policies, could translate into greater production, incomes and food security."

"The plan would combine the use of modern science and technology, infrastructure expansion, improved technical education, and stimulation of business development. By focusing on women and rural prosperity, Africa would create a more inclusive agricultural revolution."

Key elements in the transition include:

* Use of modern technologies (including modern biotechnology) and investment in geographical sciences for improved natural resource management;
* Continued expansion of basic infrastructure (telecommunications, transportation, energy, and irrigation);
* Improved technical education, especially for women and provision of experiential education;
* Creation of new enterprises, especially in fields such as seed production, farm mechanization, food storage and processing;
* Harmonization of trading practices that extends regional markets;
* Close cooperation between government, industry, academia and civil society in policy formulation and implementation;
* Leadership by presidents and prime ministers to coordinate critical input involved a diversity of powerful ministries dealing with finance, infrastructure, education, trade and industry, and regional cooperation.
"An African agricultural revolution is within reach, provided the continent can focus on supporting small-scale farmers to help meet national and regional demand for food," Prof. Juma says.

Political support is strong and growing as African presidents start to pay attention to the importance of agriculture in overall economic transformation. "They are also benefiting from exemplary leadership provided by Malawi's Bingu wa Mutharika who until recently also doubled as the country's agriculture minister.

And, Prof. Juma notes, China, India, Brazil and others are recognizing Africa's overwhelming potential with a rising level of strategic investment.

Originally intended as a series of monographs for African leaders, the work has attracted such widespread interest it is being published in book form by Oxford University Press.


Pamela Ronald to appear on “The Dr. Oz Show”

Broadcast Date - Dec. 7, 2010 - 3:00 PM EST (The GMO discussion will be from 3:00 – 3:20)

Dr. Pamela Ronald will be a featured guest on an upcoming episode of “The Dr. Oz Show.” Dr. Ronald is a Professor of Plant Pathology at UC-Davis and the author of Tomorrow’s Table. She will be sharing her scientific expertise in a discussion on the safety of GMOs.

Dr. Oz has served as a health expert on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” since 2004. “The Dr. Oz Show” debuted in 2009 and focuses on medical issues and personal health. Joining Dr. Ronald in the discussion on GMOs will be Jeffrey Smith from the Institute of Responsible Technology and Dr. Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union.

Be sure to tune in December 7 at 3:00 PM EST to watch the segment with Dr. Ronald. Please check http://www.doctoroz.com/ for more information and to find your local station.


Free Membership to the International Society for GM Crops

Friends: May I invite you to please spend a couple of moments to fill in your contact details for a free membership to the Intl Society for GM Crops at


Membership is free for all members through November 2011. Benefits of full individual membership include print and electronic subscriptions to GM Crops and reduced registration fee for the Annual Meetings. Moreover, a contact directory of its members will be available to each member.

The first Conference of the society is scheduled for next year (November 20-23, 2011) in Cairo, Egypt.

- Prakash


Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference 2011

- Johannesburg, South Africa; September 6-9, 2011

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference 2011 (ABIC 2011) to be held in the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa

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.

Please register at http://www.abic2011.co.za/delegate-registration.html

- Warm Regards, Prof. Jocelyn Webster, AfricaBio


Demand For Regulatory Services, An African Challenge

Ghana Business News, November 30, 2010
Africa is faced with the challenge of demand for regulatory services which outstrips resources available whilst the political landscape also posed a serious challenge.
Biosafety regulatory systems are essential in realising the benefits of safe applications of modern biotechnology, Mr Samuel Timpo, Deputy Director of AU-NEPAD African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) said on Monday.
Speaking at a week’s study tour for African Biosafety regulators, in Pretoria in South Africa, Mr Timpo said biosafety laws were critical for every functional regulatory system but most African countries that signed up to the Cartegena Protocol had not established regulatory systems.

“The absence of biosafety regulations, limited capacity and lack of access to accurate information, have been identified as the critical limitations to the growth of biotechnology”, Mr Timpo said. The study tour is being sponsored by the AU-NEPAD African Biosafety Network of Expertise and facilitated by African Bio, a non-governmental organisation on biotechnology.

It is attended by biosafety regulators from Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Somalia and Zimbabwe. The tour is to promote the sharing of knowledge and experience between regulators from countries with new and emerging biosafety systems on one hand and industry practitioners in countries that are conducting field trials and have commercialising biotech crops.

In addition, it would create a network of regulators and practitioners to facilitate cross-learning and the sharing of lessons in future.

Mr Timpo noted that laws and institutions assisted in achieving acceptable and conflicting interest and that the AU-NEPAD High Level African Panel on modern biotechnology had recommended that biotechnology and biosafety should be co-evolved so that the technology and regulations would help promote innovations.
Mr Timpo called for concerted efforts in biosafety capacity building and sustained collaborative relationships and the need to sustain collaborative relationships to move the agenda forward.

Dr Dave Keetch, Official of Africa Bio said millions of farmers around the world continued to accept and cultivate Genetically Modified Crops (GM) and 2009 alone recorded 14 million farmers planting 134 million hectares in 25 countries.
Out this figure, 13 million were small and resource-poor farmers from developing countries.

GM crops mainly grown include maize, soyabean, cotton, canola, papaya, squash, and sweet pepper whilst GM soyabean continued to be most important crop of the global GM crop area followed by maize, cotton and canola.

Dr Keetch listed some of the benefits of GM crops as increase crop productivity, conserves biodiversity, promotes self-sufficiency, reduces environmental footprint of agriculture, increase stability of production, provide economic, health and social benefits and mitigate against some of the challenges of climate change He said trends of events predicted that 20 million farmers would be planting 200 million hectares of GM crops in 40 countries by 2015 whilst GM rice and drought-tolerant trait would also drive the future adoption of the technology.

Dr Keetch noted that African agriculture was currently at crossroads where persistent food shortages were compounded by new threats from climate change and Africa had three opportunities that had the potential to transform its agriculture into a force for economic growth.

These, he listed as advances in science and technology, the creation of regional markets and the emergency of new leaders dedicated to the continent’s economic improvement.

Dr Keetch urged African leaders to embrace the idea of biotechnology as one of the tools that would improve and turn round agriculture in Africa for the better.


New Bacteria Redefines 'Life As We Know It'

- Daniel Terdiman, CNET, Dec 3, 2010

This is a NASA image of the microbe GFAJ-1 grown on arsenic. The microbe is the first known life to be able to use arsenic in its DNA structure in place of phosphorous, which is used by all other known life forms.

NASA scientists have discovered a new type of bacteria that is able to substitute arsenic--a poison to most living creatures--as a biological building block, something no other known life form on Earth can do, the agency said today.

In a press conference held at NASA's Washington D.C. headquarters, scientists announced that they had discovered a new form of bacteria, known as GFAJ-1, in California's Mono Lake that has DNA completely foreign to anything ever before found on Earth. It has the ability to substitute arsenic at the DNA level for phosphorus.

That would distinguish it from every other form of life known to man, all of which, no matter how diverse, are based on the same six elements, phosphorus, sulfur, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. But after months in the laboratory, the bacteria that was found in Mono Lake--which is known for its unusual chemistry, including very high levels of salinity, alkalinity, and arsenic--was found to have substituted arsenic atoms for phosphorous atoms in its cells.

"We've discovered an organism that can substitute one element for another," said Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA astrobiology research fellow at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif. "We've cracked open the door to what's possible for life elsewhere in the universe.
Although there had been speculation that NASA's announcement would revolve around life--perhaps bacteria--found elsewhere, such as Mars, the news does keep us here on Earth.

But Wolfe-Simon said that by discovering a microbe that has this adaptable DNA, it forces scientists to question what they've long held as true--that all life was based on the same six components.

"The newly discovered microbe, strain GFAJ-1, is a member of a common group of bacteria, the Gammaproteobacteria," NASA wrote in a release. "In the laboratory, the researchers successfully grew microbes from the lake on a diet that was very lean on phosphorus, but included generous helpings of arsenic. When researchers removed the phosphorus and replaced it with arsenic, the microbes continued to grow. Subsequent analyses indicated that the arsenic was being used to produce the building blocks of new GFAJ-1 cells."

NASA feels that this discovery is important because it will help scientists with many areas of future research, such as the "study of Earth's evolution, organic chemistry, biogeochemical cycles, disease mitigation, and Earth system research. These findings also will open up new frontiers in microbiology and other areas of research."