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Date:

January 4, 2011

Subject:

GM Crops Can Confer Economic Benefits to Nearby Non-GM Farmers

 

GM Crops Can Confer Economic Benefits to Nearby Non-GM Farmers
North Carolina growers looking to cash in with biotech crops
UP scientists blast raid on Bt eggplant test site
CPM shifts stand on Genetically Modified crops
Euro research shows GM no riskier

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GM Crops Can Confer Economic Benefits to Nearby Non-GM Farmers
Suite 101.com
Dec 30, 2010

Recent research suggests that the use of genetically modified insect-resistant crops can have a beneficial effect on surrounding non-transgenic crops. It is suggested that this may be due to a decline in the regional population of the pest Ostrinia nubilalis (European corn borer). The European corn borer is economically significant to maize farmers, with heavy infestations causing estimated yield losses of up to 25% (Myers et al).

Bt maize expresses insecticidal proteins

The bacterium Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) has long been known to display insecticidal properties. It produces a range of endotoxins, proteins causing death to insects when ingested. Over 130 of these proteins have been identified to date; each protein only being active in only a few insect species (de Maagd et al, 1999).

In 1993, Koziel et al reported excellent resistance of a transgenic line of maize plants to the European corn borer. The transgenic plants were created by incorporating a synthetic gene containing a truncated version of one of the endotoxin proteins from B. thuringensis.

Transgenic Bt widely planted in US

Bt maize has been increasingly widely used by farmers in the US during the past decade, since its introduction by Monsanto in 1996. In 2009, the National Agricultural Statistic Service reported that 17% of all maize (corn) planted in the US was transgenic Bt maize.

This widespread planting of Bt maize has led to concerns that resistance to transgenic crops may develop, and scientists recommend that farmers should maintain a refuge of non-transgenic maize representing at least 5% of the total planted area in order to ensure a healthy population of non-resistant pests is preserved (Alsted and Andow, 1996)

Bt maize causes area-wide effects

In a new study by Hitchinson et al (2010), the population of European corn borers as estimated from larval surveys was compared with the proportion of Bt maize crops in five US states. Researchers observed a decline in the population of European corn borers in non-Bt maize fields, believed to be due to the growing of Bt maize crops in nearby areas. On the basis of their studies, the researchers estimated that use of Bt maize had led to cumulative benefits of $6.9 billion over the past 14 years, of which $4.3 billion was estimated to benefit non-Bt maize growers.

Sources

SW Myers, M Ballweg, JL Wedberg "Assessing the Impact of European Corn Borer on Corn Grown for Silage" Focus on Forage 3:1-3

"Acreage" Agricultural Statistics Board Report 2009

RA de Maagd, D Bosch, W Stiekema "Bacillus thuringiensis toxin-mediated insect resistance in plants" Trends in Plant Science 4:9-13 (1999)

MG Koziel, GL Beland, C Bowman "Field performance of Elite Transgenic Maize Plants Expressing an Insecticidal Protein Derived from Bacillus thuringensis" Nature Biotechnology 11:194-200 (1993)

DN Alsted, DA Andlow "Implementing Management of Insect Resistance to Transgenic Crops" AgBiotech News and Information 8:177-181 (1996)

WD Hitchinson, EC Burkness, PD Mitchell "Areawide Suppression of European Corn Borer With Bt Maize Reaps Savings to Non-Bt Maize Growers" Science 330:222-225 (2010)

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North Carolina growers looking to cash in with biotech crops
Southeast Farm Press
December 30, 2010

Soybean seed for amazing medical breakthroughs and Clary sage - to meet the demands of the $10 billion fragrance industry - were just two biotech options discussed at two meetings held in eastern North Carolina in December.

Titled, "AgBiotech Opportunities for Farmers and Growers," the meetings held in Plymouth and in Sampson County, N.C., opened the eyes of hundreds of farmers as to the opportunities for biotech in agriculture.

What is biotechnology? Technically, it is a toolbox in living cells and molecules used to make products that solve problems.

Norris Tolson, president and CEO of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, says he defines biotechnology in a much more simplistic way in which his farm upbringing shows through. "To me biotechnology is $30 an hour and plenty of jobs," Tolson says.

At a time when the country was mired in a recession and unemployment topped 10 percent in many Southeastern states, jobs in biotechnology in North Carolina increased by 6.3 percent. Jobs in the biotechnology world in North Carolina pay an average of about $30 per hour, he explains.

"When we get into what biotechnology can do and will do for agriculture in North Carolina, we believe the same level of employment opportunities and high paying jobs will be available throughout the rural areas of our state," Tolson adds.

North Carolina's agriculture farm-gate is currently valued at $74 million. Over the next decade Tolson says the Biotechnology Center is to grow the state's agriculture industry by $30 million a year.

"Our No. 1 goal is to grow jobs. If we grow jobs, we grow small companies into big companies. The agriculture sector and biotechnology jobs in rural areas of the state can be a tremendous economic shot-in-the-arm to our rural economy," Tolson says.

Speaking at the Plymouth meeting, North Carolina State University Corn Specialist Ronnie Heiniger stressed that agriculture is at a turning point. "The era of petrochemicals is dying. The age of biotechnology is replacing fossil fuel-based products," he said.

By 2025 corn growers will need to produce 230 bushels per acre to meet the growing food, feed and energy demands for corn products. Biotechnology is pushing yields up, but the upward trend has to go faster to meet world demands and more dependence on biotechnology is the only way to get there, Heiniger said.

"In the future we are going to have to learn how to manage crops that produce pharmaceutical compounds that improve human health or nutritional qualities that help overcome shortages in human nutrition around the world," he added.

"And, of course we will have to manage crops that contribute to biofuels. Food crops in a biotechnology era will be more than products used to feed humans and livestock."

Penelope Veazie, a fruit and vegetable post harvest specialist at North Carolina State University, says applying biotechnology to harvesting, storage and transportation of fruit and vegetable crops can enhance the economic and human health value of these crops.

For example, raspberries grown in western North Carolina, can produce a net profit of $50,000 per acre. The challenge, Veazie says, is that raspberries, especially in the South, have a shelf life of no more than two days.

"Rapid loss of color, or darkening of the skin, of raspberries and botrydis, a common disease of fruit are primary factors in reducing the value of the crop in the Southeast. Fungicides and cold storage have been the primary tools to fight this loss, but they aren't the answer, Veazie contends.

"Using biotechnology to take better advantage of light and oxidation and other factors that contribute to the rapid breakdown of raspberries is the key to making this and other crops more valuable and more viable as a high value crop for rural economies of the state," she concludes.

Allan Brown, an assistant professor at North Carolina State's Plants for Human Health Institute, says making healthy crops like broccoli more desirable to consumers is likely to be driven by one factor - taste.

"Broccoli is one of our most promising crops in terms of its value to human health. We are looking at a number of naturally occurring compounds in broccoli that we can alter to make it taste better," he says.

Janet Reed, associate director of environmental science at Cotton Incorporated, told the audience about advances in developing edible cotton. Adding more value to cotton makes it more valuable to farmers and to the rural economy of North Carolina and other states, she stresses.

David Peele, president of Avoca Inc, shared the amazing development and growth of Clary sage. Extracts from this crop is used as a binder in the $10 billion fragrance industry.

Peele, who helped bring production of Clary sage to eastern North Carolina, says the demand for increasing acreage in Clary sage may not be significant enough to change the face of the rural economy, but it is a good example of how a specialized crop can change the economy of a small county, like Forsyth County, N.C.

SoyMeds is a North Carolina-based company that uses biotechnology to convert soybean seeds into a number of medical products. Ken Bost, Chief Scientific Officer for the company says their goal is to use technology to help save Americans from the high cost of healthcare proteins - a $200 billion per year industry.

Soybean seeds, Bost says, is an ideal source for biomeds because each seed contains approximately 40 percent protein. This provides for millions of doses per greenhouse acre and eliminates the need for long-term cold storage and purification of protein.

Medical products produced from soybean seed, he says, could cost less than a cent per dose to produce and could be an ideal green industry for any rural economy.

In addition to the statewide meetings, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center recently announced the formation of a 21-member advisory council, made up of farmers and agribusiness leaders to bring cellular science to the soil.

The Advisory Council connects farmers and crop specialists, corporate executives, researchers, economic development experts and policy professionals.

"We're truly fortunate to have this level of leadership coming together to help guide the future of North Carolina's $74-billion-a-year agricultural inheritance," says Tolson.

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UP scientists blast raid on Bt eggplant test site
The Philippine Star
January 2, 2011

MANILA, Philippines - The forcible uprooting of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant planted at the UP Mindanao campus has earned the ire of academics and scientists who were appalled at what they describe as an "invasion," saying it amounts to an "assault on the quest for truth."

The raiders justified their action on the ground that there was no consultation with the local government when the test sites were planned and experiments set up in the UP Min's Bago Oshiro campus.

UP scientists noted that Mayor Sara Duterte may have been misled into allowing the raid, "which was carried out to the complete surprise of biotechnology advocates who were working on environmental safety and risks assessments associated with cultivation of Bt eggplant."

Dr. Candida B. Adalla, chief of the Biotechnology Program Office (BPO), said she was dumbfounded when she learned about the raid, which was pushed by Greenpeace and other purported environmental groups opposed to any form of test on Bt eggplant, also known as Bt brinjal in India.

Adalla said six Indian scientific institutions have affirmed the safety of Bt eggplant and dismissed allegations that it is a "monster crop."

Dr. Eufemio Rasco of UP Mindanao, an academician at the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), had been engaged in a bitter debate with rabid opponents of Bt eggplant, which is now on field trial in seven sites nationwide.

He had supported the tests and said those who oppose it should remember that Bt is the same organic bacterium used in their Bt sprays commonly used in Mindanao and is also the same bacterium that is present in the soil.

Bt has been used to fortify the local eggplant variety to allow it to manufacture a protein that can protect the eggplant fruit by killing the dreaded fruits and stem borer that feeds on the country's most popular vegetable.

In spite of the fact that the insecticidal properties of Bt had been known since 1901 and it had been used in a number of products spanning several decades, Greenpeace and other still would not want any developing country to avail itself of the benefits from the bacterium, which inhabits the soil and is not pathogenic.

Adalla stressed that the field tests of Bt eggplant have been approved by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) and subjected to rigorous assessments by the appropriate regulatory bodies and independent scientists before the tests were carried out.

As such, she argued, the test is legitimate, consistent and compliant with government-issued set of guidelines which is considered "one of the strictest in the world" and is being used as reference by nearby Asian countries as they develop their own policy for GM testing.

She expressed regret that "UP's academic freedom to do independent research was assaulted/violated, a tradition that UP holds so dearly. The uprooting of a scientific experiment is an assault to scientific inquiry and independence of responsible scientists in quest for truth. This is the first time it happened to the university, touted as the bastion of scientific research and technological innovations.

Sometime ago, Rasco (also a UP professor and scientist) had been criticized by the rabid opponents of Bt eggplant and any other genetically modified organism (GMO) but stood his ground and secured the support of UP students who had lauded his principled stand.

"Why are they so afraid of these tests? Even the Vatican itself had expressed support for research into biotechnological options to improve the quality of crops, raise the food inventory and assure farmers of better incomes. It seems they do not want facts. They only want superstition to rule the food chain. Are we back to the Dark Ages?" he asked.

Since Bt was first used in 1901, there has never been a single case in which the friendly bacterium contaminated anything nor did it cause any disease.

In fact, organic farmers use Bt for their sprays but Greenpeace and other groups did not raise any howl, biotechnologists complained.

Going by their meterstick, the environmentalists want no intervention on plant genetics, Rasco said, but they should also train their guns on Fr. Gregor Mendel, the geneticist who opened the door to durable crops that they eat today.

He expressed fears that if these environmental groups can resort to the rule of the mob without being sanctioned, "then there would be no hope for science in agriculture and we mi ght as well return to the rule of the jungle."

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CPM shifts stand on Genetically Modified crops
Zee News
January 2, 2011

Thiruvananthapuram: In what is seen as a policy shift on Genetically Modified crops on the part of the CPI(M), a senior party leader has said that it will be unscientific to oppose in to the introduction of such seeds into the country.

Addressing the session on agriculture at the party-sponsored International Congress on Kerala Studies here on Saturday, CPI(M) polit bureau member S Ramachandran Pillai said it would not be wrong to utilise GM crops by ensuring that they would not harm the environment and living beings.

The defence of GM sees by CPI-M leader assumes significance since the LDF government in Kerala has so far stiffly opposed even testing of GM crops in the rice fields in the state.

It is also significant that Pillai, all-India president of the party's farmers' wing Kisan Sabha, chose to air hims views on the issue at a three-day brain storming event organised by the party's research forum AKG study Centre.

However, no sooner had pillai made his views than the rift in the LDF over the issue came to fore with state Agriculture Minister Mullakkara Ratnakaran striking a sharply different note.

According Ratnakaran, so far there had been on evidence to show that the farm sector would benefit from the GM crops and that the net result of such a scenario would be wiping out of the traditional seeds, forcing the farmers to rely healvily on international corporates.

Pillai's stand was that in a globalised scenario it was vital to increase food production and turning totally against the fruits of science and technology would be unsientific.

"It is superstitious to completely oppose these kinds of seeds. Such seeds could be used after thoroughly ensuring through tests that they would not harm humanbeings, animals and plants", Pillai said.

He pointed out that many countries including China had been using such seeds for increasing their agricultural producting.

As a measure to counter the exploitation of farmers by multinational corporates, the CPI (M) leader suggested that the distribution of such seeds could be done through a public sector agency.

He suggested that the Centre and states should take joint initiatives in this direction.

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Euro research shows GM no riskier
Stock Journal
January 3, 2011

A recently-released report from the European Commission titled A decade of EU-funded GMO Research (2001-2010) has concluded that genetically modified organisms are no more risky than conventional plant breeding technologies.

The publication presented the results of 50 projects involving more than 400 research groups and representing European research grants of some 200 million Euro.

This figure brings the total commission funding of research on GMO safety to more than 300m Euro since its inception in 1982 in the biomolecular engineering program. In addition, many member states also launched their own national research initiatives, complementing the co-ordinated European research efforts.

"The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than, for example, conventional plant breeding technologies," the report states.