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December 29, 2010


Academies maintain Bt brinjal is safe


Academies maintain Bt brinjal is safe
Firm Ready to Market Non-Browning Apples
Technology in Food Should Not Be Feared
Soon, You Will Be Able to Print Your Food
P-Noy, Binay extol biotechnology


Academies maintain Bt brinjal is safe
LiveMint/Wall St. Journal
December 28, 2010

New report appended with references and scientific claims attributed to relevant sources

Following allegations of plagiarism, top Indian science academies have come out with a new report on Bt brinjal, reiterating their earlier claim that the genetically modified (GM) crop is safe and fit for commercial release.

A coalition of environmental groups had alleged that key parts of an earlier report prepared by the science academies were plagiarized from a pro-GM newsletter of the department of biotechnology, Mint reported on 27 September.

Last week, the academies submitted a modified report, reviewed by Mint, to the environment ministry. Much of its content is unaltered but appended with references and scientific claims attributed to relevant sources.

Like the earlier report, it says that commercial release of Bt brinjal does not pose an environmental threat. However, such crops should be constantly monitored after their release for potential long-term health impact.

Bt brinjal is the first GM crop cleared by India's regulatory bodies for commercial release. But environment groups say tests conducted on the crop and the clearance given to it are based on flawed science.

The commercial release of Bt brinjal will help clear the way for a variety of GM crops, including rice, potatoes and tomatoes, and boost investments by multinational crop companies.

Last month, M. Vijayan, who heads the Indian National Science Academy, one of the academies involved in writing the Bt brinjal reports, said the plagiarized portion was an "unintended error". The academies had held detailed discussions with a number of experts before releasing the first report, he added.

"It's an unfortunate mistake and we will rectify this. An updated, properly reference report will be out soon," he had said on the sidelines of a conference. He couldn't be reached for fresh comment.

Kavitha Kuruganti, an anti-GM activist closely associated with the coalition of environment groups that had opposed the earlier report, said the new report was unscientific as well.

"This is all based on a one-day discussion, and even the people consulted are clearly GM crop promoters. The manner in which the report is prepared is unscientific and we will soon come out with a rejoinder," she said.

In February, environment minister Jairam Ramesh imposed a moratorium on Bt brinjal's release until there was widespread scientific consensus on its environmental and biosafety aspects.

Ramesh and Planning Commission member K. Kasturirangan asked six of India's top science academies - Indian Academy of Sciences, Indian National Science Academy, Indian National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, National Academy of Medical Sciences and The National Academy of Sciences, India - to assess scientific aspects of the crop's safety.

"The contents of (the) academies' report were based on scientific facts and this latest report is in line with many other scientific reports and opinions published by other leading scientific establishments of the world," Shanthu Shantharam, executive Director of ABLE-AG, an association of biotech crop developers, said in an emailed statement.

"When scientific reasoning prevails, and when politics and ideology are kept out of science and technology issues, everyone wins. This report is a victory to those who have been maintaining that GM crops are as safe as any other crops in Indian agriculture, and that India's farmers' and India's environment will benefit by adopting GM crops," Shantharam added.


After 10+ Years of Research, Ambitious Biotech Firm Ready to Market Non-Browning Versions of Favorite Apple Varieties
Invention and Technology News
December 28, 2010

It may soon be viewed as a landmark breakthrough: a small, Canadian biotechnology firm has genetically engineered some of our favorite apple varieties to not turn brown when you slice them or bite into them.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits of British Columbia has now petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to approve its trademarked Arctic brand Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples - the first two varieties of several it has created and grown in field trials - to be sold to American consumers. The USDA requires any creator of a genetically modified (GM) food crop to prove the food is safe and nutritionally equal to the original version. With USDA approval and the expected strong demand by growers for trees, consumers could begin to see the new Arctic (TM) apple varieties at their neighborhood stores within 3 or 4 growing seasons. Arctic (TM) Fuji and Gala apples would likely follow soon after.

"People don't like their apples turning brown," says Mr. Carter. They found that to be a universal sentiment. However, Okanagan's Arctic (TM) apples can be sliced well in advance for meals and snacks, and they maintain an attractive appearance for days, if need be, without compromising true apple taste and without using costly chemicals. An added bonus is that the Arctic (TM) apples keep a very high level of their nutrients after they are sliced, which is not true of ordinary sliced apples if they are held for days after treatment with citric acid or other chemicals.

The story behind Okanagan Specialty Fruits exemplifies innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of a small group of apple growers who invested time and money in their dream. Most often, it has been large corporations that have produced GM food crops, but that simply wasn't the case for the creation of non-browning apples.

Neal Carter - a bioresource engineer, apple grower, and now president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits - and a group of fellow apple growers were already looking for ways to reduce the browning in apples. In 1996, Carter learned that researchers at Australia's national science agency, CSIRO, had discovered the gene responsible for the enzyme that produces browning (oxidizing) and developed a genetic engineering process targeting it to silence it, succeeding first with potatoes. Mr. Carter and his fellow growers purchased the exclusive worldwide rights from CSIRO to adapt this technology to apples, pears, cherries, peaches, and apricots. They formed their company, and Mr. Carter and the staff began the arduous process of developing fruit trees with the trait.

Genetically modifying plants requires growing huge numbers of leaf tips and shoots to yield a just few trees. Starting with certified virus-free trees, and using leaf cuttings, the staff cultivates new plants in a nutrient suspension to the stage of having 4 or 5 leaves. Meanwhile, the gene has been introduced into bacteria as a carrier. The technician wounds the leaf of the young plant and introduces the gene-carrier bacteria. The leaf wound develops a callous, and then small shoots. The shoots are screened using PCR DNA testing to see if the carrier bacteria successfully imparted the gene to the plant's cells. The process generally yields about two or three successful shoots from 1,000 leaves. Only one in five shoots tested has the non-browning characteristic strong enough for them to allow it to mature to a tree. For the Gala, it took roughly 78,000 leaf tips to get three trees. Cherries are even more challenging, says Mr. Carter, requiring roughly 100,000 leaf tip cuttings to yield one good plant.

The company owners have very big aspirations that non-browning versions of favorite apple varieties will create new consumer and commercial demand. Until now, the fresh-cut market for the food service industry and for consumers at retail seemed out of reach for the apple industry, as the cost to treat cut apples was almost equal to the fruit itself.

Mr. Carter doesn't anticipate problems with the USDA petition. "These are the most studied apples on the planet," he claims, as test orchards have been growing generations of several GM apple varieties since 2002.

The company is located in the OkanaganValley and the town of Summerland, British Columbia, a picturesque area similar to the Finger Lakes region of New York, says Mr. Carter. Their company employs about a half dozen people. Indeed, Neal Carter is proud that a small, determined group of apple growers and the company employees are on the verge of making a very big difference to their industry. After the USDA approves the company's petition to sell GM apples, they will be able to license the Arctic (TM) apple varieties to nurseries, who will, in turn, sell the trees they cultivate to growers for production.

The Arctic trademark refers to the non-browning quality of whatever varieties of tree fruit the company develops. Marketers suggested names to the owners, but, according to Mr. Carter, "they all sounded like names for toothpaste." One day, however, he and his two sons were lunching at a Vancouver restaurant, when one of them had a flash of inspiration: "How about `Arctic'?" Clearly, it was a winner.


Technology in Food Should Not Be Feared
Food Insight
December 22, 2010

As a dietitian with a passion for communicating about food production, processing, and technology, I'm often puzzled when I think about the readiness with which consumers embrace the latest mobile or electronic technology and yet, in some cases, become wary when it comes to technology applied to food. While the benefits of modern food processing technologies such as pasteurization and crop biotechnology are well-documented in the scientific literature, skepticism remains.

While consumers are more interested in where their food comes from, we are less familiar with the processes and technologies used in modern food production. So, how can we portray these technologies in a more positive light?

Technology in Food Has Benefits For Consumers International Food Information Council research shows that consumers are most interested in benefits of food technology that are relevant to them and their families. While the benefits of the latest mobile or electronic technology - convenience, variety, accessibility, and quality - are immediately tangible, the benefits of food technology (which include the same benefits mentioned above!) are sometimes less apparent. As communicators, we have the opportunity to make the benefits of food technology and modern food processing tangible to consumers, including healthful convenience foods such as 100-calorie snack packs, single-serving bags of baby carrots and apple slices, granola bars, grab-and-go soups and yogurts, etc.

Technology Can Improve the Healthfulness of Food Technology in food production can also offer benefits for health. For example, fortification involves adding to foods nutrients linked to improved health. Examples include adding calcium and Vitamin D to milk, folic acid to cereal, and omega-3 fatty acids to butter. In addition, a recent Institute of Medicine Food Forum workshop identified several ways food manufacturers are using technology to reduce fat, sugar and sodium levels in foods to prevent and reduce obesity and other chronic disease conditions.

Food Technology for Taste Not surprisingly, taste is the most important factor for consumers in making food purchase decisions. Food processing and technology make possible the abundance of good-tasting foods we enjoy today. As cooking shows increase in popularity, secrets to delicious food like that of the world's best chefs have come to light. For example, a technology called sous vide ("soo veed") infuses flavor into food through combining "low and slow" cooking, vacuum-sealing and freezing technologies. When reheated, the food tastes like it was just prepared in a high-end restaurant!

As new food innovations and technologies continue to emerge and evolve, communicators have the opportunity to demonstrate that technology in food can not only make our food safer and more nutritious, but more affordable, convenient, and better-tasting. By relating food technology to these benefits, we can help reassure consumers that technology in food need not be feared.


Soon, You Will Be Able to Print Your Food
December 24, 2010

Scientists at Cornell University's Computational Synthesis Lab are developing a commercially-available "3D food printer" that would allow users to "print" meals using "raw food 'inks'" inside syringes. Sounds delicious!

Cooking is so hard, what with "ingredients" and "recipes" and "having to leave your house to go shopping." So thank goodness for the fab@home project, an open-source collaboration on 3D printer technology that's developing a "food printer" intended for home use.

The BBC is very excited:

Just pop the raw food "inks" in the top, load the recipe - or 'FabApp' - and the machine would do the rest.

"FabApps would allow you to tweak your foods taste, texture and other properties," says Dr Jeffrey Ian Lipton, who leads the project.

"Maybe you really love biscuits, but want them extra flaky. You would change the slider and the recipe and the instructions would adjust accordingly."

Currently, the food printer's "inks" are limited to "anything that can be extruded from a syringe" (luckily that includes the four major food groups: Liquid chocolate, liquid cookie dough, liquid cheese, and liquid cake batter). But the team is working on turning other ingredients into syringe-extrudable materials - and they've had some successes, like cookies, and chocolate, and, oh my God, "designer domes made of turkey meat."

And there's nothing weird about that at all! No, nothing completely and utterly horrifying about the fact that the endpoint of technological modernity is our food being squeezed out of a syringe in prearranged patterns. If anything, this will improve The Food Experience, according to chef Homaro Cantu of Chicago's Moto, who has, and you may want to get a vomit bag here, "printed sushi using an ink jet printer":

Long-term, the team believes that people will take to the technology by creating their own 3D printable food recipe social networks with everyone improving o n each other's creations.

"3D printing will do for food what e-mail and instant messaging did for communication," says Mr Cantu.

3D printable food recipe social networks doing for food what email and IMing did for communication? Say no more! Bring it on, future! "Turkey and celery square anyone?" I'll have six.


P-Noy, Binay extol biotechnology
The Philippine Star
December 12, 2010

President Aquino and Vice President Jejomar Binay led other government officials in extolling the vital role of biotechnology in boosting the national economy, particularly the agriculture sector.

They cited the benefits that this high-end science can bring in messages they had issued on the occasion of the celebration of the just-ended National Biotechnology Week (NBW) (Nov. 2-28).

Aquino and the other officials also lauded the journalists who won the Jose G. Burgos Jr. Awards for Biotechnology Journalism 2010

The conferment of the Burgos awards was among the activities during the observance of NBW 2010 led by the Departments of Agriculture (DA), Science and Technology (DOST), and Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The Award was launched five years ago in honor of the late press icon who, in the words of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., "not only fought for freedom and democracy during a time of despotic oppression (martial law) but also advocated the advancement of the country's agricultural industry."

Belmonte also commended the Jburgos Media Services Inc. for holding the annual event "that pays homage to both the late journalist and those who carry on the ideals he espoused."

"The awardees embody the finest in responsible journalism and carry on the legacy of the late journalist," the Speaker added.

The STAR won the third prize in the Awards' institutional category. Also, The STAR science reported Helen Flores received a special citation while Rudy A. Fernandez won the third prize in the Best Feature category.

President Aquino said that this year's awardees join the rank of media men "who have pushed the frontiers of scientific inquiry by featuring the latest and most relevant biotechnology research and discoveries in their articles."

As this branch of knowledge (biotechnology) becomes more accessible to the larger populace, the Filipino people can integrate biotechnological developments into various sectors, particularly the agriculture industry, he pointed out.

The Chief Executive further stressed: "Our farmers now have more alternatives for sustainable profitability. The writer-awardees have not only shown excellence in journalism but have also contributed greatly to our collective task of nation-building."

Vice President Binay also lauded the awards which, he said, recognizes journalists and newspapers that take time to delve into and feature the progress in the field of biotechnology and promote science reporting in the country.

He noted that biotechnology and agriculture are often given less importance in media, which is somewhat "ironic since we are an agriculture country."

"As a people, we must be made aware of the advancements in biotechnology for it is a key factor in the growth and development of our nation," he stated.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said DA has been open to biotechnology's adoption in food production, "provided that it is proven such technology has no ill-effect on the environment and the produce is safe for consumption."

He reported that developments in this "good science" has encouraged DA to utilize biotechnology further.

But, Alcala stressed, "we cannot take full advantage of this without the help of media companies and practitioners. Explaining the breakthroughs with words that can easily be understood is no small feat, as you serve as a bridge between scientists and the farmer and fisher."

DA-Bureau of Plant Industry Director Clarito Barron also stressed: "With help from our journalists, we believe that science-based agriculture and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) in the country will enter a new era of vibrant, dynamic, and responsible technology for program development of Philippine Agriculture."

Dr. Barron commended the media for allaying what maybe an "unfounded fears" of biotechnology while at the same time guiding policymakers "towards an abiding prudence for our people's welfare.