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January 20, 2011


Vilsack’s Defense; Using Property Rights Is A Trick; USDA Sending Mixed Signals; Splice of Life; Insurmountable Obstacle


* Vilsack Appeals for Biotech Compromise
* Using Property Rights Is A Trick Against Biotech Crops
* Lucas, Chambliss, Roberts: USDA Sending Mixed Signals on GE Alfalfa
* Vilsack Maps Out USDA's Biotechnology Issues
* USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture
* Splice of Life: Genetically Modified Food At ‘Center’ Of Debate
* Chromatin’s Yield Machine: Is Instant Gene-Stacking A Game-Changer?
* Improved tolerance toward fungal diseases in Transgenic Banana
* GM Crop Regulations: Safety Net or Insurmountable Obstacle?
* Update on - Finland: High-Level Delegation Asks Parliament to Ease Regulations


Vilsack Appeals for Biotech Compromise

- Philip Brasher, Des Moines Register Jan 20, 2011 http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/index.php/2011/01/20/vilsack-appeals-for-biotech-compromise/

Alfalfa sparks fight over biotech regulation. (USDA)

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack went to Captol Hill today to defend his department’s proposed restrictions on genetically engineered alfalfa. He told lawmakers the government needs to protect non-biotech farmers from being harmed financially by contamination from the genetically engineered alfalfa.

He said it’s an issue of protecting the “property rights” of farmers. The Agriculture Department believes the herbicide-tolerant alfalfa is safe, but has proposed restrictions on where it can be planted to keep the crop from cross-pollinating with organic or non-biotech alfalfa crops.

“This is trying to figure out how we have all sides of agriculture be able to prosper in this country,” Vilsack told the House Agriculture Committee.

The biotech industry and conventional farm groups are furious at the proposed restrictions, saying they are unjustified and threaten to slow development and commercialization of new biotech crops.

Vilsack argues that the industry also is threatened by endless litigation that could be avoided if agricultural interests compromise on a policy for protecting organic and non-biotech farmers from the genetically engineered products.

Some lawmakers, including Reps. Leonard Boswell, D-Ia., and Steve King, R-Ia., raised questions about whether the proposed policy could weaken U.S. efforts to convince other countries that biotech crops are safe.

Vilsack said the policy would be “very consistent with the positions we’ve taken on the international scene” as long as it is “justified by the science and is within the rules we have.”

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Collin Peterson, said the proposal “creates more questions than answers” and expressed doubts that the litigation would end. “Some folks will apparently use every tool possible to try to shut down biotech crops.”


Using Property Rights Is A Trick Against Biotech Crops

- Richard Keller, Drover Cattle Network, Jan. 17, 2010
- http://www.cattlenetwork.com/Using-Property-Rights-Is-A-Trick-Against-Biotech-Crops/2011-01-17/Article.aspx?oid=1299993&fid=

Some politicians wrap themselves in the flag to justify their positions, and then there is Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack appealing to farmers and ranchers’ belief in “private property rights” to justify limiting biotech crop production.

Vilsack claims science isn’t the way to determine where biotech crops can be grown. Although Roundup Ready alfalfa has a scientific clean bill of health for production, according to Vilsack’s expressed point of view, biotech growers won’t have the right to grow the crop adjacent to organic or conventional alfalfa without the biotech producer taking special precautions.

That hasn’t been the case for other biotech, genetically modified crops deregulated by the federal government such as corn and soybeans. Ignoring science would be a huge step backward for the introduction of additional biotech crops in the U.S. and the acceptance of planting them elsewhere in the world.

When Vilsack claimed private property rights were his focus at the annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation, he received a big round of applause. This occurred even though AFBF has joined other agricultural organizations in demanding that USDA follow scientific protocol in deregulating Roundup Ready alfalfa.

Vilsack made his plea to approximately 6,000 members of the AFBF, a majority of them biotech crop producers, during the federation’s annual meeting. It would almost seem as though Vilsack tried to trick those uninformed about the Roundup Ready alfalfa situation into showing support for his point of view. His comments are here:

“Innovation also requires us to take a look at our regulatory process. And I know there has been a lot of conversation and discussion about regulatory processes, and I know Bob (Stallman, president of AFBF) sent a letter to me on the issue involving alfalfa, and we appreciate that. But I just want to give you some of the background.

“We have today roughly 23 pending deregulation efforts within USDA. These deregulation efforts, at least the ones that I’m familiar with, take from five to six years to get through, and they cost millions of dollars. I have tasked our team to figure out a way in which we can potentially reduce the amount of time it takes to review and come to a decision, and I know there is a discussion about alfalfa.

“What we are trying to do is stimulate a conversation and to ensure that every person, every farmer, every rancher, every grower has the capacity to do on their land what they wish to do. I was struck in another letter Bob sent me, on another issue, that one of the fundamental principles of Farm Bureau is the notion that a farmer ought to be able to sell and do on his lands, ought to be able to raise what he wants to raise or she wants to raise on their lands, is a property rights issue.

“So, we are trying to figure out, as difficult as it might be, is there a way in which we can assure that we have less interference with the capacity for folks to do and want to do on their land? If you want to grow GM crops you ought to be able to do that, if you want to grow identity preserved or conventional crops you ought to be able to do that, if you want to be an organic farmer you ought to be able to do that. (Applause by AFBF members)

“This is not an easy conversation, and the simplest thing for me to do in the position I’m in is to ignore it. But that is not how you handle tough situations on the farm or the ranch. You don’t ignore problems. You are the greatest solvers, innovators and thinkers I know of. If there is a problem, you are going to figure it out.

“This problem isn’t going to be solved with baling wire and duct tape. You know what I’m talking about. You have the capacity to figure things out, and you are expecting us to do the same. I’m not going to shy away from asking tough questions and trying to find those elusive answers because you deserve them, and because, as I said, every farmer ought to be able to do what he or she wants to do on their land. So, we are going to continue to have that conversation.” (Applause by the AFBF members).


Lucas, Chambliss, Roberts: USDA Sending Mixed Signals on Genetically Engineered Alfalfa


WASHINGTON – U.S. Representative Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) today sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting the department to return to a science based regulatory system for agriculture biotechnology and to deregulate without conditions genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa. In the letter, the members point out that while science strongly supports the safety of GE alfalfa, USDA’s actions politicize the regulatory process and could set a harmful precedent for open pollinated crops in the future.

Full text of the letter to Sec. Vilsack is below:

January 19, 2011

The Honorable Tom Vilsack, Secretary
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

Recently, the Department convened a forum of stakeholders to discuss alfalfa co-existence. The issue has generated a significant amount of controversy and emotion with implications for the future of agricultural biotechnology in the United States and around the world. Since 1996, the innovation and adoption of agricultural biotechnology has not only brought significant environmental benefits, it has likewise contributed to higher yields, greater production, and higher profitability for U.S. farmers. Each year, new products are brought to market under the oversight of a science based regulatory process that has no equal in the world. This “Coordinated Framework” between the Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) combines each agency’s professionalism and expertise.

The forum followed the release of a final environmental impact statement (EIS) that evaluates the potential environmental effects of deregulating genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa. While the final EIS concluded that GE Alfalfa does not pose a plant pest risk, it nonetheless contained a significant departure from existing policy since it includes a third option to grant non-regulated status to the product with geographic restrictions and isolation distances. These options had not previously been published in either the draft or final Environmental Assessment nor the draft EIS. This is the first time these measures would be included in a regulatory decision where the crop did not pose a plant pest or health risk. The solitary reason for the “conditions” would be to interfere in planting decisions based on the risk of economic harm due to pollen drift.

As you acknowledge, the science strongly supports the safety of GE alfalfa. The National Environmental Policy Act was specifically written to address the potential impacts of regulatory decisions on the environment. The Act is neither designed nor well suited to manage or determine the economic relationships in the agriculture sector. The third alternative steps beyond the scope of the Act and is a poor substitute for existing options available for farmers to amicably resolve the concerns regarding co-existence of agriculture biotechnology, conventional and organic crops.

The proposed third alternative is equally troubling due to the precedent it will set for open pollinated crops in the future. For example, with 86 percent of the corn crop and 93 percent of cotton planted to biotech varieties last year, the decisions made in the context of alfalfa will be felt across the country. Further, the implications of such decisions could potentially hinder the future development of varieties necessary to address the growing needs to produce more food, fiber and fuel on the same amount of land with fewer inputs.

It is unfortunate that those critical of the technology have decided to litigate and as you rightly point out that courts may unwisely interfere in normal commerce. However, the alternative you propose and include in the EIS is equally disturbing since it politicizes the regulatory process and goes beyond your statutory authority and indeed Congress’ intent in the Plant Protection Act (PPA). The PPA requires the Secretary to make a scientific determination if the product under review is a plant pest (7 U.S.C. 7711(c)(3)). If the final decision is that the product is not a plant pest, nor would the movement of the product in question impose the risk of dissemination of a plant pest, then USDA has no authority to impose further restrictions (7 U.S.C. 7712(a)).

We support a conversation between those supportive and critical of agriculture biotechnology. However, suggestions that aspects of the conversation thus far have been taking place with the regulated entity under duress by the regulator are of equal concern. Decisions should be based on science with other factors more appropriately considered in the market place. Our government fought diligently to preserve the integrity of science based decision making in the World Trade Organization and the success in that body should not be so casually set aside.

We appreciate your attention to our concerns and look forward working with you on this important issue.

Very truly yours,

U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss
U.S. Senator Pat Roberts
U.S. Representative Frank Lucas


Vilsack Maps Out USDA's Biotechnology Issues

South East Farm Press, Jan 20, 2011

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today spoke before the House Committee on Agriculture on issues critically important to U.S. agriculture.

Below are Secretary Vilsack's remarks as prepared for delivery: "Chairman Lucas, thank you and thank you to Rep. Peterson and members of the Committee for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss an important topic to American agriculture — the complex issues surrounding biotechnology and USDA’s role in regulating it.

"Today’s meeting considers a topic that is critically important to U.S. agriculture. Over the last two decades, we have experienced the rapid development, and the widespread adoption by producers, of new technologies like biotechnology. Biotechnology has already delivered significant benefits to farmers and consumers and it holds tremendous promise for agriculture here in the United States, and around the world. Over the past 20 years, due to improved plant breeding practices and biotechnology, yields have increased and new varieties are being developed that will resist pests and drought, and reduce the amount of water and fertilizer needed to raise a crop. Recognizing the benefits of these products, today, more farmers are planting biotech varieties of crops. We believe that biotechnology stands to play a significant role in our effort to support our drive toward energy independence, conserve our natural resources, and meet the world’s growing demand for food, feed, fiber, and fuel.

"At the same time, there has also been strong growth in the organic sector, and in non-genetically engineered production, all to meet the requirements of specific and expanding markets.

"The growth of all these sectors is great for U.S. agriculture. It means farmers, ranchers, and growers have a range of ways to meet consumer needs and preferences both here and around the world. It means they can grow their operations in the way best for their operation while contributing to the success and vitality of rural America.

Has faith in system

"The growth and promise of biotechnology — the fact that it can provide a critical assist in meeting domestic and global challenges, including food security and climate change — is due in large part to the innovative culture of American agriculture. I need to state clearly and emphatically — I have no doubt about the safety of the products our regulatory system at USDA has approved over the last two plus decades and that it will continue to approve in the months and years ahead.

"The rapid adoption of GE crops has coincided with the rapid expansion of demand for organic and other non-GE products, resulting in real, practical difficulties for some non-GE producers to meet the need of their markets. These conflicts have produced ongoing litigation and resulted in uncertainty for producers and technology innovators. We are at a crucial juncture in American agriculture where the issues causing the litigation and uncertainty must be addressed, so that the potential contributions of all sectors of agriculture can be fully realized.

"As part of USDA’s efforts to expand U.S. agriculture, we must ensure that our regulatory oversight is timely, consistent, effective, and grounded in sound science. We must ensure that we keep pace with the latest scientific developments, and that we do so transparently. The Plant Protection Act gives the Secretary of Agriculture, and through delegated authority the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the ability to prohibit or restrict the importation, exportation, and the interstate movement of plants, plant products, certain biological control organisms, noxious weeds, and plant pests. It is under these authorities that APHIS regulates the importation, interstate movement, and safe field testing of GE organisms. In regulating biotechnology products, APHIS works closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as part of the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology. The three agencies work together to ensure the development, testing, and use of biotechnology products occurs in a manner that is safe for plant and animal health, human health, and the environment.

"USDA’s biotechnology program has been in place since 1986, and APHIS has developed a framework for regulating biotechnology that is rigorous and based on sound science. Since the program began, APHIS has overseen the safe adoption of numerous biotechnology products, with 26,000 field trials grown under our notification procedures and 3,000 field tests conducted under our permitting process, which encompasses field trials at 86,000 different locations. In addition, we have deregulated over 75 products.

"It is not a static program. To farmers, ranchers, and growers, it is one that has grown and evolved as technology — often driven by the needs and demands of producers — has changed. As we move forward, we must be cognizant of the needs of all producers and all types of production.

Issues must be addressed
"We are also at a crossroads with the Department’s ability to handle the demands of industry and producers. The length of time it takes APHIS to complete the petition process has increased dramatically, and we are engaged in a process improvement process to reduce the amount of time. However, the combination of an increased number and complexity of the petitions combined with the time consuming litigation has really slowed us down. I fear that if we don’t address these issues comprehensively, innovation will be discouraged not encouraged.

"The procedural legal challenges related to GE sugarbeets and GE alfalfa have taken years. APHIS made its initial decision to deregulate GE alfalfa in June 2005. Yet here we are nearly six years later with the process not yet concluded. GE sugar beets were granted non-regulated status in March 2005, and the case is still in litigation in federal court. As these cases continue, the market uncertainty increases, and those involved in agriculture lack sufficient guidance for planning and determining how to react or which products to use.

"The situation needs to be resolved. The legal challenges, and the resulting effects, have created uncertainty for all growers. Growers need to order seed and make planting decisions, but have difficulty when the legal challenges cause so much uncertainty. There are companies and researchers who have devoted significant resources to developing safe products that can help us meet our food security needs, but find themselves fighting in the courts, or waiting to see how a judge’s decision in a separate case will affect them.

"I strongly believe that the decisions regarding these critical issues should not be decided solely by the courts. Litigation creates uncertainty and often results in winners and losers. To help minimize that uncertainty, as well as the other impacts and costs of litigation, USDA is committed to seeking solutions that will end or limit litigation and thereby benefit agriculture as a whole.

"On Dec. 16, 2010, the USDA released its final environmental impact statement (EIS) on the potential environmental effects of granting genetically engineered alfalfa non-regulated status. This is the line of alfalfa that has been genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide commonly known as Roundup.

"The EIS provides an exceptionally comprehensive evaluation and analysis of the potential environmental impacts of granting or denying the petition for non-regulated status. In addition to the draft EIS’s two alternatives of either granting or denying non-regulated status, the final EIS examined a third alternative that was included in the response to ideas presented during the comment period. This third alternative analyzes the impacts of establishing geographic restrictions and isolation distances for GE alfalfa’s production, and it mirrors a healthy and productive conversation between GE, non-GE, and organic interests that is already under way in the industry and that continues to evolve. Every interest engaged in the conversation shares the goal of protecting the right of every producer to grow on their land what they believe and decide is best. And, I believe that many participants have found the discussion important and beneficial.

"Some have questioned the need for this discussion and have suggested USDA is moving away from a science based, rules based decision making process. I want to reassure everyone that USDA will continue to adhere to a scientific, risk based decision making process and that our decisions will continue to be driven by science. I look forward to our discussion here and I hope you share my belief that farmers, ranchers, and growers are in the best position to decide what is best for their operations.

"Again, I would like to thank the Committee for the opportunity to appear before you this morning and I look forward to answering any questions that you may have."


USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21)


The Secretary of Agriculture has announced an intent to renew the charter for AC21 for a 2-year period - The announcement notes that " ... USDA supports the responsible development and application of biotechnology within the global food and agricultural system. Biotechnology intersects many of the policies, programs and functions of USDA.

The charge for the AC21 is two-fold: To examine the long-term impacts of biotechnology on the U.S. food and agriculture system and USDA; and to provide guidance to USDA on pressing individual issues, identified by the Office of the Secretary, related to the application of biotechnology in agriculture ..."

The March 30, 2009 USDA www site, titled "USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology & 21st Century Agriculture (AC21)" is posted at

Prepared by: This message was distributed by Jack Cooper, who may be reached at e-mail: jlc@fien.com or 301-384-8287

Splice of Life: Genetically Modified Food At ‘Center’ Of Debate

- Dallas Duncan, Red and Black, January 19, 2011


Tom Jacobs, a University graduate student, demonstrates various plants in Wayne Parrott’s lab located in the Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics. The lab focuses on several genetic engineering projects. Photo by Sean Taylor

Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series about genetically modified organism research at the University. Part two will continue next week with legislation concerning GMOs. We begin with part one and the questions surrounding the GMO debate.

Some call it frankenfood. Others call it playing God. But at the core of the matter, genetically modified food and crops are at the center of a debate between government, science and humanity.

“You get a variety of plant that says ‘new and improved’ — we’re the people who make new and improved plants,” said Wayne Parrott, a professor in the crop and soil sciences department. “From an academic perspective, a [genetically modified organism] is any of the plants that have been new and improved over the past century or so. From a sort of popular perception and media perception, a GMO is a plant that has become new and improved not by traditional methods but by splicing a new gene into it.”

There is a fine line between traditional breeding and gene splicing technology, Parrott said. “Traditional breeding is normally within a species,” he said. “You find one tomato that you like but maybe it’s not sweet enough … you find one that’s sweet enough and you cross the two together so that in the progeny you’re going to find one that has everything you had before but you brought in the extra sweetness.”

Parrott said there are a variety of traits that can be bred into new plants via traditional crossbreeding — mating two different types of an organism — including color, maturity date and insect resistance. However, traditional breeding methods are useless when a desired trait is not found in the plant species at all. “If the trait is not in the tomato, we’ve got to go elsewhere to get the trait. And that’s where gene splicing comes into play,” Parrott said, adding “elsewhere” could include a microbe, bacterium or virus. “You just take the one gene out of the bacterium … and you splice that gene into the tomato.”

Gene splicing is the process of removing a gene from one species and inserting it into another. There are two common ways to perform a gene splice, both of which involve work at a single-cell level, Parrott said. The first way is to literally shoot the gene into a cell. The second involves using a bacterium that causes galls, or abnormal growths, on plants.

“[The bacterium] naturally got the ability to transfer its own DNA into plants,” Parrott said. “We stick the gene into the bacterium DNA and then when it tries to form a gall in the plant, it sticks in the DNA that we added.”

Parrott’s lab, located in the Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics, focuses on several different genetic engineering projects, most of them on soybeans. He collaborates occasionally with Michael Adang, a professor in theentomology department, whose research on Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, helped create such genetically modified plants as RoundUp! Ready cotton and soybeans, marketed by Monsanto.

“They’re both very different — I don’t know if you can really compare them,” said Scott Angle, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, discussing Parrott and Adang. “But they’re both on the forefront of this argument, of ‘are GMO crops something useful or not?’”

Unanswered questions
Essentially, Angle said, what the GMO argument boils down to is a deceivingly simple question of risk assessment. “Herbicides we know have risks associated with them and can quantify those risks, versus a GMO where we can’t generally find any risk,” he said. “The main argument always used against them is ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’ And that’s true. We can’t study questions that we haven’t asked yet.”

It’s these unasked — and, consequently, unanswered — questions that raises consumers’ skepticism on the subject. One of the main concerns consumers have with GMOs is how they will affect human health, Angle said.

“Basically, there’s no study of the long-term health effects of GMOs,” said Kayla Calhoun, a senior from Colquitt. “We’re basically just a giant science experiment.”
Those who are pro-GMO, including Parrott and Angle, say the blame for public confusion and misinformation lies with both the industry and the media.
Angle said he once hosted an annual GMO symposium with the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA eventually ended the event, which was intended to include the public in the communication surrounding GMOs.

“They decided that this information was too complex and confusing to the public,” Angle said. “And while it is complex, the alternative of doing nothing just allowed the anti-GMO groups to get the upper hand.”

Parrott said much of the information about GMOs disseminated to the public includes studies that were later proven to be erroneous in method or in results.
“There have been incredible amounts of tests done on [GMOs] and they’re as safe as non-GMO foods,” he said. “One out of every 100 studies shows something adverse, and we have to go in and see if there is something adverse because there is something adverse, or if there was something wrong with the study. And thus far, there’s always been something wrong with the study.”

The primary red flags can include the researcher not feeding animals what she said she did, or using small sample sizes. There are even unanswered questions about the future of GMO research “The next wave of our ability to feed people in this world is going to come from GMO crops,” Angle said. “There may be some new traditional plant genetics, but ultimately the answer is growing more food per acre in areas of the world where they don’t have a lot of resources … In third-world countries, GMO crops will be the savior if they have any hope at all.”

Who will develop these new GM crops? China, according to Parrott and Angle. And why not the U.S.? “They seem to have fewer regulations about research than we do and they have plenty of money,” Angle said.

Parrott called the future of GMOs in the U.S. “very bleak.” “Right now, Secretary of Agriculture [Tom] Vilsack is going away from science-based regulatory policies … and it’s setting a very bad precedent,” he said. “Once you’ve shown testing, there’s nothing to be gained by repeating the same test 100 times … It has set us back 10 years and they’re sending us back every day that goes by.”

The question of sustainability Angle said a recent debunked study was about the relationship between monarch butterflies and GM crops. “We looked and the data first showed that we were killing off monarch butterflies, but once the experiment was repeated we found serious mistakes,” he said. “But that study was picked up around the world and people said we shouldn’t use GM crops because we killed off monarch butterflies. But the study wasn’t true.” Angle said the real unanswered question in terms of sustainability involves microorganisms scientists might not even know exist yet.

“That’s when the questions get more difficult to answer,” he said.
Calhoun said there are some potential benefits in GMOs, but is unsure whether these outweigh the unknown costs. “I guess you could argue for environmental benefits, because they use less pesticides and herbicides, but you can do that anyway and not have to have GMO seeds,” she said.

Parrott is a strong proponent of GMOs as a way to sustainable agriculture. “If you look at biotech crops, they use a lot less water, and we’re limited for water. They use a lot less fuel … they use a lot less insecticides, which has a lot of collateral impacts on the environment,” he said.

He said he believes GMOs and organics can coexist in the agriculture industry.
“In the organics industry, they’re opposing us and I never figured out why because they’re really very compatible technologies,” Parrott said.
According to the National Organic Program, organic farms can have levels of GMOs up to 5 percent of Environmental Protection Agency levels, Parrott said.
“NOP is very clear that non-intentional presence of GMO does not impact your GMO status,” he said. “So the claim that ‘I’m going to get pollen from them and then I’m going to lose my organic certification’ is completely bogus.”

Shannon Lawrence, a 2010 alumna who now serves as the instructional resources project manager for the CTAE Resource Network, may not agree completely with Parrott, but she can see the two types of agriculture meshing.

“I don’t think it’s an either or, I think it should be a blending,” she said. “But I don’t think that people in power are ready to accept organic or accept raw milk or accept things that aren’t going to be money makers.”


Chromatin’s Yield Machine: Is Instant Gene-Stacking A Game-Changer For Energy Crops?

- Jim Lane, Biofuels Digest, January 19, 2011

In Illinois, Chromatin announced the successful first demonstration that genes can be assembled, stacked, and expressed in sugarcane using the company’s mini-chromosome technology.

Now, what exactly is a gene stack and why should I care? Most of what we eat or use in commodity crops – for biofuels and everything else – utilizes genetically modified organisms. According to UCSD’s Steve Mayfield, up to 92% of corn, and 87 percent of soybeans, and right down along the line.

Developers, however, want to insert genes that offer improvements in multiple traits – when an organism has more than one gene inserted in this process – for example, for disease resistance, insect resistance, herbicide resistance – this is called a gene stack. In 2007, for example, Monsanto and Dow introduced an eight-gene stack (SmartStax) that contained eight herbicide tolerance and insect-protection genes, including Dow’s Herculex I and Herculex RW; Monsanto’s YieldGard VT Rootworm/RR2 and YieldGard VT PRO, Roundup Ready and Liberty Link tolerance genes.

Gene stacking, thereby, is foundational in the drive for higher productivity from land crops. You can stack in one of two ways. First, the traits are inserted, one each into one varietals. Then the varietals are cross-bred in the traditional manner so that they transfer the genes, eventually, into the target. That’s how Monsanto and Dow came up with SmartSTax.

The Chromatin process
The other way is to insert them all at one time into one varietal,
The company developed a proprietary gene stacking technology, which can be used to simultaneously, and precisely introduce multiple genes in any plant, bypassing the cross-breeding process.

How? (Warning: some biology background is helpful, here)
Chromatin is using a plant’s own DNA to deliver several genes on an independent and heritable genetic element, without requiring insertion directly into the plant’s host genome. These elements are built to deliver multiple traits and to accelerate development of new products, providing benefits to growers, industrial bioprocessors, and consumers.

Read on


Improved tolerance toward fungal diseases in transgenic Cavendish banana (Musa spp. AAA group) cv. Grand Nain

- Jane Vishnevetsky et al. TRANSGENIC RESEARCH, Volume 20, Number 1, 61-72, DOI: 10.1007/s11248-010-9392-7

The most devastating disease currently threatening to destroy the banana industry worldwide is undoubtedly Sigatoka Leaf spot disease caused by Mycosphaerella fijiensis. In this study, we developed a transformation system for banana and expressed the endochitinase gene ThEn-42 from Trichoderma harzianum together with the grape stilbene synthase (StSy) gene in transgenic banana plants under the control of the 35S promoter and the inducible PR-10 promoter, respectively. The superoxide dismutase gene Cu,Zn-SOD from tomato, under control of the ubiquitin promoter, was added to this cassette to improve scavenging of free radicals generated during fungal attack. A 4-year field trial demonstrated several transgenic banana lines with improved tolerance to Sigatoka.

As the genes conferring Sigatoka tolerance may have a wide range of anti-fungal activities we also inoculated the regenerated banana plants with Botrytis cinerea. The best transgenic lines exhibiting Sigatoka tolerance were also found to have tolerance to B. cinerea in laboratory assays.


British MP In New Debate on Food Production

- Chad (UK), January 20, 2011
- http://www.chad.co.uk:80/news/local/mp_in_new_debate_on_food_production_1_2940305

Sherwood MP Mark Spencer has spoken in a debate about using biotechnology and genetic modification to secure Britain’s future food security. Mr Spencer told the debate in Westminster Hall that there should be a mature and fact-based discussion on the subject.

He said last Wednesday: “I believe that we have a responsibility to ensure Britain’s food security. “The recent volatility of world markets has given us a taste of how vulnerable we are with wheat reaching a two-year high and food costs soaring. “In addition, climate change means that farming is under more pressure than ever and facing an uncertain future.”

With world population expected to rise above nine billion by 2050, experts have warned that we need to produce 50 per cent more food and energy and 30 per cent more fresh water within the next 20 years.

Mr Spencer added: “Biotechnology and specifically Genetic Modification offers improved yields, disease free plants and crops which can tolerate changing climactic conditions, all of which will ultimately mean that ordinary people in Sherwood can keep the cost of a trolley of shopping down.

“Additionally, it will allow British farmers to compete in the world market where heavy regulation currently puts them at a disadvantage to foreign competitors. “What I want to bring about is an intelligent and informed debate on Genetic Modification which sets emotion, rumour and misinformation aside allowing a reasoned discussion of the pros and cons, bringing a potentially vital issue out of the shadows.”


GM Crop Regulations: Safety Net or Insurmountable Obstacle?

- AAAS Symposium, February 18, 2011: 1:30 PM-4:30 PM; 147A (Washington Convention Center)

Genetic modification (GM) of fruits, vegetables and other small-market crops offers opportunities for many significant improvements, including enhanced nutrition, safety (e.g., elimination of toxins and allergens), taste, and shelf life and the ability to be grown with less pesticides -- yet none of these are available to consumers. Why? It is not because there are reasonable doubts about the safety of transgenic crop plants. After 15 years of widespread use around the world, there are no credible reports of injury to health or to the environment from genetically engineered crops or foods.

This symposium will address the two prime reasons why fresh market and specialty GM foodstuffs are not on grocers’ shelves. First, the regulatory system in place is not sufficiently science-based and is too costly to be justified for small-market crops. Two speakers will discuss success in bringing safe and highly productive transgenic crops to farmers, whereas others will highlight research presently under way to provide fruits, vegetables, and other foods that benefit consumers by being more environmentally friendly, healthier, and more enjoyable to eat.

Finally, the obstacles to commercialization of such foods under the present array of complex and costly regulatory hurdles at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will be presented, along with suggestions for using scientific principles to streamline current regulatory systems while providing ample assurances to consumers regarding the safety of new GM foods.

Organizer: Donald P. Weeks, University of Nebraska; Co-organizers: Wayne Parrott, University of Georgia and Alan McHughen, University of California

Nina Fedoroff, Pennsylvania State University - Why We Need to Craft Science-Based Regulations for GM Crops and Animals in the United States
Roger Beachy, U.S. Department of Agriculture - The Success and Safety of Transgenic Crops and Foods
Drew L. Kershen, University of Oklahoma - The Present Regulatory Systems, Their Complexity, and Costs
Hector Quemada, The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center - Challenges in the Development of Transgenic Crops by the Public Sector
Alan McHughen, University of California - Whither "Orphan" GM Specialty and Small Market Crops?


The Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC)

- September 6 -9 2011: Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa
Agricultural Biotechnology for Economic Development . http://www.abic2011.co.za

The theme of this conference is Agricultural Biotechnology for Economic Development. ABIC inspires and encourages the research, development and commercialization of new biotechnologies to improve human health, create a sustainable food supply and foster new energy sources for all nations.

This year’s conference aims to provide an in-depth understanding of the advances and innovations that are significant in moving nations towards a global bioeconomy. 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.

ABIC2011 is a scientific conference that creates an opportunity for scientists, researchers and practitioners in the field of agricultural biotechnology to present the latest developments that improve human health, create a sustainable food supply and foster new energy sources.

- Prof. Jocelyn Webster, Conference Chairperson, ABIC2011


Update on - Finland: High-Level Delegation Asks Parliament to Ease Regulations on Growing Genetically Modified Plants

Dear Prof. Prakash!

Sincere thanks for your news from Finland. Unfortunately there was an important error in the translation (made already in Finland, apparently by newspaper Helsingin Sanomat).

Namely, there were not 12 university lecturers but university presidents (university rectors) among the signatories! - What a great difference!

I know that for sure, because I was the technical secretary collecting the signatures for the petition. - and the current figures are as follows:

The petition had been signed by 563 people, of whom 315 had a doctorate
level degree and of whom 212 served at least in the role of adjunct
professor in the academic hierarchy.

The signatories include 141 professors, three research directors,
seven university deans, ten research institute directors, 12 university
rectors, two university chancellors, plus a member of the Academy of

With Best Greetings, Jussi (Jussi Tammisola, , Assoc. Prof. in Plant Breeding, University of Helsinki, Finland ) jussi.tammisola@helsinki.fi