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Date:

January 24, 2011

Subject:

Key to Human Survival – UK Warning; Unlocking the Potential; Insurmountable Obstacle; Extremist Tactics; Fostering Innovation

 

* GM Crops are The Key to Human Survival, Says UK's Chief Scientist
* Food Prices to Rocket By 50% As Global Hunger Epidemic Takes Hold
* If It's GM Food or Global Famine, I Know Which I'd Choose
* Food Formulas: Scientists Try to Decipher ‘Taste’ Genomes
* Africa: Unlocking the Economic Potential of Biotechnology
* How to Genetically Modify a Seed, Step By Step
* Researchers Develop A Way to Control 'Superweed'
* GM Crop Regulations: Safety Net or Insurmountable Obstacle?
* Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa: Fostering Innovation
* Greenpeace Founder on Extremist Tactics
* India’s Foundation for Biotechnology Completes A Decade
* India’s GEAC Disapproves Gus Gene In Transgenic Food Crops
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Genetically Modified Crops are The Key to Human Survival, Says UK's Chief Scientist

Robin McKie, The Observer (UK), Jan. 23, 2011
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jan/23/gm-foods-world-population-crisis

‘Sir John Beddington argues that moves to block GM crops on moral grounds are no longer sustainable’

Moves to block cultivation of genetically modified crops in the developing world can no longer be tolerated on ethical or moral grounds, the government's chief scientist, Sir John Beddington, has warned. He said the world faced "a perfect storm" of issues that could lead to widespread food shortages and public unrest over the next few decades. His warning comes in the wake of food riots in north Africa and rising global concern about mounting food prices.

"A number of very important factors are about to change our world," said Beddington, an expert in population biology. "Its population is rising by six million every month and will reach a total of around 9,000 million by 2050. At the same time, it is estimated that by 2030 more than 60% of the population will be living in cities and will no longer be involved in growing crops or raising domestic animals. And on top of that the world's population is getting more prosperous and able to pay for more food."

Beddington said these factors indicated that the world was going to need 40% more food, 30% more water and 50% more energy by the middle of the century – at a time when climate change was starting to have serious environmental impacts on the planet, flooding coastal plains, spreading deserts and raising temperatures. "We could cut down tropical rain forests and plant crops on the savannahs to grow more food, but that would leave us even more vulnerable to the impact of global warming and climate change. We needed these regions to help absorb carbon dioxide emissions, after all."

Beddington said humanity had to face the fact that every means to improve food production should now be employed, including widespread use of new biotechnological techniques in farming. He stressed that no harm should be inflicted on humans or the environment. His remarks were made in advance of publication tomorrow of a major report, "The Future of Food and Farming".

His office's report is a specific attempt to highlight moves that could halt devastation of the planet. Crucially, the report will be presented tomorrow not just to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), but also to the Department for International Development, which directs UK foreign aid. Beddington said he would present details of his office's report in Washington next month. He also hoped it would be debated at other events, including the G8 and G20 summits.

He emphasised the role of modern biotechnological techniques, including GM crops, in the future of global food production. "There will be no silver bullet, but it is very hard to see how it would be remotely sensible to justify not using new technologies such as GM. Just look at the problems that the world faces: water shortages and salination of existing water supplies, for example. GM crops should be able to deal with that."

Such remarks will enrage many environmental groups, who believe it is wrong for the west to impose a technology it has developed on the third world. But Beddington was adamant about the benefits of GM crop technology. "Around 30% of food is lost before it can be harvested because it is eaten by pests that we never learnt how to control. We cannot afford that kind of loss to continue. GM should be able to solve that problem by creating pest-resistant strains, for example. Of course, we will have to make sure these crops are properly tested; that they work; that they don't harm people; and that they don't harm the environment."

GM crops alone would not be sufficient to hold off widespread starvation, he added. No single approach would guarantee food security for humanity for the rest of the century. A widespread approach, including the development of proper sustainability, protecting fish stocks and changes to patterns of consumption, was also critical, he said. "This report was set up to find out if we can feed nine billion people sustainably, healthily and equitably. We can, but it will take many different approaches to crack the problem."

Timing was crucial. "In 2008 food prices rocketed to their highest level for decades. People said it was just a one-off, but last year what happened? Wheat prices saw their fastest ever increase. The era of declining food prices is over and we have to face that," he added.

Almost a billion people now suffer serious food shortages and face starvation. "It is unimaginable that in the next 10 to 20 years that there will not be a worsening of that problem unless we take action now, and we have to include the widest possible range of solutions."

-========

From Prakash: download the UK Govt. report at
http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/bispartners/foresight/docs/food-and-farming/11-546-future-of-food-and-farming-report.pdf

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Food Prices to Rocket By 50% As Global Hunger Epidemic Takes Hold, Government Doomsday Report Warns

David Derbyshire, Daily Mail (UK), Jan. 24, 2011
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1350009/Food-prices-rocket-50-global-hunger-epidemic-takes-hold.html#ixzz1ByhJGl00

* 'Perfect storm' of issues will bring widespread starvation if nothing is done
* World will need '40% more food, 30% more water and 50% more energy' by middle of the century
* 'Scaremongering' over GM foods is no longer acceptable, says UK science chief
* Global population to grow to 9billion by 2050

The cost of food will soar by 50 per cent in coming years, putting a massive strain on overstretched family budgets, experts have warned. The 'substantial' hike in prices will be triggered by the exploding world population, rising cost of fuel and increased competition for water, a leading Government think tank said.

Spiralling food prices will push hundreds of millions of people into hunger, trigger mass migrations and spark riots around the world, the report warned.






The world is facing a commodities crisis that could leave millions unable to afford the rising costs of food as population levels soar

And in the UK, the price of everyday basics like bread, rice and milk will spiral to inflation-busting record prices within the next few decades. The report called for 'urgent action' to prevent food shortages and said genetically modified crops may be needed to prevent famines.

The warning comes as global food prices are already at a record high. Last month the price cereals, sugar and meat soared on the world's markets after a series of crop failures caused by bad weather.

The new report comes from Foresight, a think tank set up to predict future crises.
It predicted that the world's population would rise from 6.9billion today to around 9billion by the middle of the century.

As the world gets more crowded and more wealthy, demand for food, water and energy will soar. At the same time, climate change will increase the risk of droughts, floods and crop failures - creating a 'perfect storm' of food shortages and above inflation hikes in prices.

'There is a very large risk of a quite substantial increase in prices over the next 30 or 40 years,' said co-author Professor Charles Godfray of Oxford University.
'We are going to have to produce considerably more food. So inescapably we are going to have to produce more food from the same amount of land without wrecking the environment.'

The report, written by 40 scientists in 35 countries, called for a 'green revolution' to boost production using traditional, organic and genetically modified crops - designed to be resistant to drought or salt water - and better training for farmers in poor and middle income countries.

It also called for a massive crackdown on food waste - claiming that a third of all food produced today ends up in the bin.

A typical UK household wastes £500 to £700 a year on food that they buy and don't eat.

Professor Sherman Robinson of Sussex University, an author of the report, said food prices could go up by 50 per cent over the next few decades.

'The robust conclusion is that the long run decline in food prices is over,' he said.
Even a 'modest' rise in food prices could push 100million people into hunger, the report warned.

Professor John Beddington, the Government's chief scientific adviser, said the food system was failing 'Firstly it is unsustainable, with resources being used faster than they can be naturally replenished,' he said. 'Secondly a billion people are going hungry with another billion people suffering from "hidden hunger", whilst a billion people are over-consuming.'

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Frankenfoods Vs Thomas Malthus: If It's Genetically Modified Food or Global Famine, I Know Which I'd Choose

- Tom Chivers , Telegraph (UK), January 24, 2011
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tomchiversscience/100073268/frankenfoods-vs-thomas-malthus-if-its-genetically-modified-food-or-global-famine-i-know-which-id-choose/

It’s nice to see two classic scientific scare stories facing off. We’ve read a lot about both over the years, and both have been the subject of a lot of media-led panic, and now they’re being set against each other in a battle to the death. It’s a bit like Alien vs Predator, except it’s real life. Frankenfoods vs Thomas Malthus.

Yes, Professor Sir John Beddington, the chief science adviser to the government, has suggested that genetically modified (GM) crops are our best hope to keep the growing population of the world fed. “In 20 years’ time, the world population is going to be sky high, demand for food, demand for water, demand for energy, is going to be way up there,” he told the BBC.

“The population of Africa is scheduled to double over the next 20 years. We need to be thinking about making agriculture more effective, dealing with the problems of water, dealing with the problem of energy.

“There’s no one simple solution. GM may be the answer for certain problems.”
People have been predicting the world’s population outrunning our ability to feed it since 1798, when the aforementioned Reverend Thomas Malthus pointed out that population increases exponentially, while food production ability increases linearly.

To put it another way, population generally increases by a steady percentage each year, while resources generally increase by a steady sum. Eventually, if left unchecked, an exponential increase will always outrace a linear one: so population must, eventually, outgrow our ability to feed that population.

The idea took off most spectacularly in the late 1960s and 1970s, with the publication of Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb. Professor Ehrlich, a Stanford University biologist, thought that within 20 years of the book’s publication the world would see widespread famine: “”the battle to feed all of humanity is over … In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now”, he told New Scientist in 1967, shortly before his book was published. He also said that “By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people … If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”

Now, Prof Ehrlich was clearly wrong, but he was wrong in a very instructive way. When he was writing, in the few years either side of 1970, the world population was about 3.5 billion. Now, 40 years later, it is more like 6.9 billion (or, if you’d like a spuriously precise figure, 6,895,537,788 at the time of writing – 1:48pm on 24/01/2011 – according to the US Census Bureau). But, in that time, instead of everyone having less food, food production per capita has actually gone up by more than 25 per cent. In real terms, that means, our food production capability has doubled, and more.

How has that happened? Simply put: technology. The “green revolution” of agriculture saw the creation, through selective breeding, of high-yield strains of grains like maize and rice; the vastly increased use of fertilisers and pesticides; industrial-scale farms and irrigation systems; and, of course, the use of genetic engineering to produce more efficiently harvestable crops. All that allowed us to feed the world; there is now more than enough food to go around, although it is still extremely unequally distributed.

So GM has already played a role in averting one global food catastrophe, albeit a relatively small one compared to the other aspects of the green revolution. Can it do it again? Prof Beddington thinks so, although he acknowledges that it will be no “silver bullet”. Africa did not benefit much from the previous green revolution, but GM crops that are ready to grow in salt-spoiled earth or hotter temperatures, or to resist diseases and parasites, could change that. And Malthus’s simple mathematics suggest that, without qualitative changes in food production, population will one day outstrip supply.

GM, of course, has had a bad press. Partly that’s a reasonable response to the idea that multinational corporations will be able to copyright the genomes of food crops, and charge a premium for the right to grow them, but mainly – as far as I can see – it’s part of the general fear of The Unnatural; hence pejorative terms like Frankenfoods and so on. We don’t like the idea of Messing with Nature, of Playing God. But since every advance mankind has made since the taming of fire is interfering with the natural order in some sense, it’s not a helpful argument.

As Prof Beddington points out, it’s going to be the poorest of the world’s population who are going to be hardest hit if the predictions of overpopulation-caused famine bear out. GM represents an important tool in preventing that happening. It’s easy for us in the pampered West to demand organic all-natural produce, but other parts of the world do not have that luxury. Malthusian collapse is a genuine possibility, even if it has been wrongly predicted before.

And there is little actual reason to fear GM foods, and much to be gained from them. So Prof Beddington is right: Frankenfoods should be unleashed to do battle with the hordes of Thomas Malthus, and there’s really only one side we should be rooting for.

-============

Food Formulas: Scientists Try to Decipher Genomes That Give Produce, Grains, and Livestock Their Nuanced Tastes

- Carolyn Y. Johnson, Boston, Globe, January 24, 2011

http://www.boston.com/business/technology/articles/2011/01/24/scientists_try_to_unlock_genome_formulas_of_food/

For centuries, chefs have been devising new ways to combine foods to create innovative dishes. Now, scientists are using the powerful tools of modern biology to decipher the genomic recipes that give rise to the fragrant flesh of a strawberry or the complex bitter flavor of dark chocolate.

The studies are not just academic: As researchers learn how genes are linked to different traits, they hope to breed crops or livestock that are hardier, tastier, or healthier.

Last month, in the journal Nature Genetics, international teams of scientists published the genomes of the cocoa plant and the woodland strawberry — the newest additions to a growing genomic buffet. Staples like corn and rice have been sequenced, as well as chickens, golden delicious apples, and pinot noir grapes. Researchers are gaining insight into genes that give rise to the melt-in-your-mouth taste of chocolate or the fresh smell of cucumbers.

“Traditionally, plant breeders have been guided in their selection by the traits that they can see,’’ said Tom Davis, a professor of plant biology and genetics at the University of New Hampshire and a member of the Strawberry Genome Sequencing Consortium. “We are trying to make it possible for breeders to be guided also by the genes that the plants have’’ that give rise to desirable traits, which might range from some nuance of flavor to natural resistance to disease or pests.

Genomes are being deciphered by large, international consortiums of scientists funded by private and public sources that can range from the National Science Foundation to big-brand chocolate manufacturers such as Hershey Corp. or Mars Inc.

In the decade since researchers decoded the first human genome, such analyses have become quicker and cheaper, allowing many more plants and animals to be sequenced. A catalog of the genes in a plant or animal is a starting point into questions diners and farmers care about, just as the human genome was a critical tool to begin unraveling major questions about human disease and biology.

“We can breed potentially for types of plants with higher levels of a certain kind of flavor — fruity notes, raisiny notes, nutty notes . . . it will help us to understand the genetic basis of flavor,’’ said Mark Guiltinan, a professor of plant molecular biology at Pennsylvania State University. “Especially the gourmet, high-end chocolate manufacturers are interested.’’

Guiltinan, one of the lead authors of the recent cocoa genome paper, said that researchers have found potentially important clues in the plant’s roughly 29,000 genes. They have identified a candidate gene that may play a role in the hardness of cocoa butter, a trait of possible interest for chocolate makers who want candy bars that do not melt in warm climates.

Davis, a member of the large international consortium that sequenced the woodland strawberry — an ancestor of the cultivated strawberries on supermarket shelves — said his lab is working on finding genes that are unique to that fruit. He is searching for the clues as to what makes a strawberry a strawberry, and the research could shed light on other related crops, such as apples, peaches, and almonds.

Instead of using the genome as a resource for making genetically modified foods, many researchers are focused on finding ways to use the genetic information to breed better plants. With greater information about the genetic basis of different traits, breeders might be able to make more informed choices about which plants to select and cross-breed.

The biggest opportunity may come in breeding plants that are naturally more resistant to disease, pests, or droughts — allowing farmers to use fewer chemical pesticides or allowing a crop to thrive in different types of environmental conditions.

Guiltinan pointed out, for example, that poor cocoa farmers could benefit significantly from a better yield and disease-resistant plants. According to the Nature Genetics paper, disease and insects cause about 30 percent of the cocoa crop to be lost each year.

Grant Cramer, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Nevada, is a part of the International Grape Genome Program, with an interest in developing drought-resistant grape vines.

In 2007, the pinot noir genome was first published in the journal PLoS ONE, and Cramer said that at least 50 varieties of grapes are now being sequenced.

Genetics may give scientists and farmers insights into the biological processes that lead to a peppery note or a fruitiness in wine.

“We prune them, we pull leaves off of them to shape the canopy and allow more light exposure,’’ Cramer said. “There are a lot of intense practices done in grape vines, and we can start to understand more what those practices are doing.’’

-================

Africa: Unlocking the Economic Potential of Biotechnology

- Jose W. Fernandez, Afrik News, Jan. 21, 2011
http://www.afrik-news.com/article18800.html

By 2050 population growth is expected to translate into a 70 percent increase in global demand for food. Add the estimated 27 percent decline in global productivity expected due to climate change, and it is clear that the demand for food production will become more critical in the coming decades.

Countries that depend on rain-fed agriculture will be especially vulnerable. Crop models for Sub-Saharan Africa have indicated that in 2050, average rice, wheat, and maize yields will decline by up to 14 percent, 22 percent, and 5 percent, respectively.

But there are rays of hope as we go towards 2050. The potential for agriculture in Africa is great. African countries can use their own experiences, indigenous knowledge and traditional methods, as well as the many talents of their people to adopt and adapt the best of what science has to offer in new technologies.

An essential lever for raising agricultural productivity is increasing investments in science and technology. An important lesson of the 1960s “Green Revolution” was that agricultural research could contribute decisively to spurring agricultural growth. Countries that simultaneously adopted the technology and increased their investments in agricultural research have maintained and even accelerated their rate of productivity and growth. New technologies - like biotechnology, conservation tillage, drip irrigation, integrated pest management, and new multiple-cropping practices - have improved the efficiency and productivity of agricultural resources over the last decade. Around the world some 14 million small and resource poor farmers in the developing world have already benefited from biotechnology crops.

In a 2008 survey of the global impact of biotech crops, the global net economic benefits to biotech crop farmers was $9.2 billion dollars, divided roughly equally between developed and developing countries. In South Africa, for example, biotech maize, soybean, and cotton are estimated to have enhanced farm incomes by $383 million dollars. In other areas of the world, the technology has changed the lives of farmers and raised incomes in a matter of years. In India, conservative estimates for small-scale farmers have indicated that the use of biotech cotton has increased yield by 31 percent, decreased insecticide application by 39 percent, and increased profitability by 88 percent, equivalent to $250 U.S. dollars per hectare. With the advent of enhanced tools, such as drought-resistant corn and disease-resistant bananas, those who have paved the way for the technology will reap even further economic benefits.

African researchers are already working on the next generation of biotech crops that will have a wider array of benefits for farmers, like drought tolerance, nitrogen-use efficiency, and salt tolerance to help address shifting environments due to climate change. But second generation biotech crops will go beyond benefits to the farmer. Work is underway in crops, like cassava and rice, to increase their vitamin, mineral, and protein content, benefitting the consumer as well.

So we know what technology can do. The question is what has been keeping it out of the hands of those who could benefit from it? In many cases misinformation has made people fear a process and its products. However, the real obstacle is the lack of functioning regulatory systems that would allow countries to make their own decisions about the safety of these products. Biotechnology-produced crops have been assessed for safety in all regions of the world - from the European Union to Japan to Brazil to Burkina Faso. Not to adopt biotechnology because of unfounded claims after more than 15 years of safe use and proven benefits would be to unnecessarily narrow an African farmer’s agricultural potential. It is one of the tools, which, when paired with the right incentives, can enable Africa’s farmers and businesses to close the productivity gap.

But those incentives must have political will behind them. Technology alone is not the answer. To make use of the potential of biotechnology, science-based regulatory systems must be established. I call upon those who have the ability to do so to put in place such sound policies, based on science, and to take full advantage of what investment in agricultural science and technology can do for African farmers and economies.

Several African countries have already adopted the policies and regulatory frameworks needed to support the responsible and safe use of biotechnology. I applaud their courage and foresight to move forward. With increased political will, strong research support, and biosafety policies and regulations that empower the use of the technology, African countries can revolutionize their agricultural sector. What’s more, they can squarely look those in the eye who maintain that crop technology leads to lost markets, and ask them to explain why the expanding economies of the world are exactly those that are developing and using biotechnology.

To those who fear monopolies and multinational ownership of the food supply, I say promote competition, don’t stifle innovation. It is clear that economic growth will be achieved by those countries that are innovators in agriculture and that take the leap of faith needed to invest in their farmers, which is an investment in their future.

--------------
Mr. Fernandez was nominated by President Obama on August 6, 2009, and sworn in as Assistant Secretary on December 1, 2009. He serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs. He leads the Bureau that is responsible for overseeing work on international trade and investment policy; international finance, development, and debt policy; economic sanctions and combating terrorist financing; international energy security policy; international telecommunications and transportation policies; and support for U.S. businesses and the private sector overseas. Mr. Fernandez was named one of the "World’s Leading Lawyers" by Chambers Global for his M&A and corporate expertise, an "Expert" in International Financial Law Review’s "Guide to the World’s Leading Project Finance Lawyers", and one of the "World’s Leading Privatization Lawyers" by Euromoney Publications.
-===============


How to Genetically Modify a Seed, Step By Step

- Rebecca Boyle, Popular Science, Jan.24, 2011 http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-01/life-cycle-genetically-modified-seed at

‘Using nature as a guide, geneticists build plants with qualities evolution could never produce’




Soybeans in Automated Greenhouse Genetically modified soybean plants grow at Monsanto’s automated greenhouse in Raleigh, N.C. The greenhouse has conveyor belts to move plants around for watering, weighing, and pictures, so scientists can monitor their health without ever having to handle them. Courtesy Monsanto

ST. LOUIS — In a nondescript basement lab, jeans-clad engineers clutch blueprints, scrape stepladders across the unfinished floor and chat about the Cardinals as they tighten bolts on a new prototype device. At first glance, it could be any machine shop in the country.

But then you notice the wispy strands of soybean seedlings curling to life, their root tendrils bunched into test tubes lightly packed with soil, and you remember — this place is all about seeds.
Monsanto Co. produces 90 percent of the world’s transgenic crops, using a complex marriage between ancient techniques — cross-breeding different plants to produce a desired trait — and the most modern technologies available, from genomic research to NASA-caliber mechanical engineering.

Originally a chemical company, Monsanto produced some of the world’s most controversial substances — saccharine, DDT, PCBs, Agent Orange — before evolving into the biotech giant it is today. That evolution has been marked by controversy, including lawsuits against farmers, allegations of unfair trade practices, and more. The company produces the herbicide Roundup, and also seeds whose genes have been engineered to survive Roundup's active plant-killing ingredient. Now the vast majority of this country’s soybeans, corn, sugar beets and canola possess those engineered genes.=

For a closer look at the tools of the GE trade, check out the gallery here
Behind every single seed is at least a decade of research involving geneticists, engineers and farmers, working to produce a seed that will grow exactly as expected, and in a way nature may not have intended. Here's how it’s done.

Read on at http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-01/life-cycle-genetically-modified-seed

-============

Researchers Develop A Way to Control 'Superweed'

http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-01-superweed.html

They pop up in farm fields across 22 states, and they've been called the single largest threat to production agriculture that farmers have ever seen. They are "superweeds" – undesirable plants that can tolerate multiple herbicides, including the popular gylphosate, also known as RoundUp – and they cost time and money because the only real solution is for farmers to plow them out of the field before they suffocate corn, soybeans or cotton. Now, thanks to the work of researchers at Dow AgroSciences, LLC, who have been collaborating with a University of Missouri researcher, a new weapon may be on the horizon to eliminate superweeds.

Zhanyuan Zhang, a research associate professor of plant sciences and director of the MU Plant Transformation Core facility, partnered with research scientists at Dow AgroSciences, LLC, to engineer soybean plants that can tolerate an alternative herbicide that may help slow the spread of superweeds, such as tall waterhemp.

According to an article in the May 3 edition of the New York Times, farmers considered RoundUp a "miracle chemical" when it was introduced because it killed a wide variety of weeds, is safe to work with, and broke down quickly, reducing environmental impact. However, weeds quickly evolved to survive gylphosate, and that threatened to reverse an agricultural advance known as minimum-till farming.

As the superweeds survive in the fields, farmers must spend more time to get rid of them, even going so far as pulling the weeds by hand. The Times noted that there were 10 resistant species in at least 22 states infesting millions of acres of farmland.

Using a massive genetic database and a bioinformatic approach, Dow AgroSciences researchers identified two bacterial enzymes that, when transformed into plants, conferred resistance to an herbicide called "2,4-D," commonly used in controlling dandelions. The enzymes were successfully put into corn and soybean plants, and those new plants showed excellent resistance to 2,4-D, including no negative effects on yield or other agronomic traits. Other advantages of 2,4-D include low cost, short environmental persistence, and low toxicity to humans and wildlife.

"Unlike glyphosate, which targets amino acid synthesis, 2,4-D is a hormone regulator. Because it has a different mode of action, 2,4-D is an ideal herbicide to deal with glyphosate-resistant weeds," said Zhang, who managed the soybean transformation portion of the study and contributed to some data analysis.
Zhang believes that 2,4-D could eventually be combined with other herbicides in the near future. In the meantime, Zhang says an integrated weed management plan can help farmers be productive and ultimately save money for the consumer.

"The less chemicals farmers use in the field, the less money they spend on production," said Zhang. "That leads to less cost for the consumer, as well as improved food safety and environmental safety."

More information: November issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

-==============

GM Crop Regulations: Safety Net or Insurmountable Obstacle?

- AAAS Symposium, February 18, 2011, Washington DC
http://aaas.confex.com/aaas/2011/webprogram/Session2860.html

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

Speakers:
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?

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International Conference and Exhibition on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa: Fostering Innovation

- May 13-15, 2011, Addis Abbaba http://www.issdet.org/

Food security, nutrition, healthcare and environmental sustainability are among Africa’s biggest challenges. According to the 2007 work Freedom to Innovate: Biotechnology in Africa’s Development, authored by the High-Level African Panel on Modern Biotechnology and commissioned by the African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the development of biotechnology has a role to play in overcoming each of these challenges.

This conference attempts to address the role of biotechnologies in the transformation of African economies. For the past two decades, biotechnology has been at the centre of global conversations in public policy, yet as with the Green Revolution, biotechnology has so far failed to take root in Africa. Many obstacles stand in the way but if the will exists to invest in human resources and in infrastructure, then AU member states, too, will reap the benefits from biotechnologies.

The organizers committee have put together what we hope will be an informative and rewarding program. This conference and exhibition, with delegates from over 59 countries, offers participants the opportunity to interact with their colleagues working with tropical and temperate climates. It is also a unique opportunity to learn more about biotechnology research results and needs that we all have in common working with agricultural biotechnology.

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Greenpeace Founder on Extremist Tactics

- Fox Business News, Jan 20, 2011

Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore on what lead him to leave the organization.

Watch video at http://video.foxbusiness.com/v/4503675

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India’s Foundation for Biotechnology Completes A Decade of Scientific Activity

- C Kameswara Rao, Executive Secretary, FBAE, January 18, 2011.
http://www.fbae.org

The Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education was inaugurated on January 18, 2001, by Professor G Padmanabhan, former Director, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, at a function presided over by Dr S Shantharam. The FBAE has now completed ten years in science based activity.

During this decade we have conducted many workshops and seminars in and out of Bangalore, participated in a large number of national and international policy committees, conferences and seminars, and written extensively on issues of modern biotechnology, more particularly agricultural biotechnology. We have conducted press conferences, submitted signed petitions, and produced scientific documents in support of technology. Our websites (www.fbae.org, www.plantbiotechnology.org.in) hold a large number of scientific articles and position papers on agricultural biotechnology.

We sincerely thank you, one and all, for the enormous amounts of good will, support and encouragement we received throughout, without which we would not have been able to do anything at all.

During this decade we also faced serious difficulties, such as the paucity of committed personnel and more particularly the absence of even reasonable financial support for our activities.

Currently Indian agricultural biotechnology is facing very severe problems, such as a) vehement, committed and well funded anti-tech activism, b) nearly indifferent Governmental attitude that resulted in a moratorium on Bt brinjal, c) the disapproval by the GEAC of transgenics containing the GUS gene as a reporter and d) the repeatedly raised issue of antibiotic resistance marker genes in transgenics, in spite of their being shown to be safe on all counts. In general, the scientific community, the product developers and the governmental agencies did not rise up to occasions and have almost totally neglected public education, with the result the public opinion was successfully high jacked by the activists supported by the media, pushing the government into a negative stance.

We look forward to your continued support in our science based efforts to promote technology in the public interest.

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India’s GEAC Disapproves Gus Gene In Transgenic Food Crops

- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, India; January 24, 2011 - pbtkrao@gmail.com

The Department of Crop Physiology, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore (CPUASB), developed four transgenic groundnut Events and sought permission to conduct confined field trials. The Review Committee on Genetic Modification (RCGM) recommended these transgenics for the approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). At its 101st meeting on June 9, 2010, the GEAC considered RCGM’s recommendation (Agenda Item No. 5) and approved DREB1A and DREB1B for Event selection but approved DREB2A and PDH45 transgenics only for continued contained research (GEAC, 2010).

The GEAC (2010) held the view that “because of the presence of gratuitous gene such as gus in the food crops, it may not be considered for environmental release when such a proposal is mooted by the project proponents”. The most important and alarming fall out of this view is that the GEAC forecloses approval of all food crops containing the reporter gene GUS, for commercial release in the future. The second is the unfortunate use of the adjective ‘gratuitous gene’ for GUS. Of the five definitions Chambers Dictionary gives for ‘gratuitous’, two, ‘without reason, ground or proof’ and ‘uncalled for’, are close to the issue but certainly are not applicable to the choice of GUS protocol in the development of CPUASB’s transgenic groundnuts, as GUS is a very widely preferred protocol to study gene expression. The third implication is that the GEAC’s decision against GUS is a rap on the knuckles of the RCGM, which has 22 active agricultural scientists and/ or molecular biologists and six industry representatives with science background, for approving something which in the GEAC’s view is unacceptable.

The decision of the GEAC against the use of GUS was immediately caught up by the activists and the media declared that “A gene called glucuronidase A (gusA) could be the next molecule of contention in debates about the safety of genetically modified (GM) food in India” and that “The GM groundnut contained an unnecessary piece of DNA called gusA and ought not to be released into the environment” (Koshy, Live Mint, July 16, 2010).

The present GUS problem is worse than the moratorium on Bt brinjal, as it impacts the development of all transgenic crops in the country, which contain the GUS gene.

Issues related to the safety of the use of GUS in transformation systems of crop plants have been examined earlier and it was concluded that E. coli GUS in genetically modified crops and their products can be regarded as safe for the consumers and the environment. The human GUS gene produces large amounts of GUS and there is almost no food item we consume without the GUS gene and/or its product. The presence of the GUS gene in food and feed from genetically modified plants is unlikely to cause any harm because E. coli, the source of the GUS gene used in transgenic development, is widespread in the digestive tract of consumers and the environment. GUS activity, found in many bacterial species, is common in all tissues of vertebrates.

Transgenic crops are thoroughly evaluated for over a decade to establish product efficacy and biosafety by teams of scientists prior to commercialization, and no possibilities of toxicological or adverse ecological effects of GUS have been discovered. GUS component in transgenic crops is minimal and their consumption is unlikely to add significantly to the endogenous GUS in the consumers or the environment. No enhanced outcrossing or weediness on account of the presence of GUS in the transgenics has been detected in a quarter century of research, development and commercialization of transgenic crops globally. The GUS gene in transgenics does not impart any added selective advantage to any other organism.

The GEAC’s decision against the two GUS containing groundnut transgenics of CPUASB has no scientific basis. The GUS system was used by earlier workers with all the four genes used by the CPUASB, more particularly the transgenes DREB2A and PDH45, that were objected by the GEAC. There are number transgenic crops including the food crops papaya, plum, sugar beet and soybean, which contain the GUS gene, approved for commercialization in different countries. They have not shown any adverse effects on account of the GUS gene in them.

Following the GEAC’s decision, a large number of people in and outside science, including biologists who have been using GUS protocols in research and teaching, developed apprehensions on the fate of transgenic food crops containing the GUS gene and its future use, in spite of voluminous literature on its safety. When a fact of science or an experimental protocol becomes common place, its background, history and import are confined to the archives, with the result new and unfounded fears get into position.

GEAC’s decision seriously impacts not just the two ground nuts, but the development of all transgenic food crops with the GUS system in India. It is now for the scientific community to put the record straight on that the use of GUS is extensive and is safe on all counts, and convince the GEAC to reconsider its position against the presence of GUS in food transgenics.

Review Of Scientific Literature on Gus
It has now become important that currently available information on GUS is made widely known in order to assuage unwarranted fears about a safe technology. To this end a review of the scientific literature on GUS was compiled and posted at http://www.plantbiotechnology.org.in/issues.html.

This review is set out under the subheads a) Selectable and Screenable Maker Genes, b) β-glucorinidase as a Screenable Marker, c) Occurrence of GUS in Nature, d) Physico-chemical Characteristics of GUS, e) Biological Activity of GUS, f) Research Applications of GUS, g) Advantages of GUS Assays in Crop Genetic Engineering, g) Disadvantages of GUS Assays, h) Precautions Needed in GUS Assays, i) Biosafety of GUS, j) GEAC’s Decision against the Use of GUS, k) a Table listing commercialized transgenic crop Events containing the GUS gene, and l) 44 references.