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March 2, 2011


Biotech Food The New DDT?; Lack of Biotech Food Safety is A Myth; Reflexive Biotechnology Development; Crop Chemophobia


* Junk Science in USA Today: Useful for Bird Cage Linings?
* Two Cents: The GMO Debate
* Cornell Gets US$40 Million to Fight New Wheat Rust Strain
* Indian President Announces - Biotech-Related Systems
* Lack of Biotech Food Safety is A Myth
* World Food Prize Celebrates 25th Anniversary in 2011
* Reflexive Biotechnology Development
* Crop Chemophobia: Will Precaution Kill the Green Revolution?


Junk Science in USA Today: Useful for Bird Cage Linings?

- ACSH, March 2, 2011


Late last week USA Today’s Life & Fitness section included a 1052-word attack on genetically-modified (GM) foods in the guise of an objective look at their increasing use. Tellingly, the article was headed, “Shoppers wary of GM foods find they’re everywhere.”

Typical of the level of thought in the article was this passage:
“Many of these [GM food] opponents acknowledge that there isn't much solid evidence showing genetically modified foods are somehow dangerous or unhealthy. It just doesn't seem right, they say. “

The article then went on to quote at some length an assortment of GM food critics. A number of these people were interested parties representing the organic food industry, which markets itself as an alternative to GM food.

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross comments:
Where to begin on this insidiously slanted article? Just as labels are not allowed on "hormone free" milk since the hormones in milk are all the same whether synthetic or "natural," biotech crops are no more dissimilar to traditional crops than current corn and wheat are to those of a century ago’s inferior versions. Are they safe? The regulatory hurdles GM crops have to surmount are far greater than you can imagine, and they have done so for 15 years without a single valid report of harm to humans, animals or the environment.

The bogus "monarch butterfly" scare drew widespread media attention a decade ago based on nothing — imagine if a real harm were detected — yet nothing has happened although GM crops are now planted and harvested around the globe. The main exception is Europe, which clings to its superstitions while agricultural progress passes it by without a second look.

The "growing network" opposing GM is imaginary — [and] the folks in that camp should be treated like anti-vaccine fanatics, who also "feel that something isn't right." But vaccines have eradicated fearsome childhood scourges, and GM technology has the potential to reduce world hunger and provide essential nutrients for the impoverished. Don't let biotech food become this century's DDT, banned for no reason at a frightful cost in African lives.


Two Cents: The GMO Debate

Cornell Daily Sun, March 2, 2011

The Sun recently published a series of opinion pieces debating the pros and cons of genetically modified organisms. In the interest of fostering further dialogue on the issue, The Sun solicited the opinions of several knowledgeable professors on the topic.

The Sun recently published a series of opinion pieces debating the pros and cons of genetically modified organisms. In the interest of fostering further dialogue on the issue, The Sun solicited the opinions of several knowledgeable professors on the topic — in what will be the first in a series of debates on a host of controversial matters. The aim is to present a sampling of views, which in no way will be entirely comprehensive, but will hopefully allow readers to learn about different topics from a variety of perspectives and disciplines.

G.M.O.s and Feeding the World

“The world’s population is currently about 7 billion and it expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050. Today, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, there are more than 900 million undernourished people in the world. The FAO defines undernourished as lacking sufficient calories to meet energy requirements. In addition, more than 2 billion people, mostly children and women, are iron deficient and an estimated 6,000 children die every day from vitamin A malnutrition.

One strategy for addressing the problem of micronutrient malnutrition (vitamin and mineral deficiency) is biofortification of staple food crops such as rice, wheat, maize, sweet potatoes and beans. Biofortification is the use of biotechnology to enhance the content and/or bioavailability of vitamins and minerals in foods. One well-known and promising example of a biofortifed food is golden rice. Golden rice was developed using genetic engineering to program rice plants to produce beta-carotene in the rice kernels. (Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body.) This means that conventional plant breeding cannot be used to increase beta carotene in rice kernels, leaving genetic engineering as the only alternative for breeding biofortified rice. Rice provides as much as 80 percent of the calories in the diets of the poor in many areas of the world and vitamin A deficiency is often prevalent in rice eating areas.

I don’t believe that genetic engineering alone can save the world from hunger and malnutrition but I do think it is one of many strategies and technologies that we must pursue if we are to have any hope of feeding the 9 billion people who will inhabit out planet by 2050. All technologies we develop carry risks but I believe we must be willing to take some risks because the alternative is the status quo with millions of people suffering terribly from hunger and malnutrition.”

–– Prof. Dennis Miller, food science

Public Perception of G.M.O.s Abroad

Prof. Ronald Herring, government, has done extensive research on genetically modified organisms and their use and impacts in India. In 2008, Herring wrote an op-ed for The Hindu regarding the misconceptions of the effects of G.M.O.s on Indian farmers. Herring writes, “There is a great puzzle here. If disastrous in 40 countries, why does the technology spread so rapidly across nations and farms? Recombinant DNA technologies represent perhaps the most rapid adoption of any agricultural technology in history. Are farmers irrational, ignorant, duped? The subaltern famously cannot speak, but can she not count either?”

Herring continued, “There is then no puzzle of farmers adopting disastrous technologies: the disasters exist entirely in the imaginary of advocacy networks that have interests in disasters. The acceptance of molecular breeding technologies is rooted in precisely the agency and rationality of Indian farmers denied in global narratives of G.M.O. opponents. Neither duped nor innumerate, cotton farmers face extreme challenges — from climate change to globally rigged markets — but they do know what works in their fields.”

Prof. Herring teaches CSS 4100: The G.M.O. Debate: Science and Society, along with Profs. Peter Hobbs and Janice Thies, crop and soil sciences. Though the science behind genetically modified foods is not Herring's academic focus, he shared his thoughts on the subject.

When asked about the safety of G.MO.s, Herring responded, “There are studies that show that the transcriptomic errors introduced by other means of plant breeding considered ‘conventional’ are greater than those made by recombinant DNA breeding. The question is whether there is more or less risk in genetically engineered plants as opposed to breeding techniques we think of as conventional, that have been normalized. Most important is mutagenic plants, which are bred by taking a traditional cultivar and inducing mutations by radiation or chemical agents called mutagens. Here’s the critical point: only recombinant DNA plants –– where genes are spliced together –– are considered ‘G.M.O.s’ and subjected to special scrutiny."

–– Interview with Prof. Ronald Herring, government

Pesticides, Organics, and Comparative Breeding

Prof. Elizabeth Earle, plant breeding and genetics, challenged the assertion of the Feb. 15 opinion piece “Rejecting Genetically Modified Food” that G.M.O. crops can cause resistance to pesticides.

“Other genetically modified foods are made to resist insect attack, like BT crops, reducing the use of pesticides. Therefore, they cause the introduction of fewer toxic chemicals in the environment. Consumers ought to be pleased about that.”

“One of the big arguments about G.M. crops is the problem it creates for organic growers. Organ ic growers decided themselves that being organic would mean having only a small percentage of their crops as G.M. There are G.M. crops that could be considered favorable for the environment.”

Finally, food safety remains a contentious aspect of using G.M. plants. “People have been eating G.M. foods in this country since 1996,” Earle said. “Everything I've seen on food safety points to the safety of G.M. plants.”

Earle cited a survey recently published in Plant Physiology that examined 44 microarray studies comparing genetically engineered (G.E.) crops to non-G.E. crops.

The authors concluded that there are fewer changes in the plant genome –– in the overall expression of genes and proteins –– of G.E. crops compared to changes caused by traditional breeding or environmental conditions, like drought. “This indicates that the overall changes to the plant genome by G.M. are smaller than the natural variation caused by traditional breeding.”

––Interview with Prof. Elizabeth Earle plant breeding and genetics


Evaluation of genetically engineered crops using transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomic profiling techniques”


The French authors made a literature survey based on 44 recent “omic” comparisons between GE and non-GE crop lines.

Those profiling techniques (transcriptomic, proteomics, and metabolomics) have been increasingly applied to the analysis of genetically engineered (GE) crop plants with regard to their food safety and nutritional equivalence.

The results show that transgenesis has less impact on the expression of genomes or on protein and metabolite levels than conventional breeding or environmental conditions (e.g. drought)

Differences between GE crops and their comparators should be analysed in a wider context of natural variation. The most pronounced differences were consistently found between the various conventional varieties, a trend linked to the crop diversity maintained or created by plant breeders. This should be put in perspective taking into account that conventional breeding is generally regarded as safe, despite the fact that the nature of the changes in new conventional cultivars are usually unknown.

* None of the published “omic” assessments has raised new safety concerns about marketed GE cultivars.

* Metabolomics is becoming the prevalent approach but does not yet provide added value for food safety assessment compared to the currently used analytical methods.

More basic research is required before non-targeted large-scale methodologies can be internationally certified and accepted.

The study concludes:

The fast accumulating data from targeted approaches as well as non-targeted profiling, consistently indicating that transgenesis has less impact than conventional breeding, should lead at least to a convergence of regulations for various crop breeding methods. Obviously, on a scientific basis this should mean lowering the current regulatory burden for GE crops. Considering that health problems have not been identified for GE crops after 15 years of commercialization, time may have come to simplify the risk assessment of modern biotechnology products, and therefore reduce cost. This would make risk assessment more affordable for small companies, academic institutions, or low-income countries.


Armed With US$40 Million, Global Research Team to Fight New Wheat Rust
Wind-borne wheat pathogen endangers food security worldwide

http://www.globalrust.org> .

With grant from DFID and Gates Foundation, Cornell University and partners
will ramp up surveillance; provide farmers with resistant wheat varieties

ITHACA, NY (27 February 2011)—The United Kingdom’s Department of International Development (DFID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced they will invest US$40 million in a global project led by Cornell University to combat deadly strains of Ug99, an evolving wheat pathogen that poses a dangerous threat to global food security, particularly in the poorest nations of the developing world.

The five-year grant, made to the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project at Cornell will support efforts to identify new stem rust resistant genes in wheat, improve surveillance, and multiply and distribute rust-resistant wheat seed to farmers and their families.

“We cannot overstate the importance of this announcement on the part of two of the most important funders of solutions for addressing the causes of poverty, hunger and disease in the developing world,” said Ronnie Coffman, Cornell professor of plant breeding and genetics and director of DRRW. “Against the backdrop of rising food prices, and wheat in particular, researchers worldwide will be able to play an increasingly vital role in protecting wheat fields from dangerous new forms of stem rust, particularly in countries whose people can ill afford the economic impact of damage to this vital crop.”

First discovered in 1998 in Uganda, the original Ug99 has also been found in Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen and Iran. A Global Cereal Rust Monitoring System, housed at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), suggests variants of Ug99 are on the march, threatening major wheat-growing areas of Southern and Eastern Africa, the Central Asian Republics, the Caucasus, the Indian subcontinent, South America, Australia and North America.

“We applaud DFID for taking a leadership role in supporting agricultural research,” said Sylvia Mathews Burwelle, president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We hope other governments in both the developed and developing world and donors will follow the UK’s lead and increase investments to provide small-scale farmers with the tools they need to improve their yields so they can feed their families and overcome poverty.”

The new grant will allow Cornell to build on international efforts to combat stem rust—particularly Ug99 and its variants. Among the university’s partners are national research centers in Kenya and Ethiopia, and scientists at two international agricultural research centers that focus on wheat, the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (known by its Spanish acronym as CIMMYT), and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), in Syria. The FAO and advanced research laboratories in the United States, Canada, China, Australia, Denmark and South Africa also collaborate on the project. The DRRW project now involves more than 20 leading universities and research institutes throughout the world, and scientists and farmers from more than 40 countries.

As part of the agreement, DFID will contribute approximately US$15M and the foundation US$25M to the DRRW over the next five years. “Wheat is one of Kenya’s most important crops, second only to maize. Our people depend upon it for food security,” said Ruth Wanyera, a plant pathologist with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute in Njoro. “We hope this important investment on the part of the Gates Foundation and DFID will prompt other funders and policy makers in the industrialized and developing worlds to support efforts to protect our global wheat supply.”

Initially called to arms by Norman Borlaug, the DRRW works closely with the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) on a global strategy to avert agricultural disaster for wheat.

“This is a major and much-welcomed investment,” said Jeanie Borlaug, daughter of the late Norman Borlaug, and chair of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI). “My Dad used to say, ‘rust never sleeps.’ The world’s leaders are finally waking up to the threat.”


Indian President Announces Establishment of Biotech-Related Systems

- http://www.isaaa.org/kc/cropbiotechupdate/article/default.asp?ID=7407

While addressing the joint session of the Parliament of India on February 21, 2011, India President Shrimati Pratibha Devisingh Patil announced the establishment of the Crop Genetic Enhancement Network to spur the development of improved crop varieties in the country. Underscoring the significance of scientific and technological competence for sustained economic growth of India, she enumerated many new initiatives in the area of S&T to support the sustained agriculture and economic growth.

In this direction, the President informed the Parliament that "An Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research is being established to impart instruction and strengthen research in the country. Establishment of new institutions has contributed significantly to the growth of biotech in the country." A Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council will also be set up to augment efforts on food security, promote industrial research and development, and facilitate innovation in biotechnology. "For developing improved crop varieties, a national program for Crop Genetic Enhancement Network will be launched soon," said the President. In addition, a National Science & Engineering Research Board has been notified to provide impetus for promoting basic research in the country. The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill piloted by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) is slated to be tabled in the parliament in the next session.

A copy of the President's speech to the joint session of the Parliament of India is available at http://presidentofindia.nic.in/sp210211.pdf


Lack of Biotech Food Safety is A Myth

- Prabha Jagannathan, Economic Times, 26 Feb, 2011

He’s known for shooting from the hip to open up virgin frontiers for applying agri biotech in one of the oldest profession in the world, farming. Shanthu Shantaram , executive director of the Association of Biotech Led Enterprises (ABLE) India, is, by his own admission, a scientist who believes in calling a genetic marker, a genetic marker . On the first anniversary of the environment ministry’s moratorium on Bt brinjal cultivation due to concerns about possible health hazards from the country’s first food biotech crop, he is seeing red in the colour aubergine. The man, who was virtually the world’s first agri biotech regulator with the USDA some two decades ago, now runs his own consultancy firm, Biologistics International.

An advocate of GM crops in India, Shantaram is known for not pulling any punches on the bureaucratic red tape and political roadblocks that made the sector move at a snail’s pace. Sample these reported quotes over the years: “Biotech democratised? It’s been mobocratised!” Or, in 2004, to GMWatch website: “All we have (to show for agri biotech progress so far) is one stupid Bt cotton...” Writing on the same website that year, he asserted : “Market forces are the only ones that decide the fate of any product or technology.” Again, “it is a bogey of the anti-GM lobby to keep harping that Indian farmers will become slaves to MNCs for seeds and inputs if they adopt biotech crops . This is a paternalistic attitude of die-hard leftists and socialists of the country.”

At this point, the India experience appears to have taught him very little in terms of an environment-friendly lexicon or perspective, although he views biotech progress in this country having strategic importance for the rest of the developing, hungry world. “The crux of the problem (why commercialisation of Bt brinjal is stuck in India) is the politicisation of technology and agriculture itself. There are too many emotionally-charged voices in the agriculture debate. Politics of all sorts block the progress of biotechnology. But most of these people do not have a clue on the subject. It is a cacophony of the ignoramus. Acute food shortage led us to adopt the chemical fertiliserintensive Green Revolution. It made hybrids acceptable, although they’re also born of biotechnology. But some environmental activists still argue that all chemical-intensive agriculture is exploitative. They should understand that all agriculture is exploitative.” And therein he hangs what he considers the top-billing agri biotech lore. Of how, long ago in modern times, scientists in the US created a cholera-resistant biotech rice seed and tested it somewhere in Peru’s dysentry-dominated villages .

But they had to withdraw the technology and stop all tests after the US press illogically attacked the choice of ampi-theatre for the tests, though no part of the US could have actually put the efficacy of the seed to the test. Lore 2: The fodder shortage problem and high milk prices could end if only RR (Monsanto’s Roundup Ready) Alfa Alfa forage crop had been cleared in India, especially since the world’s largest milk producing country has no policy for planned cultivation of fodder.

Biotech food safety, Shantaram contends, is an urban myth that doesn’t know when or where to draw the line. He says all the tests conducted were in line with the recommendations by Codex Alimentarius and followed the generally regarded as safe (GRAS) standards. “Six years of testing through the best possible international standards, two expert committees, including an 18-member technical panel that mostly cleared it, and overwhelming scientific evidence in favour of Bt brinjal are more than sufficient. If science alone is used to take decisions on biotechnology, then the ministry’s own expert panel, the Genetic Engineering Approval (now Appraisal ) Committee, or GEAC, has made that decision.”


World Food Prize Celebrates 25th Anniversary in 2011

- October 12-14, 2011, Des Moines, Iowa; http://www.worldfoodprize.org

Twenty-five years ago, Norman Borlaug's dream of creating an annual award to recognize and inspire breakthrough achievements in increasing the quality, quantity and availability of food came true. The World Food Prize was founded.

From its humble beginnings, the World Food Prize has grown to be called "The Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture" and the magnificent award ceremony coincides with an annual international symposium on food security issues, which last year attracted over 1,000 people from more than 65 countries.

This year, we are thrilled to announce that the events will also include the Grand Opening of the Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates, a permanent home for the World Food Prize and an event center and educational facility to honor humanitarian heroes and inspire the next generation of scientific leaders.

We hope you will save the date and join us to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the World Food Prize, October 12-14, 2011. Thank you for your role in making this organization a success, and please continue to share your World Food Prize experiences with others. Together, we can bring more attention to food security issues and inspire great achievements.


Reflexive Biotechnology Development

‘Studying plant breeding technologies and genomics for agriculture in the developing world’

- PhD thesis by Wietse Vroom; ISBN 978-90-8686-106-4

- Download at http://dare.ubvu.vu.nl/bitstream/1871/15971/5/8554.pdf

Agriculture plays a crucial role in the alleviation of extreme poverty and hunger. Development of new crop varieties that are more resistant to disease and pests, and that produce more in dry conditions or on poor soils, can contribute to agricultural development. However, while the technical potential to improve crop varieties is increasing rapidly, such technologies do not always successfully contribute to the economic development of resource poor farmers. New technologies may never reach farmers, may be prohibitively expensive, or may solve only a very limited part of the problem that farmers are facing in practice.

This book engages with the debate on how modern genetic technologies are used in plant breeding, and questions what it is that makes a new technology appropriate for proper agricultural development. It does so by moving beyond a technical perspective on what constitutes appropriate technology and by analyzing how different approaches to agro-technological development create different social roles for technology developers and farmers in innovation processes and production systems.

Case studies of projects and international research centres in India, Peru and Mexico provide an insight in the different approaches to agro-technological development in which farmers are treated as recipients of technology, or are involved as co-innovators, and in which technology developers present themselves as solution providers or as service providers. Insight in those different approaches contributes to a clearer debate on the potential role of biotechnology in agricultural development and the reduction of poverty.

(from Plant Breeding News of Cornell/FAO via John Ruane; John.Ruane@fao.org)


Crop Chemophobia: Will Precaution Kill the Green Revolution?

- New book by Jon Entine (ed) , $39.95; Hardcover: 169 pages; AEI Press (February 15, 2011); ISBN-10: 0844743615
- http://www.amazon.com/Crop-Chemophobia-Precaution-Green-Revolution/dp/0844743615

The Green Revolution of 1960s introduced herbicides, pesticides, and advanced agricultural technologies to developing countries--rescuing hundreds of millions of people from malnutrition and starvation and transforming low-yield, labor-intensive farming into the high-tech, immensely productive industry it is today. Despite these stunning gains, critics of chemical farming remain vocal.

Recently, the European Union passed a ban on twenty-two chemicals--about 15 percent of the EU pesticides market--to begin in 2011. In Crop Chemophobia, Jon Entine and his coauthors examine the "precautionary principle" that underlies the EU's decision and explore the ban's potential consequences--including environmental degradation, decreased food safety, impaired disease-control efforts, and a hungrier world.

Contributors: Jonathan H. Adler, Claude Barfield, Jon Entine, Euros Jones, Douglas Nelson, Alexander Rinkus, Richard Tren, Mark Whalon, Jeanette Wilson

"Crop Chemophobia offers a science-based consideration of the impact of agricultural technology and highlights the need to give more thought to the principles guiding the regulation of food production. This is more than an academic debate; it could save lives." --Mike Johanns, U.S. Senator for the State of Nebraska and former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

"Crop Chemophobia should be required reading for policymakers. Our greatest challenge in the next forty years will be to feed billions more people on our planet with the same land resources we now use. As this important book demonstrates, we need to have science-based discussions about how to accomplish this. In the decades ahead, the greatest risk of all may be blind adherence to the precautionary principle." --Bob Stallman, president, American Farm Bureau Federation

"Timely and important, this book is a call to action. We cannot afford to allow a narrow, technology-averse agenda to saddle our global food production system with constraints that are costly and scientifically unwarranted--not when we face the challenge of doubling food production in the next four decades to meet expected demand." --W. Daren Coppock, president and CEO, Agricultural Retailers Association

"By placing science above scaremongering, this book should stimulate a more informed and balanced debate on the importance of pesticides in meeting the challenges posed by population growth and a changing climate." --Ian Denholm, Rothamsted Research, United Kingdom

"Many consumers today rely on sensationalized media reports to form their opinions on food production. Crop Chemophobia does an excellent job of going beyond the emotional debate over the use of crop inputs. Those concerned with a growing world population and food insecurity should look closely at the consequences of removing a vital tool of food production." --Mike Adams, host,


Also see

Don’t Rush to Ban Chemicals