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March 30, 2011


Biodiversity Doesn’t Feed People, But GM Crops Do; Law of Unintended Consequences; Terrified to Criticize Greenpeace


* Biodiversity Doesn’t Feed People, But GM Crops Do
* Innovation Arrested by the Law of Unintended Consequences
* We’re all terrified to criticise the likes of Greenpeace
* After Bt Bringal, will Himachal GM Potato find acceptance?
* India: Biotech body bats for Bt Cotton
* Mahyco to look east for GM seeds market
* Delhi: Environmental Risk Assessment of Genetically Engineered Crops
* Patrick Moore – Rex Weyler Exchange about Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist


Biodiversity Doesn’t Feed People, But GM Crops Do

- American Council on Science and Health, March 30, 2011
- http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.2489/news_detail.asp

During a United Nations meeting in Bali to discuss a treaty on plant genetics, La Via Campesina, which according to an article in The Atlantic, is said to be an international farmers’ movement comprised of 150 organizations in 70 countries, decided not to waste time addressing real agricultural problems like the rising cost of food, starvation in underdeveloped nations and the poor crop yields in certain areas. Instead, the group decided that “real” peace of mind can only be achieved when biodiversity is protected, which includes further restrictions and bans on the use of genetically-modified (GM) seeds.

In the article, reporter Anna Lappé further promulgates these anti-agricultural biotech ideologies by quoting from a 2006 report by Doug Gurian-Sherman, currently a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists: “With the recent approval of genetically engineered alfalfa in the United States, organic farmers here are ever more concerned about such a ‘genetic trespass.’”

“Organic farmers are concerned all right — about protecting their ‘organic turf’ and protecting their crops from ‘contamination’ with non-organic genes, not feeding millions of malnourished people worldwide or preventing the hundreds of thousands of deaths occurring annually due to starvation,” fumes ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “This is nothing more than pseudoscience since it is well-known that GM products increase crop yields and have the potential to actually enhance the nutritional benefits of crops. That is, if they were allowed to be harvested in the EU or several African nations, where they are currently barred from use.”

Likewise, the banana industry in Uganda finds itself at such a crossroads. Thirty percent of its banana crop has been infected with banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW), a disease that is wiping out entire plantations — and that’s not okay for a country that is the second largest producer of bananas in the world. But scientists from the National Banana Research Program have found an answer to a problem that conventional methods were unable to solve. Using genes from a sweet pepper plant, they created bananas resistant to BXW, which sounds great — except that GM crops are illegal in Uganda, even though 95 percent of farmers are willing to grow them.

So perhaps activists such as La Via Campesina — and Ms. Lappé, albeit her agenda is less obvious — should stop pushing a political program posing as science policy and start representing what real farmers are asking for, such as Ugandan farmer Arthur Kamenya: "When someone is hungry, they've got to eat now! If people are going to die of hunger today, then we cannot be talking about the future, and if GM is going to provide that solution, then as Africa, we need to embrace that.”


Innovation Arrested by the Law of Unintended Consequences

- Henry Miller and Drew Kershen, Forbes, Mar. 30, 2011
- http://blogs.forbes.com/henrymiller/2011/03/30/innovation-arrested-by-the-law-of-unintended-consequences/

Wrong-headed regulation often has unintended consequences. A good example is governments’ approach to “genetically engineered” crops.

In only 15 years, modern genetic engineering technology — specifically, recombinant DNA technology, sometimes called “genetic modification” — has achieved monumental humanitarian and economic successes. Higher productivity, lower costs for inputs, economic gains to farmers and environment-friendly agronomic practices have made it the most rapidly adopted agricultural innovation in history. Since 1996 there has been an astonishing 87-fold growth in farmers’ adoption of genetically engineered crops; in 2010 more than 15 million farmers in 29 countries cultivated 366 million acres. In Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Paraguay, South Africa, the United States and Uruguay, more than half the cultivation of at least one major crop — corn, cotton, soybean or canola — is genetically engineered.

Many of these varieties have been around long enough that the intellectual property rights (patents and plant variety rights) in these seeds will soon expire. And with the expiration of these IPRs, some of the unintended consequences of bad regulatory policy come into play.

In spite of their benefits and unblemished safety record, genetically engineered crops are subject to excessive, discriminatory, expensive regulation in every country of the world that grows them. Seeds cannot be sold to farmers until the seed producers gain regulatory approval, variety by variety, trait by trait. This process is time-consuming (years), effort-intensive (yards-high stacks of paper) and very costly (tens of millions of dollars per application). The seed companies that obtain these approvals become the holders of the regulatory permits and also the owners of the data submitted to regulators. In most countries, the regulatory approval for a genetically engineered variety is permanent, but in others, such as the nations of the European Union, the regulatory approval expires after ten years; after that, the plant variety again becomes “unapproved” unless someone reapplies for and renews the regulatory permit. This disparity has important implications.

When farmers purchase genetically engineered seeds protected by IPRs, most often they must agree contractually not to save and replant seeds from the harvest — much as the purchaser of Microsoft’s Windows software commits not to share it with others. After the IPRs in a biotech crop expire, however, farmers are free to save seeds to grow the crop without infringing any IPR; and seed companies may then produce and sell “generic” genetically engineered seeds without violating IPRs and probably, for anti-trust reasons, without violating any contractual licenses from the original developer.

If farmers save seeds and seed companies develop generic versions of genetically engineered seeds, it is possible that these varieties will be planted long after regulatory approvals have expired in export markets such as the EU. That presents a conundrum: Who will have the incentive to spend the time and resources to apply for renewal? The original holder of the regulatory approval whose IPRs have expired and who is now selling newer, more advanced competing genetically engineered seeds (which are protected by current IPRs and with regulatory approvals intact)? Farmers or their trade associations? The seed companies who have produced the “generic” seeds?

In spite of the fact that it will legitimatize and lengthen the life of products that compete with their later-generation seeds, the Monsanto Company has pledged to renew regulatory approvals for its off-IPR genetically engineered crops through at least 2021. No other agribusiness company or public research institution of which we are aware has made a similar commitment.

Compounding the conundrum surrounding who will renew the regulatory approval for a genetically engineered variety are questions related to the data needed to apply for renewals. If a renewal application requires the same voluminous data as the original application, the applicant would either need to generate that data de novo or get access to the data that belongs to the original permit-holder. Pharmaceutical and pesticide industry models allow for compensation for proprietary data, either by law or voluntary agreement, but no such compensation mechanisms currently exists in the seed industry.

The resolution of these issues is critical because of the economic implications of the expiration of regulatory approvals. The expiration of the regulatory permit for a genetically engineered variety, which causes it to become unapproved, is important because many countries impose a legal limit of “zero tolerance” for the presence of unapproved varieties. These countries reject imports of agricultural products (corn, soybeans, and so on) that contain even trace amounts of an unapproved crop. Incredibly, billions of dollars of agricultural trade in export markets can be disrupted even though the seeds or other agricultural commodity are identical to what had been imported and sold routinely and uneventfully during the previous decade (and are, virtually by definition, an improvement over conventional seeds). The expiration of approvals thus becomes a trade-barrier — one that makes no sense except as blatant protectionism.

But the chaos doesn’t end with the disruption of trade. The expiration outside the United States of the regulatory approval of a product that remains approved within the U.S — which, as discussed above, makes a variety unapproved and illegal wherever the approval has expired — creates a problem for domestic farmers whose ability to export is disrupted. This situation would likely result in the filing of domestic class-action lawsuits as farmers sought compensation from someone — perhaps seed-saving farmers, generic seed developers or the original permit-holder — for pecuniary damage from loss of exports. Whether American courts would allow a cause of action for losses due to trade disruption, especially when the genetically engineered variety retains perpetual approval in the United States, is uncertain. This is yet another unintended consequence of regulatory systems that are not only incompatible with one another but are also unscientific and illogical.

There are several ways to drain this bureaucrat-generated swamp:

– Countries could harmonize the longevity of their regulatory permits, making them all permanent, which would enable farmers to save seed and seed companies to develop generic versions of genetically engineered seeds without concerns about interference with exports, trade disruption or liability lawsuits. After all, the products do not become unsafe merely because some of the paperwork (which was arguably gratuitous in the first place) has expired.

– Countries could establish sensible “tolerance levels” for unapproved varieties. This would potentially allow farmers to save seed because the number of farmers doing so may be sufficiently small in number such that their saved-seed harvest, when pooled with the harvest of other fields of approved crops, might remain below the tolerance level. However, seed companies developing and selling generic seeds that meet certified seed standards could be exposed to class action lawsuits if farmers purchased these generic certified seeds (which are of higher quality than saved seeds and cheaper than approved IPR seeds) in such quantity that the permitted tolerance was exceeded in pooled harvests.

– The best and most definitive solution of all would be for the harmonization of regulatory approaches in order to eliminate the existing discrimination against and excessive regulation of innocuous genetically engineered plants. This would constitute recognition at long last of the decades-old consensus that the newer techniques are essentially an extension and refinement of older breeding techniques and take into account that genetically engineered crops offer economic and environmental benefits without any unique or substantial risks compared to other crops. This course would promote advances in agriculture and unleash the ingenuity and entrepreneurism of both private and public agricultural research sectors. And on a practical level, it would remove the discontinuities that exist in current public policy and that create various unintended consequences. But because of bureaucratic inertia and self-interest, it is highly unlikely to come to pass, yet another reason that agricultural biotechnology is a tough row to hoe.

Drew L. Kershen is the Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law, University of Oklahoma College of Law, in Norman, Okla. Henry I. Miller, a physician, is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He was the founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the FDA.


We’re all terrified to criticise the likes of Greenpeace for opposing GM crops, insists Lib Dem peer

- Daily Mail (UK), March 24, 2011
- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1369658/We-terrified-criticise-likes-Greenpeace-opposing-GM-crops-insists-Lib-Dem-peer.html

We are all "terrified" of criticising green organisations and the organic movement for opposing GM crops, a Lib Dem peer has claimed.

Lord Taverne, former MP and minister, said that organisations like Greenpeace do more harm than good despite their "not rational" opposition to genetically modified foods.

He told the House of Lords: 'Outside the European Union, agriculture and biotechnology has been the fastest growing and more effective application of a new technology in agriculture there has ever been.

'It is an enormous success story. There are now 148 million hectares on which genetically modified crops are cultivated in 29 countries. 'There are now 15 million farmers in the world who grow genetically modified crops and over 14 million of them are small-scale farmers.'

During a debate on adapting to climate change, he highlighted the greater productivity and ability to deal with with water shortages enjoyed by genetically modified crops.

'So, under these circumstances, why is there still so much opposition? I think it's because we tend to treat the green organisations - Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the organic movement - with an extraordinary respect.

'We treat them as if they just stand for motherhood. People are terrified of criticising them publicly. And yet if one looks at the effect on agriculture they do far more harm than good.

'They keep on saying that we must prove the technology is safe. There have been any number of reports. 'Every single national academy of scientists in the world - the Mexican, the Indian, the Chinese, the American, the Brazilian, the Royal Society, the European Society have all examined this time after time after time and their conclusion is absolutely clear.

'So far there is no evidence, despite 12 years of their growth and consumption, of harm to human health or harm to the environment.' Farming minister Lord Henley said the debate on biotechnology was often "polarised". He said: 'We believe the argument should be based on the existing science and the evidence. We will always make our decisions in the end upon scientific evidence future.'

Turning to Lord Taverne, he said: 'I'm sure you're right in the long run that once we have achieved a consensus on these matters it will be right that we go forward in a direction that will help feed the world in the future.'


After Bt Bringal, will Himachal GM Potato find acceptance?

- Ravinder Makhaik, Himachal (India), March 28, 2011
- http://himachal.us/2011/03/28/after-bt-bringal-will-himachal-gm-potato-find-acceptance/27072/news/ravinder
Shimla: With pressure on improving productivity mounting to meet food needs of today and tomorrow, scientists at Central Potato Research Institute, Shimla (CPRI) have succeeded in developing a late blight disease resistance potato through genetic modification for boosting production and in a separate experiment have silenced a gene line to extend shelf life of a harvested potato for processing industry.

With controversy surrounding genetic modified foods have led to a moratorium on commercial production of Bt Bringal , the future of GM potato in the country remains uncertain.

Defending the experiments being carried out BP Singh director CPRI says, “meeting the food security needs of our country is a challenge before agri-scientists.
He said, because the disease resistant GM potato variety being developed by CPRI only carries a gene implant from another potato specie, it actually is not a transgenic experiment like that where a bacteria gene implant in a bringal gene has been done to make it a disease resistant Bt Bringal.

Such GM engineering is known as cis-gene, which involves a gene from the same specie pool and is considered bio-safe,” he added. To prevent sweetening of potato under cold storage conditions, CPRI scientist have been able to re-orient an active gene that converted starch into sugar. “Though the technology involved genetic engineering but there is no gene added,” says Singh. The institute has applied to patent the technology involved and intends to sell it to the processing industry should it obtain all mandatory clearances.

One year trials for both experiments stand completed and permission from Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GECA), the nodal body for GM experiments and permission for another year of field trial is awaited.

Should approvals come through, sowing of the GM crop would start in April-May.
After achieving the desired results, bio-safety protocols applied for GM crops have to be tried out before then new variety is released for commercial production. Depending up clearances from department of bio-technology department that would take at least 4 years, said Singh.

Should approvals come through, sowing of the GM crop would start in April-May.
With plans of carrying out field trials of GM Potato at the institutes farms in Jalandhar encountering resistance and bio-safety protocols yet to be addressed, Alliance for GM Free and Safe Food, Punjab has asked the state government to disallow such trials.

Whereas commercial production of GM potato has the potential to enhance India’s food security, say the scientists, but those opposed to it consider it as mere propaganda to advance the cause of GM foods by overlooking health and safety concerns.

For lack of long term studies about effects of Bt Bringal on human health, environment minister Jairam Ramesh has imposed a moratorium on commercial production of the GM crop in February, 2010.


India: Biotech body bats for Bt Cotton

- Business Standard (India), March 31, 2011

The Association of Biotechnology-led Enterprises (ABLE) on Tuesday said Bt Cotton has received good response from farmers in the country on the back of higher productivity and the lesser cost of cultivation.

India has also turned into an exporter of this commodity from an importer a few years ago due to the higher production per acre, ABLE said. “Despite opposition from certain sections of the society, farmers have adopted Bt cotton in a big way and there is no harmful impact of cultivating the crop in the cotton growing regions of the country,” T M Manjunath, entomologist and consultant — Agri-Biotechnology, said on the sidelines of releasing his book on Bt Cotton here.

He also said, negative lobbying backed by pesticide companies was one of the main reasons or misconceptions about Bt Cotton. In value terms, according to a study, Indian pesticide industry is estimated to be around Rs 7,400 crore including exports of Rs 2,900 crore.

Bt Cotton, developed for the control of bollworms, is the only biotechnologically modified crop approved by the Government of India for commercial cultivation since March 2002.

Since its commercialisation, Bt Cotton is now grown across most of the regions in the country with substantial benefits to farmers. As per the Association of Biotechnology-led Enterprises, farmers who cultivate Bt cotton have made Rs 10,000 per hectare profit in the recent times.

Similarly, cultivated area of Bt Cotton has increased from 29,000 acres in 2002 to over 10 million hectares in 2010, which account for 92 per cent of India’s total cotton area. Number of farmers adopting this technology has increased from 20,000 in 2002 to over 6 million in 2010.

“Those opposed to this technology have made allegations that Bt protein is not safe to biodiversity with harmful impact on human and cattle population. Such claims with out any scientific evidence have created a lot of doubts among general public. So, people should be made aware about the usefulness of this technology,” Manjunath said.

Bt Cotton is presently cultivated in nine states, namely Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan among others.


Mahyco to look east for GM seeds market

- Soumik Dey, Financial Chronicle, Mar 30 2011
- http://www.mydigitalfc.com/news/mahyco-look-east-gm-seeds-market-501

With government restricting the introduction of genetically modified seeds in food items, Mumbai-based Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco) plans to sell such seeds in Bangladesh and Philippines.

Mahyco, which has US seed producer Monsanto as 26 per cent stakeholder, has clocked 15 per cent growth this fiscal with Rs 550 crore sales turnover.

“Mahyco has approached with its technology for insect-tolerant Bt brinjal in Bangladesh and Phillipines. In both the countries, regulatory approvals are now awaited,” Raju Barwale, managing director of Mahyco Seeds told Financial Chronicle.

Barwale pointed to an “indefinite moratorium” on Bt brinjal imposed by environment ministry that oversees biotechnology regulator, genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC). This restriction has prompted offer of the technology to other countries.

“In both the countries, Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute and the Institute of Plant Breeding of UP Las Banos in Manila are seeking regulatory approvals for introducing Bt brinjal,” said Barwale.

Manila’s National Academy of Science and Technology said that the technology was acquired for free from Mahyco in a public-private partnership deal brokered by US based Cornell University. Mahyco had taken Monsanto’s consent for transferring the technology.

Mahyco had franchised bt brinjal technology from its US partner that has spent over $300 million to develop the technology, said C Kameshwar Reddy, a Bangalore-based crop biotechnologist and bt brinjal proponent.

The company had given access to bt brinjal gene to Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI) scientists and some state agricultural universities in 2005 under a similar arrangement.

Mahyco had spent Rs 55 crore in research activities during the 2010-11. It spent significant portion of it in developing bio-technology based crop research to develop bt rice, bt ladies finger, bt tomatoes, bt maize, bt cabbage and bt cauliflowers so far. It is also developing drought and salt-tolerant crops as well as nutrient-efficient crops.

“Our herbicide resistant variety of popular Bollguard-II (round-up ready flex) bt cotton is also awaiting approval from GEAC. It is likely to be introduced soon,” Barwale said. The scientific community is so far divided in its opinion about the introduction of herbicide-resistant cotton crop in the country.

“There are some anomalies, prices of bt cotton had remained unchanged for last three years. While the Punjab government has agreed to hike the prices of bt cotton seeds, discussion are going on with Andhra, Maharashtra and Gujarat governments,” he said.

Field trials of bt maize developed by the company and being conducted by the Indian Council of Agriculture Research had to be uprooted due to flak from Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.

“The GEAC had approved trials and they will be ongoing. If mandated, we are ready to avail another round of clearance from states,” Barwale said.

“We will not look to India for our research developments in genetically modified crops if the country feels there is no need for the same,” he added, saying that the company is looking to hike its spend on research and development to Rs 100 crores annually in next three years.

Other than GM cotton seeds, Mahyco offers hybrid seeds in cereals, food grains, vegetables and oilseeds.


South Asia Conference on Current Approaches to the Environmental Risk Assessment of Genetically Engineered Crops

- May 16-18, 2011, New Delhi, India

This conference will provide an opportunity to hear leading scientists from regulatory agencies, public sector research institutions and the private sector in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Europe, India, Mexico, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the U.S. present on the current science that is used to inform the environmental risk assessment of genetically engineered (GE) crops.

More Info: Dr. Vibha Ahuja; vibhaahuja.bcil@nic.in


Patrick Moore – Rex Weyler Exchange about Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist

Rex Weyler announces to Patrick Moore that he is about to come out publicly with a critique of Patrick’s new book, Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist. Here is Patrick’s response in red:

Rex Weyler: Patrick, I’ve had some requests to comment on your book. So far, I’ve avoided critiquing your ideas in public, out of deference for our friendship. You know from our discussions over beer that I disagree with most of your positions, but now that you’re in print, your ideas bear some scrutiny. As you know, you’re getting plenty of praise from the usual suspects, National Post, Fox News, etc, so you certainly have your backers.

Patrick Moore: My new book, Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist, was debuted in the Vancouver Sun, has been reviewed by the Calgary Herald, featured on many radio talk shows such as Mike Smyth on CKNW, and in the Toronto Star, hardly a bastion of the right. I do regular interviews on National Public Radio in the US and with Bloomberg News. I also take interviews with Fox Business News and the National Post. If you refer only to the conservative outlets that are interested, then you are hardly producing a balanced critique.

RW: I’m sending you this note as a heads up that I may appear in print with a more critical review of your ideas.

PM: Thank you for doing so. Has Greenpeace asked you to critique my new book? In other words, should I be expecting the Greenpeace party line from you? Or a more sensible approach?

RW: My main objection is that there remains a considerable gap between the scientific data before us and your analysis of that data.

PM: You mean like the considerable gap between your certainty about human-caused climate change and the lack of scientific data to prove such a claim? I give plenty of examples where the extent of our knowledge is insufficient to warrant certitude, climate being the main one. As Michael Crichton said “I am certain there is too much certainty in the world.” So I don’t really see what you are getting at here. Is it not more a question as to which set of uncertainties one takes issue with?

RW: You portray yourself as “sensible” and disparage all non-corporate environmentalists, but you don’t act scientific. You employ rhetorical devices such as: “There is no alarm about climate change,” since “the climate is always changing.” I’m sure this plays well at corporate speaking gigs, but you should google the fallacy of “misplaced concreteness.” I assume you are aware that you erroneously presume a word means the same thing in different contexts.
Read on http://www.beattystreetpublishing.com/moore-weyler-exchange/