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June 3, 2011


British Biochemists Support GM Crops; Greenpeace Activists to be Prosecuted; Upcoming BIO Meet in DC


* “Genetically modified” Crops, Feed and Food
* Greenpeace Violators to be Prosecuted for Malicious Mischief
* Impacts of GE Crops on Biodiversity
* Loud Voices in the Way of GM Crops
* Get Fertilizer Out. We Can Feed World
* Destroy the Planet: Buy Organic
* Market-Based Solutions to Global Poverty
* Challenges for Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa
* BIO 2011 Annual Meeting


“Genetically modified” Crops, Feed and Food

- UK’s Biochemical Society Position Statement, June 2011


All our current crop plants, and domestic and farm animals, are the result of deliberate cross breeding, which leads to genetic reshuffling, followed by selection of desirable characteristics. Although breeders have successfully practised these activities for thousands of years, it was only during the past century that we have gained a detailed understanding of the genetic and biochemical changes, which make these new breeds both genotypically and phenotypically very different from their ancestral forms.

Plant breeding, together with agrochemicals, irrigation and mechanisation, has led to dramatic increase in crop yields, which have kept pace with the burgeoning increase in global population in recent years. However, we now realise that this ‘Green Revolution’ put unprecedented pressure on the environment and on biodiversity. To ensure food security and adequate nutrition for a population of 9 billion by 2050i– with most of them living in the developing world–in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner, we will need to double productivity on essentially the same area of land. At the same time, we need to address concerns about modern high input agriculture, regionally declining water availability and to adapt to man-made climate changeii.

During the past few decades, the world has seen a revolution in our understanding of how living organisms function at the molecular, biochemical and physiological levels, culminating in the complete genome sequences of an ever increasing range of organisms, from viruses to man. This information is a vital resource for addressing many challenges: combating disease, improving human health and well-being, and enhancing food supply.

As part of this revolution, we have seen the development of plant genetic modification (GM) which allows the transfer of desirable genetic properties from one plant species – or from other organisms – into another plant species. All GM crops are subject to extensive selection testing and characterisation mandated by an elaborate regulatory regime in order to exclude any potential adverse health and “environmental” consequences before they are licensed to be grown commercially.

The majority of GM crops currently grown have been modified to provide resistance to insect pests or tolerance to benign herbicides. This enables a more targeted and efficient use of agrochemicals together with the associated benefit of ‘conservation tillage’. Other GM traits that are currently being developed for regulatory approval include further improvements in resistance to pest and disease; improving the efficiency of nutrient use; tolerance to temperature extremes, drought and flooding; and biofortified crops with enhanced micronutrients to combat nutritional deficiencies, which have a dramatic effect on the health of women and children in the developing world, and are a major cause of death and disease.

The Biochemical Society recognises that GM crops are not a magic bullet that will feed the whole world or eliminate poverty. However, the application of molecular biology will allow more targeted, precise, predictable and controllable improvement of crops, and can be used in two major ways: marker-assisted breeding to develop new varieties faster and GM to introduce new traits into crop plants. These technologies must not only be applied to improve food production in major crops but also to orphan crops (those of minor economic significance, and so perhaps overlooked in commercial developments, but nevertheless of great importance for specific populations, often very poor ones in the developing world eg.Cassava, Sorghum), which are a vital resource for farmers in the developing world. As a scientific society, we have a responsibility for fully evaluating and deploying these technologies where appropriate, and thus contributing to the security of future generations; unfortunately, time is not on our side.

The Biochemical Society supports the view that, while it is indeed proper to maintain a reasonable level of regulatory control, a wealth of experience and experimental data from national academies, governments and regulatory authorities has shown that the use of GM techniques presents no particular or novel hazards beyond those already encountered in agriculture. This view has just been clearly endorsed in an EU reportiii: “According to the projects' results, there is, as of today, no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms”.
The Biochemical Society wishes to thank Chris Leaver CBE FRS FRSE Emeritus Professor of Plant Science and Emeritus Fellow of St Johns College, Oxford for his work in producing this position statement.


Greenpeace Violators of Bt Eggplant Trial to be Prosecuted for Malicious Mischief

- SEARCA BIC Press Release, June 3, 2011 http://www.bic.searca.org/

Greenpeace members led by Daniel Ocampo who trespassed and destroyed the experimental site of the fruit and shoot borer resistant (FSBR) Bt eggplant in the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) last February 17, 2011 are to be prosecuted for malicious mischief by the Provincial Prosecution Office of Laguna Province. Among those to be charged include Indian nationals Shavani Shah and Ali Abbas of Greenpeace. Both joined Ocampo and his team in vandalizing the legitimate experiment.

The resolution, signed by Provincial Prosecutor George C. Dee and passed last May 13, 2011, stated as an undisputed fact that the Greenpeace members forcibly entered the experimental farm of the University with the common purpose to pull up the existing experimental plants which caused damages to the experimental plant breeds worth Php25,000,000.00.

In an official statement, Dr. Luis Rey Velasco, UPLB Chancellor, said that the University will pursue the case “to ensure that the violators will be held liable for their actions. We have to protect the interest of the University and defend our academic freedom.”

He said that the prosecutor’s decision confirms that there is violation of the Law when Greenpeace members forcibly entered the experimental site in the Institute of Plant Breeding (IPB), destroying the perimeter fence and uprooting the experimental plants.

He reaffirmed that the Bt eggplant field trial “is a legitimate experiment of UPLB designed to evaluate the merits and demerits of the technology.” “We followed national policies and rules and regulations. We have permissions from the authorities”, said Chancellor Velasco.

Dr. Lourdes D. Taylo, research study leader of the Bt eggplant project in UPLB, said that the decision was a welcome news for those directly involved in the development of Bt eggplant.

She emphasized that Bt eggplant is a UPLB project that is still in the research and development phase. The project’s main objective, she said, is to develop a variety of eggplant that is resistant to eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB), thereby increasing the farmer’s yield and decreasing the overdependence on insecticide use.

“We are fully compliant with all the conditions stipulated in the biosafety permit for the conduct of field trial of GM eggplant issued by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI). Our activities are strictly monitored by the Post Entry Quarantine Service of BPI and members of the UPLB Institutional Biosafety Committee,” added Dr. Taylo.

Eggplant is one of the most important vegetables in the country and ranks as the number one vegetable in terms of area of production and volume valued at more than Php 3 billion at current prices. Eggplant production and profitability are severely reduced by EFSB by as much as 50 to 75 percent. Farmers rely on heavy and often improper use of pesticides to control the pest. It has been documented that chemical spraying could reach up to 70-80 times per season or every other day, and farmers even resort to dipping the fruits in a cocktail mix of insecticides. This is a widespread practice that causes serious environmental and health hazards to farmers (including their family members who help in the farm) and consumers. The current farmer’s practice is considered to be highly hazardous, expensive and unsustainable. The Bt eggplant is a promising biotechnological innovation that could control the damage of EFSB in eggplant farming.


Impacts of GE Crops on Biodiversity

- Janet E. Carpenter, ISB News Report, June 2011

The potential impact of genetically engineered (GE) crops on biodiversity has been a topic of interest both in general as well as specifically in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity. In a recent review, I took a biodiversity lens to the substantial body of literature that exists on the potential impacts of GE crops on the environment, considering the impacts at three levels: the crop; farm; and landscape scales1. Overall, the review finds that currently commercialized GE crops have reduced the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity, through enhanced adoption of conservation tillage practices, reduction of insecticide use, and use of more environmentally benign herbicides. Increasing yields also alleviate pressure to convert additional land into agricultural use.


Loud Voices in the Way of GM Crops

- Torbjörn Fagerström, Dagens Nyheter, Sweden June 1, 2011

Europe stands at the side of where the rest of the world embraces the technology of GM (genetically engineered crops processed). There is a future-oriented, profitable and environmentally friendly technology which according to science is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Our study - commissioned by the Treasury Department's Expert Group for environmental studies - shows that European national economy each year, throwing 25 billion in the lake, do not use, for example, herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape and sugar beet. EU fight against a demon that does not exist while the tiger, leopard and lion economies of Asia, South America and Africa is developing a modern, bio-based green technology, writes Torbjörn Fagerström.

Some opinion-related accidents have a greater impact than others. Among the more disastrous are probably by no pat in Europe on the perception of genetically engineered crops (GMOs or GM crops). On behalf of the Expert Group for Environmental Studies, Ministry of Finance, we have analyzed the benefits that Europe thus missing out on. The report presented here at a seminar on Tuesday.

The situation in Europe is following. On the one hand we have a future-oriented, profitable, environmentally sound technologies for plant breeding, which according to science is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. On the other hand, we have a regulatory framework, influential interest groups, and a political system that deals with the same technology as if it were the devil's invention.

This will mean a total clash between science and politics, between the best practices and public opinion, between trust and suspicion. By way of explanation often cited a loud protectionist agricultural lobbies, influential green movement with the business idea to be opposed to GM crops, and outrage that a few large companies have power over plant breeding.

But none of these factors is of course unique to Europe. There must be a specific inability of the political system in Brussels, a long bench syndrome, some humility towards the loud voices, which explains why Europe is in addition to when the rest of the world embrace a promising technology.

But already checked the alarm bells in the minor key of the organizations that live by the frightened for the future, but need not take the cost of the damage they cause. In their misery descriptions feels vocabulary, problem analysis and rhetoric all too well again - it's the same easy-selling, anti-modern ideas that drove GM opinion in the bottom.

If we are not in time to take the fight on problem definition and agenda-setting, so we will leave walkover for even these new attacks on science and in progress.

Then we are there again in a few years - at a loss and newly awakened - and is forced to conclude that the EU put resources into the fight with a demon that does not exist, while the rest of the world put resources into the development of modern bio-based, green technology. One of the losers will then - again - the environment.
Torbjörn Fagerström , Senior Advisor and former Vice-Chancellor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences


Get Fertilizer Out. We Can Feed World

- Matt Ridley, Times (UK), June 2, 2011


Oxfam’s chief executive, Dame Barbara Stocking, claimed this week in a BBC interview that there will “absolutely not be enough food” to feed the world’s population in a few decades’ time.

Such certainty about the future is remarkable, so I downloaded Oxfam’s new “report” with interest. Once I got past the fundraising banners, I found a series of assertions that there is a food crisis caused by failures of government “to regulate, to correct, to protect, to resist, to invest, which means that companies, interest groups and elites are able to plunder resources and to redirect flows of finance, knowledge, and food”. Oxfam is calling for “a new global governance” — effectively the nationalisation of the world food system.

In the short term, yes, food prices have shot up. Why? The biggest reason — which Oxfam acknowledges in passing — is the lunatic policy of taking 5 per cent of the entire world’s grain crop and turning it into motor fuel. In a year of poor harvests such as 2010 that was enough to tip millions into malnutrition and poverty. Add in the pernicious tariff barriers we Europeans raise against African food and, yes, it is the fault of government, but doing too much regulating, correcting and protecting, not too little.

In the long run, even after this year’s price spike, according to data compiled by Daniel Sumner, of the University of California Davis, maize and wheat prices are in real terms only about half what they were in the 1940s and 25 per cent below what they averaged in the 1960s. Relative to wages, they have fallen even farther. By far the most significant reason for this long-term decline in food prices is that those beastly plundering capitalists have been inventing things like fertilisers, tractors, pesticides and new varieties to increase yields and cut costs.

The truth is that over the past 60 years the world’s farmers have trebled the yield of the big three cereals (rice, wheat and maize), which provide 60 per cent of human calories, without ploughing a single net extra acre. (Incidentally, yields are probably 10 per cent higher simply because of increased carbon dioxide in the air.) In some places, food prices have been so low that land has come out of agriculture and back into forest. Malnutrition and hunger persist, yes, but mass famine now happens chiefly in countries with too much government, such as North Korea and Zimbabwe.

Recently, yield improvements have been slowing, partly thanks to the Luddites who fight new technologies. But population growth has been slowing even more. So although it will not be easy to feed nine billion people in 2050, it most definitely is not “absolutely” impossible. Those with long enough memories will know that breathless reports of Malthusian doom, such as Oxfam’s, recur whenever food prices spike upwards.

In 1968 the celebrity ecologist Paul Ehrlich promised that “hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programmes embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.” (The world death rate fell in the 1970s.) The environmentalist Lester Brown has made a career out of calling the top of the food-supply market every time there is a price spike: in 1974, he said “farmers can no longer keep up with rising demand”; in 1981, “global food insecurity is increasing”; in 1989, “population growth is exceeding farmers’ ability to keep up”; in 1994, “seldom has the world faced an unfolding emergency whose dimensions are as clear as the growing imbalance between food and people”.

The truth is that even as the human population has doubled since the 1960s, calories per person have increased by about one third. Of course, those calories are not all in the right place, and Oxfam is right that it is a scandal that obesity and hunger coexist on the same planet, but the solution is plain: get fertiliser to poor African farmers and get their goods to market so both they and their customers can afford to eat. If Oxfam were really serious about malnutrition, it would stop writing reports about corporate greed, climate change and the need for world governance and start trucking nitrates.

That’s roughly what others have done. The Swiss scientist Ingo Potrykus identified vitamin-A deficiency as one of the biggest causes of childhood disability and death, so he invented — free — “golden rice” with genes from daffodils in it. Fifteen years later it is still tied up in red tape, thanks to disgraceful lobbying from environmental pressure groups. Bill Gates identified childhood diarrhoea as a top priority and set out to tackle it via the Gates Foundation.

Speaking of which, the diarrhoea epidemic that has afflicted 1,000 Germans and killed 16, wherever it originated, is a timely reminder of how life used to be when we relied on manure and human “night soil” to fertilise our crops. There was a reason your Victorian ancestors ate less salad than you do: recycling even cattle manure, let alone human sewage, carries risks. With modern, high-tech precautions, organic farming can produce safe and tasty food for the rich in the West, but it is nothing like so safe elsewhere.

Nor can it feed the world’s current population, let alone the nine billion of 2050. Because organic farmers have to grow their nitrogen fertiliser rather than fixing it directly from the air, they require a lot more land. If the world were to try to generate as many calories as it does without artificial fertiliser, it would need an extra five billion cattle grazing 20 billion acres of extra pasture. As an Indian biologist, C. S. Prakash, said to me once: “Sure, organic agriculture is sustainable; it sustains poverty and malnutrition.”

Tim Worstall also has trenchant things to say on the Oxfam report, including this:




Destroy the Planet: Buy Organic

- Philip Greenspun, June 3, 2011

I’m halfway through The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley, an English science journalist. The book covers 200,000 years of human history, but this blog posting concerns just one chapter “The feeding of the nine billion”.

Have you chuckled at the apparent inconsistency of a neighbor who drives a 7,000 lb. pavement-melting SUV to Whole Foods and then buys organic produce? It turns out that there is no inconsistency. She is destroying the planet with her SUV and with her purchases of hard-to-grow organic food.

Ridley notes that with genetically engineered crops, synthetic fertilizers, and Roundup to control weeds, the trend of feeding ever more people with less land could be continued. The biggest obstacle to returning land to its wild state is organic farming. Currently we are using 38 percent of the Earth’s land for growing food or grazing animals; at 1961 levels of productivity we would need to be using 82 percent of the land.

Organic farmers won’t use genetically engineered crops, so they spend a lot more time and energy fighting pests. Organic farmers won’t use Roundup and other herbicides, so the plow the weeds under, which kills a lot of small animals and loosens the soil enough that it erodes (or sometimes they resort to flame-throwers). Organic farmers won’t use standard fertilizer, but only manure from cows, which means we’ll need a lot more cows running around.

Organic cotton is an especially hard-on-the-Earth product, according to Ridley. Standard industrial cotton has Bacillus thuringiensis (“bt”) genes mixed in and these kill pests, cutting the need for sprayed pesticides in half.

Who knew that “sustainable” would mean a polyester shirt and a bag of Fritos?


Emerging Markets, Emerging Models: Market-Based Solutions to The Challenges of Global Poverty


This Report Investigates “Market-Based Solutions” as a means to help those residing at the base of the global income pyramid. An alternative and complement to traditional government expenditures, aid, and philanthropy, market-based solutions give low-income people better access to socially beneficial products and services that genuinely and directly improve the quality of their lives and livelihoods. In India, for example, such solutions provide or enable:

• Clean drinking water at one-fourth the cost of the least expensive alternative.• As much as a 125 percent increase in incomes for small farmers.• Private education in urban slums that signifi cantly outperforms the best government schools for about $3 per month.• Safe, doctor-attended births for a total cost of $40—less than one-fourth the cost in traditional private hospitals.

Market-based solutions have recently attracted strong interest in the campaign against global poverty, in part due to the remarkable success of microfi nance. They are relatively new, with an uneven performance record, and there is much yet to learn about what causes them to succeed or fail. The most successful pass two tests: they are self-funding, and they operate at suffi cient scale to make a difference to masses of poor people. They also have one salient feature in common: a business model tailored to the special circumstances of markets at the base of the income pyramid.


Challenges and Opportunities for Agricultural Intensification of the Humid-Highland Systems of sub-Saharan Africa

- Kigali, Rwanda from 24-27 October 2011.



BIO 2011 Annual Meeting

- June 27 -30, 2011, - Washington DC http://convention.bio.org/schedule/

* Tuesday, June 28 - Keynote Luncheon: Tony Blair

* Wednesday, June 29 - Scientific American Worldview 2011 - Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek International editor and CNN host and author, will moderate a panel on BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) country efforts to build local biotechnology hubs.
- A Look Into the Future of Animal Biotechnology, Wednesday, June 29-; Speakers: Mark Walton, Zhiying Zhang: Moderator - Rob Readnour

- Environmental Review of GE Food and Agriculture Products,
Thursday, June 30; :Jay Johnson, Mark McCaslin, Larisa: Michael Smith

- Excellence Through Stewardship (ETS): The value of Quality Management Systems (QMS) to Plant Biotechnology, Tuesday, June 28:Michael Gregoire, Judith Rylott; Brian Sabus

- Experimental Field Trials With Biotech Corn and Conservation of Corn Landraces in Mexico, Thursday, June 30:Luciano Castro, Agustín López-Herrera, Enriqueta Molina-Macías, Héctor Carlos Salazar-Arriaga: Jaime Padilla-Acero

- Getting a Biotech Crop to Market — How Much, How Long, and What Steps?,
Wednesday, June 29 :Francisco Aragão, Josette Lewis, John McDougall: Denise Dewar

- International Regulation of Animal Biotechnology, Tuesday, June 28, :Carlos Alvarez Antolinez, Larisa Rudenko, Simon Smalley: James Murphy

- Looking Beyond Row Crops: What's Next for Agricultural Biotechnology?,
Tuesday, June 28:Michael Cunningham, C. Preston Linn, Susan MacIsaac, Shawn Semones: Gwyn Riddick

- New Technologies for Sustainable Crop Production, Wednesday, June 29:Roger Beachy, Tom Greene, Jacqueline Heard: T. Lynne Reuber