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July 22, 2011


No More Regs Please; Papaya Destroyed; High Cost of Rejection; Denialist Ploy;


Scientists protest EPA proposal to expand biotech regulation
A New Billion Dollar Initiative to Boost Ag and Food in Poor Countries
Papaya vandals must be stopped
Police follow new clues in papaya destruction mystery
The cost of spurning GM crops is too high
Cherry picking from the tree of knowledge
Greenpeace credibility damaged as it goes to war over GM crop
A damaging ploy by GM denialists
Greenpeace Goes Too Far
GM Grass Unregulated
Growing Pains
Gregor Mendel’s naughty peas and our GM future
BBC gives too much weight to fringe views on issues such as climate change
Socio-economic issues & their inclusion in biosafety decision making
Plant Biotechnology for Food Security: New Frontiers
Vandana on Marie Mason


Scientists protest EPA proposal to expand biotech regulation

- Food Chemical News, July 20 2011


More than 60 members of the National Academy of Sciences, led by outspoken biotech advocate Nina Federoff, have written EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to protest what they describe as a proposal "to further expand [EPA's] regulatory coverage over transgenic crops in a way that cannot be justified on the basis of either scientific evidence or evidence gained over the past several decades..."

"The increased regulatory burdens that would result from this expansion would impose steep barriers to scientific innovation and product development across all sectors of our economy and would not only fail to enhance safety, but would likely prolong reliance on less safe and obsolete practices," the NAS scientists say in a July 5 letter, a copy of which was obtained by Food Chemical News.

The three-page letter, which also was signed by Nobel laureates James Watson and Gunter Blobel, among others, addresses a March 16 Federal Register notice in which EPA proposes a rule to codify data requirements for plant-incorporated protectants (PIPs).

"Based on initial reviews of that draft proposal and recent EPA actions associated with biotechnology-derived crops, it is clear that the agency is departing from a science-based regulatory process, walking down a path towards one based on the controversial European 'precautionary principle' that goes beyond codifying data requirements for substances regulated as PIPs for the past 15 years," the scientists say.

They say they are "particularly troubled by proposals to expand EPA's oversight into areas such as virus resistance and weediness that have been adequately addressed by USDA since 1986. Already, EPA has expanded its oversight into virus resistance, which previously had been the purview of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and which EPA prudently proposed in 1994 to exempt from its regulations. With the draft proposed rules, EPA would further expand its regulations and data demands to other areas historically covered by [APHIS] without the slightest justification based on either data or experience."

The letter adds that it is "most troubling that EPA is also proposing to increase its regulation to cover matters which are still not deemed to be threats even after years of study, such as potential gene transfer from plants to soil microorganisms. In other actions, EPA has expressed its right to regulate plants engineered for altered growth (e.g., by suppression of ethylene production), the same way it regulates synthetic plant growth regulators. The agency does so based on a generous interpretation of the enabling legislation, despite the absence of any scientifically credible hazard."

The scientists warn, in their letter, that EPA's proposed regulatory expansion would: (1) create a duplicative regulatory system for very low risk products; (2) increase costs, reduce efficiency and prolong the review times, thereby discouraging innovation; (3) dramatically increase the hurdles already facing academic institutions and companies attempting to improve so-called minor use or specialty crops; and (4) adversely affect trade in commodities produced by U.S. growers because of the stigma attached to anything characterized as a "pesticide."

Such expanded regulation "would serve only to increase costs, hinder research, undermine the long-term viability of public university research programs, and limit product development from the private sector. The proposed actions would threaten our ability to produce high quality food at an affordable price and feed a growing population," the letter concludes.

Established by President Lincoln in 1863, the NAS is an honorific society composed of scientists who serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering and medicine." New NAS members are elected annually by current members, based on distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. The academy currently has approximately 2,100 members and 380 foreign associates, of whom nearly 200 have won Nobel Prizes.

A prominent geneticist who received the 2006 National Medal of Science, Federoff served as science and technology adviser to the Secretary of State and USAID administrator from 2007 until last year. She was a featured speaker at last year's USDA's Agricultural Outlook Forum (see FCN Feb. 22, 2010, Page 29). Copies of her letter reportedly were sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and other high-ranking officials in the Obama administration and Congress.

In an interview with FCN today, Ab Basu, acting executive vice president for food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said he agrees with the views of Federoff and her NAS colleagues, as might be expected. He expressed puzzlement that EPA would want to further delay the biotech approval process, which now averages about 1,200 days for each new trait and cited President Obama's recent executive order to simplify federal regulations.

Global Research Coalition Approves Six New Cutting-Edge Agriculture, Food and Natural Resource Programs to Sustainably Boost Food Security Worldwide

Programs Expected to Deliver Better Natural Resource Management; Focus on Wheat, Livestock, Fish, Roots, Tubers, Bananas, Nutrition, and Policy

WASHINGTON (20 JULY 2011)—The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the world’s largest international agriculture research coalition, approved six new programs, totalling some $957 million, aimed at improving food security and the sustainable management of the water, soils, and biodiversity that underpin agriculture in the world’s poorest countries. The newly created CGIAR Fund is expected to provide $477.5 million, with the balance of the support needed likely to come from bilateral donors and other sources.

Specifically, the six programs focus on sustainably increasing production of wheat, meat, milk, fish, roots, tubers and bananas; improving nutrition and food safety; and identifying the policies and institutions necessary for smallholder producers in rural communities, particularly women, to access markets.

The programs are part of the CGIAR’s bold effort to reduce world hunger and poverty while decreasing the environmental footprint of agriculture. They will target regions of the world where recurrent food crises—combined with the global financial meltdown, volatile energy prices, natural resource depletion, and climate change—undercut and threaten the livelihoods of millions of poor people.

"More and better investment in agriculture is key to lifting the 75 percent of poor people who live in rural areas out of poverty," said Inger Andersen, CGIAR Fund Council Chair and World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development. "Each of these CGIAR research programs address issues that are fundamental to the wellbeing of poor farmers and consumers in developing countries. Supporting such innovations is key to feeding the nearly one billion people who go to bed hungry every night." CGIAR Fund members include developing and industrialized country governments, foundations, and international and regional organizations.

Each of the research programs, proposed by the Montpellier-based CGIAR Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers, is working on a global scale by combining the efforts and expertise of multiple members of the CGIAR Consortium and involving some 300-600 partners from national agricultural research systems, non-governmental organisations, advanced research institutes, civil society organisations, farmer organisations, and the private sector. By working in partnership on such a large scale, the CGIAR effort is unprecedented in terms of the sheer size and scope of the partnerships and the expected increased impact this will deliver on the ground.

The six new programs, each implemented by a lead center from the CGIAR Consortium, join five other research endeavours approved by the CGIAR in the past nine months (on rice, climate change, forests, drylands, and maize) as part of the CGIAR’s global focus on reducing poverty, improving food security, and nutrition and sustainable management of natural resources for poor farmers. Each of the six programs described below was approved with an initial three-year budget.



Papaya vandals must be stopped

- Editorial, Star Advertiser (Hawaii), July 21, 2011

Papaya farmers on Hawaii island again have been victimized by what has all the appearance of organized vandalism. Police need to step up their investigation of this criminality and, along with the public, recognize that this goes beyond mere property damage and is becoming a form of agricultural terrorism. The latest incident earlier this week makes it the third such episode in little more than a year, and other papaya farmers are now worried that they might be next.

Papaya trees were decapitated, likely with machetes, on 10 acres of land belonging to three separate farms between Monday morning and Tuesday morning near Tangerine Acres makai of Pahoa. In late June of last year, machete-armed vandals destroyed 8,500 papaya trees at a 17-acre farm in the Kapoho area of the island. Two months previous to that, someone chopped down nearly 400 of 500 papaya trees at a Mililani farm.

In all incidents, the papaya trees were genetically modified. William Julian, brother of the Kapoho farmer, speculated that the destruction was the work of people who oppose genetically modified crops or the use of chemicals to control weeds and pests. Julian said he left the papaya farm business three years ago because someone had been destroying his crops.

Julian's speculation is not far-fetched. His brother, Laureto Julian, who has grown papayas since 1967, said he had harvested his first patch of genetically engineered, or GE, "Rainbow" and "Sun Up" papayas just three days before what he called "a gang of up to five people" whacked away at his trees. The devastation caused more than $100,000 in damage. Those GE varieties were created by University of Hawaii and Cornell University researchers to counter the ringspot virus that had reduced Hawaii island's papaya harvests by more than half following its discovery in 1992.

The use of genetical modification to counter the ringspot virus threat to papaya is controversial among farmers. The patented seeds were distributed in 1998 and sold commercially in the United States. The seeds are banned in Japan, which buys 40 percent of Hawaii's annual $16 million papaya crop from organic farmers. That has resulted in friction between organic and GE papaya farmers. Some organic farmers have said they found GE seeds in their fields.

At this point, of course, there is little way of knowing why any of these papaya-farm vandalisms occurred, or if they are related, though Big Island police are looking into possible connections between the two incidents there. But this rash of agricultural destruction should not be allowed to further degenerate into what amounts to gang criminality by a fringe element of whichever camp; it is an assault on the entire papaya-growing industry. These crimes were not committed lightly by free-spirited graffiti artists out on the town but by organized criminals with a malicious agenda. Hawaii County police should put the attacks high on their plate as the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association grows its reward, now $2,500, for the arrest and conviction of the vandals. Anyone who comes across information about these crimes is urged to contact police.

Amid all the talk today of food sustainability and small-business hardships, the sight of thousands of papayas cut down before their time is tough to see. Swinging machetes at papaya trees cannot continue as a summer sport.


Police follow new clues in papaya destruction mystery

- Kathy Muneno , KHON, July 20, 2011

Police are still searching for suspects in the destruction of ten acres of papaya farms in the Puna district on Hawai'i.

Three small, independent farmers were affected. While the damage was not enough to affect supply and prices for consumers, it was a devastating blow to the farmers. "We only started two months ago harvesting, so it's like a new field," said Lanie Barao.

Trees plump with fruit, hacked and strewn across 2.5 acres on Lanie and Jerry Barao's Pahoa farm plus two adjacent farms, one five acres the other, Loreto Vallente's three acres He last saw these trees standing Monday night, more than 7,000 trees total. He found them on the ground Tuesday morning. "This is his very first farm, lost it all, all of his 3 acres is gone," said Margarita Hopkins of County Research and Development.

Farmers attended an emergency meeting Tuesday night. "We believe it's possibly four people involved with this. If you look at the trees, there's different heights of the cuts," said Det. Brandon Konanui of the Hawai'i Police Department.

"That's why somebody said do you think they are anti-GMO? That's mad, they're mad over that, they could be mad over that," Hopkins says.

Myrone Murakami, a papaya farmer and president of the Hawai'i Farm Bureau Federation, says the majority of papayas grown in Hawai'i are GMO, a necessity to fight the papaya ringspot virus. "When they were able to genetically modify so you could resist it, it saved the industry," Murakami says.


The cost of spurning GM crops is too high

- Jonathan DG Jones, Guardian (UK), 21 July 2011

'The benefits of the technology far outweigh any risks and we must embrace the opportunities created by it'

The term "genetic modification" provokes widespread fears about the corporate control of agriculture, and of the unknown. However, results from 25 years of EU-funded research show that there is "no scientific evidence associating GM plants with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms". This of course does not prove GM methods are 100% safe, but makes clear there is no evidence to the contrary.

This Saturday, anti-GM campaigners plan to offload potatoes outside the John Innes Centre (JIC) in Norfolk – one of the country's leading crop research institutes – for a "photo shoot". They claim that our research trial of blight-resistant GM potatoes on a plot at JIC, one of only two ongoing GM research trials in the UK, is a "dangerous experiment".

The trial involves research on genes from wild potatoes. We have been able to isolate genes from wild species that make them resistant to UK races of the late blight pathogen, Phytophthora infestans, which causes £3.5bn in annual losses worldwide.

Phytophthora has evolved to circumvent all the 100s of resistance genes in most cultivated potato varieties. Resistance genes exist to recognise pathogens, enabling the plant to activate its natural defence mechanisms. The aim of the trial is to test whether resistance genes from wild potatoes will give commercial varieties the ability to detect when they are under attack by UK pathogen races, and then activate defence.

Because of the difficulties of potato genetics, it is essentially impossible to breed a useful trait such as disease resistance from a wild inedible potato into a well-defined variety such as maris piper or desiree while retaining all the characteristics that the market loves in these potatoes. GM is a particularly useful tool because it enables us to introduce a desirable trait without at the same time breeding in unwanted ones.

The blight resistant desiree variety being trialed, that reduces the amount of pesticide the crop needs – and is rejected by the protesters – could not have been produced without GM.

We had hoped to create an opportunity to discuss this with the campaigners, as well as other issues they raise in their publicity material. With support from JIC, we invited them to take part in a proper debate.

Disappointingly, they declined. We recognise their right to peaceful protest but have been frustrated that we cannot talk to the organisers, except via exchange of emails.

Meanwhile, the benefits of GM technology are becoming clearer to all. Insect resistant GM cotton and maize has reduced insecticide applications and lowered mycotoxin levels in the maize we eat. Genetic engineering in microbial research has produced new antibiotics and other natural products. JIC's purple tomatoes contain elevated levels of health-promoting anthocyanins.

Food insecurity and climate change highlight the challenges of sustainably feeding a growing world population. Further research using GM methods opens new possibilities for raising and stabilising yields, improving resistance to pests and diseases and withstanding abiotic stresses such as drought and cold.

But in Europe, while taxpayers' money is still paying to develop useful GM crop traits, taxpayers are not benefitting from their deployment. In contrast, Canada, China, the US and South America are blazing ahead with GM and India is not far behind. The latest figures from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications report 15 million farmers planting GM crops on around 150m hectares in 2010. Many promising GM traits exist, often discovered by academics, but the commercial risks are too great, the costs too high and the rewards too low for the European private sector to invest in taking them forward.

To get around this problem, I suggest that it is now time to establish a private/public partnership to put GM traits into favoured crops. The top priority should be wheat, but barley, potato, rapeseed and tomato should also be supported. We could test which available GM traits actually do something useful in UK varieties, in UK conditions, and then evaluate them for deregulation in the public sector. If the UK were the first European country to wholeheartedly re-embrace the technology, we could attract substantial inward investment.

The argument has to be made that the benefits of the technology far outweigh any hypothetical hazards. We need to think about the cost of not adopting GM as well as the risks, and we must not spurn the great opportunities created by embracing it.

• Prof Jonathan Jones is a group leader at the charitably funded Sainsbury Laboratory at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. He co-founded Mendel Biotechnology in 1997 where he is still a science adviser, and more recently Norfolk Plant Sciences Ltd. He is on the board of directors of ISAAA and is a science adviser to the 2Blades foundation and the Danforth Centre.


Cherry picking from the tree of knowledge

- John Birmingham, Sydney Morning Herald, July 21, 2011

Who'd a thunk it? Climate change deniers and Greenpeace thrown into a difficult alliance. Not on climate change, of course. But on general principles.

As one of the world's best-known, perhaps its highest profile eco-protest group, Greenpeace frequently and rightly implores anyone interested in the climate change debate to pay heed to the science. The unintentionally hilarious Lord Monckton might think the science is a load of old tosh, but… this is really where I need a macro key so I can just stab it once, angrily, and bring up a screed of text about the well-established scientific consensus on climate change science; a consensus that's quietly accepted, at least for the sake of form, by that champion of denial, Tony Abbott.

But I'm not going to bother. What would be the point? Because increasingly the science doesn't matter. About anything. If the science doesn't suit your argument, ignore it. Or cherry pick the parts that do suit your case. Choose a couple of lines out of one paper, when thousands have been published, that might throw some doubt into the minds of anybody with less than a passing acquaintance with your chosen subject. Or cite "research" which isn't research, because it wasn't peer-reviewed, and the funding for the so-called study came from vested interests. Or appeal to respected "opinion" when that opinion isn't respected at all, and can cite only more "opinion" to verify its arguments.

Just a reminder here, before all the climate change denial freaks work themselves into an absolute tizz, we're not now talking specifically of climate science, but rather of the denial of the scientific method per se. The same tactics, and sometimes the same questionable operators, appear again and again on the edge of debates about contested policy areas. Climate, tobacco, obesity, fluoride, genetics -- whatever.

And here is where organisations like Greenpeace do themselves no favours by not just adapting the rhetorical tactics of their opponents in the climate debate, but by pushing them into the realm of direct action in other areas. We can but wonder at the howls of protest that would have attended a Lord Monckton-led raid, for example, on a university research institute studying climate change; a raid framed as a media event just like the Greenpeace attack on a CSIRO experimental farm in Canberra last week.

In that instance there were no appeals to respect the science. Greenpeace took it upon itself to reject the scientific method and take direct action. How some of the crazier elements in the climate change debate must've looked on with envy. If only they could organise their own group of activists to break into, say, the Bureau of Meteorology and trash it completely. What a great victory for common sense that would be.

But maybe common sense will have its day. An independent review of perceived bias at the BBC has reported back that not only does no such bias exist, but that the British state broadcaster has erred by giving too much airtime to crackpots whose views ignore established scientific convention. For an in-depth report you can go here.

But long story short, the review found that those who do not respect the scientific method and established scientific consensus do not deserve to have their role in scientific debates elevated beyond reason.

I've yet to see a reaction from Greenpeace to this. And I don't really expect one. Because although they would love to shut down their opponents on the climate change front, unfortunately for them, the sort of tactics they employ in other contentious debates, such as those that surround genetically modified crops, would see them shut out of public comment as well.


Greenpeace credibility damaged as it goes to war over GM crop

- Ed Gannon, Herald Sun (Australia), July 21, 2011

LAST week, a group of Greenpeace activists broke into a CSIRO research facility near Canberra and destroyed a trial plot of genetically modified wheat. And with that they also shredded any credibility they may have had as a legitimate voice in the environment debate - including climate change.

Because with this action, Greenpeace is trying to have its cake and eat it too. It has declared the science of food modification is not just wrong, but evil. And doing so at the same time it attacks anyone who dares question the science of climate change.

Hypocritical? Don't think that label is going to perturb them. The ideological battle over whether genetic modification of food is good or bad for humans and the environment has been waged for years between green groups and scientists - the very same scientists the green groups bow at the feet of during the climate change debate.

So we have the case where the science that supports climate change is good, but the science of GM is bad. Yet, if anything, the GM science is stronger than that of climate change.

While the science of climate change includes far greater modelling and predictions of future trends, GM science is tangible and tested. It has been conducted in fields, in laboratories and now in the market place. (We all eat GM food. Every one of us, every day.) Yet green groups refuse to accept it.

Opponents such as Greenpeace trot out a hotch-potch of research - usually not peer-reviewed - opposing genetic modification.

But the credible science - such as that coming from groups such as CSIRO - shows the anti-GM science to be merely scaremongering. I believe - as any rational person would when faced with the evidence - the activities of man are having an impact on our climate. The science is there. How much of an impact it is having, and the future impact, is a bit more fuzzy. And the action we should be taking is, of course, another argument altogether.

Even Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, Australia's most famous "denier", is proposing action to counter the effects of man-made climate change. And I also believe GM offers remarkable advances that will help feed the world. And I do so because - again, the rational test - science has proved there are benefits way beyond any drawbacks.

I fail to understand how Greenpeace, and the green movement in general, can be so opposed to a concept that will allow crops to be grown using fewer chemicals, in poor soils and in times of drought.

It is a concept that will help fill the chronic food shortage faced by much of the world's population. I suspect the opposition to GM has more to do with the fact much of the development and research - and the ultimate profit - has come from "multinational" companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta.

Of course, "multinational" is green code for evil corporations that want to poison our children, steal our brains and dominate the world with an evil laugh, a la some sort of James Bond scene. I think it is these hardline environmentalists who are living in a fantasy movie.

And living, it seems, above the law. Just why do they think it is acceptable to destroy the legitimate research work of the CSIRO? They should be thankful the CSIRO is conducting the research into GM wheat. Isn't that how we determine whether GM is good or bad - by scientific research?

And God forbid if you don't adhere to the Greenpeace view of the world. Greenpeace and its mates are simply playing the politics of pick and choose - climate science is good, food science is bad.

Both are backed by science. Both agreed to by the same science bodies. But one fits the green view of the world. And the other doesn't.
Ed Gannon is editor of The Weekly Times


A damaging ploy by GM denialists

- David Leyonhjelm, Business Spectator, 20 Jul 2011

One of the biggest complaints made by advocates of action to reduce global warming is that the sceptics disregard the science. In support they point to the majority of climate scientists who believe human activity is causing global warming.

It is quite hypocritical, therefore, for the same people to be so reluctant to accept science when it comes to agriculture and food production. They have, it seems, two versions of science – one that supports their views and one that does not. In other words, the science is used to support a predetermined opinion rather than the basis upon which the opinion is formed.

Such hypocrisy often seems more entrenched in Europe, where anti-fast food and pro organic lobbies are government subsidised and the merits of food processing, food irradiation and genetically modified food are hotly disputed notwithstanding abundant scientific support including most food scientists.

But it seems we are catching up. Those lobbies are certainly present here, and now the multinational activist group Greenpeace has imported one of its favourite European tactics – destroying plots of genetically modified crops.

This has been common in parts of Europe for some years now. Indeed, it has got to the point where trials are conducted in secret if they are conducted at all. In France, those who rip up GM field trials are often acquitted of any offence, despite the huge damage they cause.

Adding to the absurdity, just across the border in Spain, farmers have commercially grown insect-resistant GM maize for the past 12 years and just this month the Spanish government declared it to have had no negative effects on flora or fauna.

The Greenpeace attack on CSIRO’s wheat trials strikes at the heart of scientific inquiry. Not only is Greenpeace uninterested in the merits of the GM wheat, it actively opposes finding out. By contrast, it strongly endorses CSIRO research to support its position on climate change.

Its attitude is comparable to that of the animal rights radicals who attacked the homes, cars and business premises of the shareholders and employees of UK companies which use animals in medical experiments and pharmaceutical testing. The perpetrators set out to stop it at any cost.

Although field trials of GM crops are almost non-existent in most of Europe, this does not prevent them from occurring elsewhere. So, in the short term local European farmers and communities miss out on the economic benefits of the trials, while in the long term farmers are being left further and further behind, as Europe imports more of its food from countries in which science is more influential.

The environment misses out too. Most genetically modified crops are either insect resistant or herbicide resistant. Insect resistant crops obviously require less insecticide applications, while herbicide resistant crops require less soil tillage. Both are unequivocally beneficial to the environment.

The wheat destroyed by Greenpeace was being investigated by the CSIRO for altered starch composition, in the hope that it would contribute to greater dietary fibre intake. This would be valuable to all sorts of people, including those with bowel disease and diabetics who require low GI diets.

In all likelihood it is totally safe to eat, just as the GM crops already grown around the world are safe. There has not been a single case of harm to humans or the environment attributable to GM food since it first became available in 1994.

The action by Greenpeace will inhibit the development of crops that increase the sustainability of farmers and raise their productivity. Ultimately, that will limit the production of more food, thus increasing its price and forcing more people into marginal survival. That will increase food security tension, potentially leading to trade barriers and conflict between countries.

The attacks on medical researchers in the UK, which severely inhibited the development of new therapies to reduce illness and suffering, shows this to be true. Some projects were abandoned, scientists and laboratories incurred the cost of extra security, and some projects were moved to other countries.

There are other examples of how rejecting agricultural technology can have adverse consequences. One is the recent outbreak of E coli food poisoning in Germany, which led to 35 deaths and thousands made ill. This is now known to have originated in bean sprouts grown on an organic German farm that shuns modern farming techniques.

E coli are ubiquitous in nature but using manure rather than chemical fertiliser certainly increases the risk. And although the risk could have been eliminated if the sprouts had been irradiated prior to sale, food irradiation is another subject on which Greenpeace has strong views despite what the scientists say.

David Leyonhjelm works in the agribusiness and veterinary markets as principal of Baron Strategic Services and Baron Senior Placements.


Greenpeace Goes Too Far

- Colin Bettles Stock & Land, Australia, July 20, 2011

GREENPEACE have finally crossed the credibility line in Australia, moving past the point of no return, after irresponsible activists dressed in theatrical costumes and destroyed valuable scientific Genetically Modified wheat trials at CSIRO facilities in Canberra last week.

The government approved research was growing under protected conditions, designed to provide invaluable data for future technology development, while being monitored by respected scientists.

Does that sound like a genuine threat to the environment or to the planet’s future which requires rescuing by juvenile delinquents?

Following such a blatant attack on approved scientific process and the Australian government, and the taxpayers our elected office bearers represent, the multinational Greenpeace can no longer be seen as a credible, peaceful charitable organisation, working to protect the planet’s future and must be held to full account – not just those who committed the GM wheat vandalism.

Greenpeace gains profits from its acts of non-peaceful actions and deliberate scaremongering campaigns, which may be easily swallowed by the uninformed but fail the true litmus test when placed under genuine scrutiny; like GM’s.

If the arguments against GM wheat were strong and credible, would these activists need to break the law to make their point then issue media releases promoting their disgraceful, illegal acts?

If the argument was anywhere near credible, they could lobby Federal politicians in Canberra and let facts speak for themselves in a free and open democracy.

Bit I suspect quite a few doors have now been slammed on Greenpeace after last week’s disgusting attack on the CSIRO; not just by politicians.

It now begs the question; should the Australian government stand up to Greenpeace and sanction the entire organisation from eligibility to raise money through local fundraising activities and receive associated tax concessions?

When Greenpeace charity collectors extend their hands and ask for money at the local shopping mall, people should be entitled to know how their money will be used and if the funds will go towards illegal activities and acts of virtual terrorism, in pursuit of ideological bents.

I know of at least one Greenpeace charity collector who won’t be returning to Kojonup any time soon, to make such charitable requests.

Regardless, the global organisation needs a major reality check on its governance and culture in Australia before they take the law into their own self-righteous hands again and do more than cut down a scientific field trial in the name of thrill-seeking, attention-grabbing, pseudo-environmental pursuits.

They need the kind of reality check that the News of the World has recently experienced after being forced to close its doors due to illegal phone tapping activities - exposed, not as acts of journalism in the name of public interest, but as illegal acts of self-appointed righteousness, born out of a dangerously self-absorbed culture, not dissimilar to Greenpeace.

The silence on this issue has also been deafening from the Federal Greens who normally oppose GM’s but that’s another story.

However I was impressed by Victorian Democratic Labor Party Senator, John Madigan, who didn’t hold back in displaying his utter disgust at Greenpeace’s blatant destruction of science and the ACT Green Shane Rattenbury who condoned the activists’ actions, saying sometimes the ends justifies the means.

Senator Madigan clearly identified the Greenpeace wolves dressed in protective clothing, armed with whipper-snippers, describing them and their organisation as nothing more than ”criminally-minded vandals”.

In this case, Greenpeace wasn’t saving endangered whales from pending death in deep arctic waters or preventing underwater nuclear tests in the south Pacific.

GM wheat is seven to ten years away from commercialisation and genuine work is under way to ascertain its value, according to rigorous business principles and scientific processes.

If all that rigour fails, Monsanto and other biotech companies like Dow Agrosciences, Syngenta or Bayer, the kind of companies stereotypically named in Greenpeace media releases, which on GM’s seem to contain more conspiracy theories than JFK’s assassination, won’t make any profit, if the associated technology fails.

Farmers will simply walk away from the product and understand this Greenpeace - you may sell snake oil once in Wheatbelts around Australia but not twice.

There will be no invisible chain or legal glue that compels farmers to use the technology and if the end markets actually reject it, then that takes care of that, once and for all through a commercial, non-violent, legal solution.

We don’t need celebrity chefs to predict the future and tell us GM may be no good in 2018, while promoting their city restaurants but all the while failing to condemn Greenpeace for breaking the law and disrespecting science and Australian values.

Whoever gave the green light at Greenpeace for last week’s act of scientific destruction and lawlessness also needs to be held accountable.

A broom needs to go through the entire organisation because its culture gives the green-light for employees to commit illegal acts, simply because the ball doesn’t bounce their way.

If you don’t like the decision here in Australia, it’s just not cricket to simply go up and punch the umpire in the nose because that’s how things are done on the team you play for, where you also get to act as judge, jury and executioner.

If our Prime Minister and the Greens are fair dinkum about a green future, they will also stand up to Greenpeace’s behaviour in the same way they have condemned the New of the World.

But it’s funny; I can’t hear Bob Brown calling for a parliamentary review into whipper-gate?

The entire Greenpeace experience of last week leaves me fully understanding of why Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore, walked away from the organisation he gave birth to and now stands opposed to its acts of scientific and environmental debauchery.

Dr Moore has described Greenpeace as ”eco-extremist,” believing the organisation is ”anti-human, anti-technology, and anti-science”.

Given events of last week, many more in Australia would now agree.


GM Grass Unregulated

- Jessica P. Johnson, Scientist, July 22, 2011

‘New technology evades the USDA’s authority to control genetically-modified plants’

A new technology used to create a genetically modified (GM) version of Kentucky bluegrass prompted the USDA to announce on July 1 that it has no authority over the plant’s regulation, reports Nature.

Rules currently in place that give the US Department of Agriculture regulatory authority over GM plants are based on the Federal Plant Pest Act, passed in 1957, which was actually designed to protect agricultural crops from foreign disease infestations. But the Act was adopted for GM plant regulation because the techniques used in their modification involve the use of viruses and tumor-causing bacteria, such as the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which transports genes that confer disease resistance into plant genomes. Genetic elements derived from plant viruses are then used to turn these genes on.

In the case of a GM Kentucky bluegrass, however, which is designed by the lawn-care company Scotts Miracle-Gro to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, selected genes were attached to metal particles and shot into plant cells by a relatively new method. The genes are then turned on by the plant’s own genetic elements. Because no bacteria or viruses are used, the Federal Plant Pest Act no longer dictates how the crop should be regulated.

By stepping around current regulations, Scotts hopes to expedite the process of bringing their product to market, according to a Nature editorial.

“The Plant Pest Act was completely inappropriate for regulating biotech crops,” Bill Freese, science-policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety in Washington DC, told Nature. “Now we can foresee this loophole getting wider and wider as companies turn more to plants and away from bacteria and other plant-pest organisms.”

Growing Pains

- Editorial, Nature, v.475: 265–266, July 21, 2011

It is time to update decades-old regulation of genetically engineered crops.

Researchers at Scotts Miracle-Gro have a vision of a greener future. The lawn-care company, based in Marysville, Ohio, wants to develop a dwarf grass that needs less frequent maintenance than standard Kentucky bluegrass. But there is a catch: such grass is unlikely to stand up to weeds. No problem, the company reasons, it will make a dwarf grass that is resistant to herbicide to help homeowners to nip those weeds in the bud.

Development of this genetically modified (GM) Kentucky bluegrass made headlines this month when the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) told Scotts that it did not have the authority to regulate it (see page 274). As a result, Scotts is free to start selling its new crop without oversight.

The reason for this is historical. US regulation of GM crops relies on its authority to control plant pests, and so the USDA has regulated crops on the basis of the way plant-pest-based tools are used to make them. It is a bizarre approach, given the low pest risk from the tools. But it had some merit when it was first developed because foreign genes were often inserted into the plant genome by a bacterium that can be lethal to some plants. Once in place, the expression of the foreign gene was guided by a series of genetic elements pulled from plant viruses.

”In the United States, genetic-modification regulation rests not on the final product but on the methods used.” To get around this, researchers at Scotts made GM grass without using plant pests. It took more work, but the company reasoned that the streamlined regulation — as well as possible greater consumer acceptance and relief from the patent stranglehold on more traditional genetic-engineering methods — would make it worthwhile. So they mined the wealth of plant genomic data now available, snipped a herbicide-resistance gene from the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, sewed it to genetic elements pulled from maize (corn) and rice to drive the gene’s expression, and used a gene gun to blast it into the Kentucky bluegrass genome.

This technique is not the only GM method likely to fall outside USDA regulations. Plant biologists have made tremendous strides since the current rules were cobbled together in 1986, advancing both our fundamental understanding of plant genetics and the technical know-how in manipulating gene expression. Genetic changes can now be made at specific sites in the genome, and foreign genes can even be expressed in plant cells without integrating them into the genome at all. And gene expression can be regulated using RNA molecules — including, in some cases, ones made by the plant in response to attack by a pathogen.

Many of these advances are still years from commercialization. But regulators must prepare the ground. Monsanto GM soya beans, which use RNA interference to modulate the expression of endogenous genes, are already awaiting a decision from the USDA.

The USDA and others need to reconsider how they define and control GM species. If a crop developer uses genetic engineering to delete a discrete segment of a plant genome, how much regulation does that require? Would those same guidelines be appropriate for a crop that expresses half-a-dozen foreign herbicide- and insect-resistance genes, engineered without the use of plant pests? Such questions are particularly important where — as in the United States — GM regulation rests not on the final product of genetic engineering, but on the methods used in the process.

The European Commission is tackling the issue, and has commissioned a study into how new plant techniques fall under the rubric of the European Union definition of GM crops. Similarly, the USDA’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture has raised the problem as a point of concern. But the USDA’s proposed changes to its GM regulatory powers, released in draft form in 2008, failed to address challenges posed by new technologies.

The USDA’s Kentucky bluegrass ruling comes at a crucial time for agricultural biotechnology. Some estimate that the world must increase the rate of growth in agricultural productivity by 25% per year to meet growing worldwide demand for food and biofuels. Many argue that advances in agricultural biotechnology, some of which may come from GM crops, will be needed to meet this demand. Industry, particularly smaller companies, needs to know how these crops will be regulated before they will invest to develop new techniques.

The new breed of GM crops could help gain wider acceptance for the technology, by settling long-standing unease about the use of foreign genes and the inability to target such genes to a specific location in the genome. But it is doubtful that dubious consumers are ready for GM crops to escape regulation altogether.


Gregor Mendel’s naughty peas and our GM future

- Alexandra Petri, Washington Post, July 20, 2011

It started off innocuously, in a garden. These things often do.

On Wednesday, Google celebrated the birthday of Gregor Mendel, the monk whose experimentation with peas resulted, indirectly, in the demonic genetically modified salmon that are currently terrorizing the French. Mendel developed the laws of genetics that still help us understand the way traits are passed down — through segregation, independent assortment and via the mailman.

Gregor Mendel’s discovery of dominant traits (always expressed) and recessive traits (only expressed in the absence of alleles for the dominant traits) and how to make them work for us proved revelatory.

Maybe stop the genetic modification before it gets this far. (FRANK MASI) We now know more about genetics than Gregor ever dreamed. This is the part of the future, after all, when they predicted we would be sorted into castes by genotype and Ethan Hawke would be prohibited from pursuing romance with Uma Thurman, although that could just be the plot of Gattaca. They’ve developed a test you can administer to your children to see whether they have any athletic potential, based on genetics. And we are moving. Human cloning comes ever closer to reality. The great thing about having a clone would be that one of you would always have two spare livers. This is also how I assume the Olsen twins operate.

And look at our food! It’s twice as large as life and twice as natural, too! But Europeans may be trying to put a stop to this. Americans tend to be less queasy about genetically modified food than Europeans. Who knows why. Perhaps it’s something they’re putting in our water.

This is in many ways a logical position — all food is genetically modified. Our wheat is bigger and more wheat-like than it was when our ancestors first harvested it. Our corn is cornier.

But Europe is moving forward with plans to ban genetically modified foods. Never mind that hardy GM crops could help combat famine around the world. Greenpeace disapproves. Such crops might be invasive! They might destroy local species diversity!

This is also true of all kinds of non-GM crops. If such a thing exists. The biggest difference between many GM crops and their less evolved counterparts is that the GM crops have gotten better faster.

Millennia before Mendel began messing around with the pea plants, we had genetically modified foods. Our cave ancestors urged the robust wheats to pollinate each other, sometimes sitting there for hours near the wheat field offering them verbal encouragement and playing the cave equivalent of Barry White music. It just took a while.

Maybe the problem is that we haven’t gone far enough. If it were possible to breed salmon that tasted vaguely of Miracle Whip and despair (but I repeat myself), I’d eat it. I like my food to have weird capacities. Glowing fish? They have already genetically modified mice to make them capable of singing like birds! This was the only thing that mice were missing! Sign me up! I try to stay on the cutting edge. Yesterday I threw away some Jell-o that I had been keeping in my refrigerator for something verging on a month, in the hopes that it would evolve to the point where it could provide me with companionship. It did, but then it wanted to talk about its feelings all the time.

But I digress! Genetic modification has already accomplished fascinating things, and it will likely result in still more, unless Europe pulls it up short. “Don’t play with your food!” it yells.


BBC gives too much weight to fringe views on issues such as climate change

- Ian Sample, Guardian, 20 July 2011

A review of the BBC's science coverage has concluded that its drive for impartiality lends too much credence to maverick views on MMR, climate change and GM

The BBC is to revamp its science coverage after an independent review highlighted weaknesses and concluded that journalists boosted the apparent controversy of scientific news stories such as climate change, GM crops and the MMR vaccine by giving too much weight to fringe scientific viewpoints.

The wide-ranging review found the network's science reporting was generally of high quality, and praised the BBC for its breadth, depth and accuracy, but urged the broadcaster to tackle several areas of concern.

Commissioned last year to assess impartiality and accuracy in BBC science coverage across television, radio and the internet, the review said the network was at times so determined to be impartial that it put fringe views on a par with well-established fact: a strategy that made some scientific debates appear more controversial than they were.

The criticism was particularly relevant to stories on issues such as global warming, GM and the MMR vaccine, where minority views were sometimes given equal weighting to broad scientific consensus, creating what the report describes as "false balance".

The review comprised an independent report by Professor Steve Jones, emeritus professor of genetics at University College London, and an in-depth analysis by researchers at Imperial College London of science coverage across the BBC in May, June and July of 2009 and 2010.

In his report, Jones lamented the narrow range of sources that reporters used for stories, poor communication between journalists in different parts of the organisation, and a lack of knowledge of the breadth of science.

"The most important aspect is a vote of confidence in what BBC science is doing. It is head and shoulders above other broadcasters. As always, though, there is a but," Jones told reporters on Wednesday.

Jones likened the BBC's approach to oppositional debates to asking a mathematician and maverick biologist what two plus two equals. When the mathematician says four and the maverick says five, the public are left to conclude the answer is somewhere in between.

Socio-economic issues & their inclusion in biosafety decision making

- Jose Falck-Zepeda, nternational Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The inclusion of socio-economic considerations under Article 26 of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) is voluntary. It is not a mandatory requirement, thus countries have the freedom of choosing whether to make it voluntary, mandatory or not required at all.

The literal/strict interpretation of Article 26.1 of the CPB is that inclusion may consider impacts on biodiversity, especially on local and indigenous communities. The inclusion of broader socio-economic and other considerations may be done under national laws and regulations.

The issue of whether Article 26 allows the inclusion of food/feed safety and public health considerations as part of its scope is a bit vague. On the one hand, the CPB itself has mutated from a strict environmental treaty seeking to protect and enhance biodiversity while allowing the safe use of LMOs to one where some argue that it has become a de facto risk assessment treaty for LMOs covering all general aspects in an evaluation system including environmental, food/feed safety and public health issues. Many of the issues beyond environmental safety have been covered in national laws and regulations.

On the other hand, countries maintain the sovereign right within the scope of their international obligations to do what they want in terms of assessments. The question then becomes, what will the Parties choose: a narrow/strict versus a broader interpretation of Article 26?

More at


Plant Biotechnology for Food Security: New Frontiers

- New Delhi, India; February 21-24, 2012 http://spbbindia.org/ or Email : kumarpa@nrcpb.org

Advances in agriculture and plant breeding have lead to substantial increase in crop productivity in the past four decades. However, the global population is expected to reach 9 billions by the year 2050, making food security the most important social issue. Food production will have to be doubled to meet the needs of this population. The additional food will have to be produced on existing agricultural land with dwindling water resources.

In addition, crop losses due to pests and diseases have to be controlled in an eco-friendly and sustainable manner. The challenges of malnutrition and enhanced productivity can only be met by breeding more productive, more nutritious and at the same time less resource input demanding crops. This challenge calls for harnessing the powerful tools of biochemistry and biotechnology in agriculture.

Keeping this in view the Society for Plant Biochemistry and Biotechnology is going to organize the “International Conference on Plant Biotechnology for Food Security: New Frontiers” to deliberate on relevant issues.