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July 29, 2011


Modifying the Stance; Mitigating Drought; An Ugly Experiment; Less Pesticide Poisoning; Justifying the Attack


Archived at http://conta.cc/rj3fff


Africa modifies its stance on GM crops
Africa: New technology necessary to mitigate drought
Admit it: environmentalism was an ugly experiment
Scientist distances himself from Greenpeace activists
Longer Approval Process to Hit India GM Crop Trials
Impact of Bt cotton on pesticide poisoning in smallholder agriculture: s
India: State government approval in GM crops testing to be revoked
Peru’s GMO Moratorium not WTO Compatible: President
Scientists take a giant step for people -- with plants!
Eucalyptus DNA blueprint revealed
It's Time for a New Biotechnology Law
“Greenpeace in short, is not anti-science”; Crop attacks a “method of last resort”


Africa modifies its stance on GM crops

- Gavin du Venage, The National (UAE, July 29, 2011

Genetically modified food has always been a tough sell, but nowhere more so than Africa, where it is banned in all but a handful of countries. Now, this appears to be changing.

With a famine declared once again in East Africa, Kenya has become only the fourth country on the continent to allow the full-scale importation and production of GM crops. Kenya embraced genetically modified food this month in the face of fierce resistance from local consumer groups and politicians. Elsewhere in Africa, the debate is just beginning.

Until recently, South Africa was the lone exception. It was one of the first countries in the world to adopt GM crops and today has about 21 million hectares of land growing biotech produce. In the past few years, Egypt and Burkina Faso have also recently begun farming GM crops. But in the rest of Africa, GM farming remains off-limits. Even the importation of engineered food is restricted or banned outright.

When Zambia needed food aid in 2002, for instance, it made it clear that it would not accept biotech crops, however hungry its people were. "I will not allow Zambians to be turned into guinea pigs no matter the levels of hunger in the country," thundered the-then president, Levy Mwanawasa.

Other countries that faced the same famine, such as Mozambique and Malawi, reluctantly allowed GM maize to be imported, but only if it was already milled, to prevent farmers from keeping back seeds for planting.

GM foods were first introduced to a suspicious public in the West during the 1990s but have slowly won acceptance from consumers, especially in the US, as safe to eat. Europe still has a moratorium on growing GM food, although it has begun to allow limited production for non-human consumption.

Developing countries, though, from Brazil to India to China, have accepted biofoods as a way to feed growing populations. China especially has decided conventional agriculture cannot keep all its people fed and could soon lead the world in GM farming.

GM foods typically are everyday productions that have had their gene codes modified to make them resistant to disease. They can also reduce the need for chemical poisons and fertilisers, and boost farmers' productivity.

The subject still provokes fierce debate around the world; opponents warn that it could pose health and environmental risks, and places food security at the mercy of a handful of biotech corporations. This month, the environmental group Greenpeace raided a GM research station in Australia and destroyed a trial plot of genetically modified wheat.

In spite of this, genetic-based agriculture continues to expand and today, more than a billion hectares are under GM cultivation, according to the Group of 20. Except, it would seem, in Africa.

"The great tragedy of the biotech revolution has been that Africa has missed out, just as it missed out on the original Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s that allowed India and China vastly to increase agricultural productivity and abolish famine while their populations soared," said Mark Lynas, a former anti-GM activist-turned proselytiser for biofoods.

There are several reasons for this. First, the fear that once countries become dependent on GM seeds, they will become indentured to the patent-holders of these crops, corporations such as the US gene giants Monsanto and Dupont.

A lack of scientific capacity is another hurdle for African countries, which tend to depend on outside expertise. All too often, this is in the form of interest groups, and frequently, vociferously anti-biotech European NGOs. For the past decade, the naysayers held sway. But this is changing.

Supported by organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the billionaire investor Warren Buffet, African agricultural research is beginning to develop its own scientific know-how and with it is tentatively moving towards biotech crops.

Kenya, in particular, is also developing its own research institutions. It recently opened a US$12 million (Dh44m) greenhouse to test GM crops, making it only the second country on the continent to have such a facility. The other is in South Africa.

The greenhouse is as much for public relations as it is for research. Kenya still has some way to go to convince a sceptical public that GM food is safe to eat. By conducting its own research, rather than simply importing biotech food, Kenya's scientific community hopes to show that it understands the safety concerns of consumers.

In the meantime, the Kenyan government is under no illusions that it will be a hard slog to convince people GM technology is safe. Everyone from beaurocrats to ministers have been roped into the task.

Even officials who have no direct link to the issue have been speaking up. "I have eaten genetically modified food in South Africa and I have not died," the deputy education minister, Ayiecho Olweny, said in Nairobi. "I have not had any negative effect from eating it."


Africa: New technology necessary to mitigate drought

- Catherine Karongo, Capital FM (Kenya), July 29, 2011

Kenya has been challenged to embrace new technologies in order to avert the recurrent food crises. This comes in the wake of a controversial debate on whether the country should allow import of genetically modified (GMO) maize.

Immediate former Vice president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) Dr Akin Adesina said on Thursday that the country should not run away from new scientific technologies that could improve food security.

“If you look at Kenya today, you always have a problem with drought in the north but if you have the power of science available to KARI (Kenya Agricultural Research Institute), and they can actually get a gene that can impart drought tolerance into maize, why not? Obviously that is going to solve the problem but you need to have scientists that are well trained and let them make the decisions,” he said in an interview with Capital News.

Dr Adesina who is also the newly appointed Minister for Agriculture in Nigeria said the solution to the current food crisis was through adoption of new innovations.
“In almost every technology, there are risks. Even life itself is a risk. You must be able to weigh the risks and the benefits to see whether the benefits far outweigh the risks,” he remarked.

In the past three weeks, there has been mixed reactions on an intended importation of genetically modified maize to deal with the current food crisis that has affected an estimated 3.5 million Kenyans.

“I think in this entire hullabaloo about GMO, people miss the real issue, that science has the power to do a lot,” Dr Adesina opined. “What we need to do in my view is not to run away from science but to look at it very critically in the context of the challenges of food security that we face and then use regulations to determine what comes into the country by assessing all the risks,” he stated.

Those for adoption of GMO in the country argue that it is a technology that has been tried and proven safe in other parts of the world while those opposed term the technology as unsafe because of the manipulation of genes.

“We should not use emotion to determine what science is,” Dr Adesina said.
“Africa cannot be the last in everything; we need to join the pack that uses science and technology to address food problems,” he proposed.


Admit it: environmentalism was an ugly experiment

- Ben Pile, Spiked, July 29, 2011

Mark Lynas has converted from being an eco-alarmist to a pro-growth rationalist. But he still doesn’t get the problem with green thinking.

Since becoming an advocate of genetic modification (GM) and nuclear power, Mark Lynas has drawn increasingly hostile criticism from his erstwhile comrades in the green movement. In turn, he has sharpened his criticism of environmentalists for their hostility to technological and economic development. In his new book, The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans, he attempts to reformulate environmentalism to overcome the excesses that have so far prevented it from saving the planet. This book will no doubt provoke debate, but what is this transformation really about, and is it really based on new ideas or merely the revision of old ones?

Last November, Channel 4 aired What the Green Movement Got Wrong, which featured prominent environmentalists, including Lynas, reflecting on the failures of environmentalism. The film claimed that environmentalists’ opposition to technologies that offered environmentally benign methods of energy and crop production had impeded their aim of creating an ecologically sustainable society. Since then, the debate between pro- and anti-nuclear environmentalists has deepened, exposing the many divisions that exist within the green camp.

That said, the green movement has never really been united by a coherent perspective that could withstand criticism with confidence. Instead, it has been more easily characterised as intransigent, its critics simply dismissed as ‘deniers’ funded by big business. Environmentalism, ignorant to criticism, has thus developed inside an insular, self-regarding bubble. Perhaps only someone from within it could prick that bubble, revealing to its members what those outside it have been telling them for decades.

As a result, there is much to agree with in The God Species. Most importantly, Lynas makes a clean break from deep ecology – the idea that ‘nature’ has intrinsic moral value and a ‘right’ to be protected from our ambitions. He rebukes the environmentalism that imagines a return to a pristine nature, and that shows contempt for development as an attempt to ‘play god’ over nature. We should ‘play god’, he says, for the planet’s sake as well as our own comfort. There is a convincing criticism of green demands for austerity and environmentalists’ unrealistic expectations that people should make do with ‘happiness’ rather than material progress. These are the conceits of well-off, middle-class and self-indulgent whingers, Lynas explains. Some of us have been making similar arguments for a very long time.
Environmentalism is an ugly political experiment. That experiment failed, but not simply because its material science was flawed. Just as it was environmentalism’s political failure that preceded Lynas’s revision of its scientific basis, environmentalism’s political idea - its ideology - precedes the science. Rewriting the science won’t make the experiment any more successful for Lynas than it was for Ehrlich.


Scientist distances himself from activists

- Colin Bettles, Stock and Land (Australia), July 28, 2011

A US scientist has distanced himself from Greenpeace’s anti-Genetically Modified wheat campaign in Australia, having previously co-signed a letter asking the CSIRO to abort research into the technology, over concerns with the rigor of human and animal testing.

Professor David Schubert from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California, co-signed an open letter on 27 June to CSIRO Chief Executive Megan Clark, criticising proposed human trials of GM wheat, along with seven other doctors and scientists.

The letter was sent in the lead up to Greenpeace activists’ destroying CSIRO’s GM wheat field trials in Canberra on July 14 after entering the site illegally, in an effort to gain publicity for its flagging anti-GM wheat campaign.

Questions have also been raised about the letter’s lack of independence and authenticity, amid accusations it was plagiarised from previous Greenpeace anti-GM propaganda.

Professor Schubert, a neurobiologist, denounced Greenpeace’s attack on CSIRO’s scientific work. He told Rural Press, he did not approve of the “destructive actions taken by Greenpeace or any other anti-GM group”.

Professor Schubert said the protest was “counterproductive in addition to being illegal”. “The decision to grow these crops should be based upon science, not threats from either side of the debate,” he said. “The latter is a major problem in the US.”

Professor Schubert said he was not a member of Greenpeace but was opposed to feeding GM products to people, without genuine product safety testing in animals. But CSIRO has already trialled the GM wheat on rats and pigs with no indication of negative effects.

Karl Haro von Mogel, a graduate student in plant genetics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, US, believes the letter was plagiarised, indicating Greenpeace was “scraping the bottom of the barrel” to drum up criticism of the GM wheat trials.

Mr Haro von Mogel is the co-executive editor of Biofortified.org, a website which aims to foster factual, civil dialogue on genetic engineering in agriculture which he says is independent and not supported by any companies.
Editor-in-Chief of literary science magazine, COSMOS, Wilson da Silva, said no GM wheat had been approved for human consumption in Australia but the CSIRO did have permission to conduct trials.

He said Greenpeace had “lost its way”. “What was so ‘toxic’ about this wheat strain that it had to be destroyed?” he said. “Its genes had been modified to lower its glycemic index and boost fibre content, creating bread and other wheat products that would improve bowel health and nutritional value.

“Its former glory rested on the righteousness of its actions in support of real evidence of how humanity was failing to care for the environment. “Now it is a sad, dogmatic, reactionary phalanx of anti-science zealots who care not for evidence, but for publicity.”

At least three Greenpeace activists used whipper-snippers to cause about $300,000 damage to the CSIRO GM wheat trials in Canberra; the matter is now under police investigation.

The Australian Federal Police executed a search warrant at the Greenpeace head offices in Sydney last week, with a range of items and property seized as evidence during the raid.


Longer Approval Process to Hit India GM Crop Trials

- Biman Mukherji, Wall Street Journal, JULY 28, 2011, 8:20 A.M. ET

NEW DELHI -- Development of genetically modified crops in India will likely get delayed as a recently made requirement of provincial-level clearance for field trials will hamper the procedure, the head of a group of biotechnology companies said Thursday.

India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee on July 6 ruled that no-objection certificates from provincial governments will be necessary to start field trials. Some states had complained about allowing field trials in their territory without seeking approvals from local governments.

Researchers earlier needed to get approval only from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, a federal agency, to start trials. "Very few trials will take place because of this order," said Ram Kaundinya, chairman of the Association of Biotech Led Enterprises - Agriculture Group. The group clubs major biotech companies in India for talks with the government, research institutions and other bodies.

Mr. Kaundinya said development of as many as 10 GM crops, including rice, maize, groundnut, tomatoes and cauliflowers, will be hit by the order as they were in various stages of field trials, after obtaining clearance from the federal committee. "It sets back the clock," Mr. Kaundinya said. "Some of them [GM crops] were in the second year of trials and some in their first," he said. "A delay of even five days during the planting season can actually result in a delay of a year."

He said the association's representatives have met the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee and the agriculture ministry and that they will also meet all state governments to discuss the issue. "Some states are positively inclined, such as Andhra Pradesh," he said, adding that the government in the southern state is holding weekly meetings for field-trial clearances. "Some states are negative about the whole thing. We are talking and trying to convince them."

While supporters of genetic modification say it will improve crop protection and output, the technology also faces strong opposition from environmental and farmer groups due to ecological and safety concerns as well as the enforcement of patent protection on GM crops.

India has already approved the use of Bt cotton, and that decision--made in 2002--has proved pivotal in turning the country into a key exporter and producer. More than 90% of the country's output of the fiber is from genetically modified crops.

However, the government had to scrap a plan to allow cultivation of genetically modified eggplant last year due to wide-spread oppositions.


Impact of Bt cotton on pesticide poisoning in smallholder agriculture: A panel data analysis

- Shahzad Kouser and Matin Qaim, Ecological Economics, July 13, 2011, Article in Press, Corrected Proof

While substantial research on the productivity and profit effects of Bt cotton has been carried out recently, the economic evaluation of positive and negative externalities has received much less attention. Here, we focus on farmer health impacts resulting from Bt-related changes in chemical pesticide use. Previous studies have documented that Bt cotton has reduced the problem of pesticide poisoning in developing countries, but they have failed to account for unobserved heterogeneity between technology adopters and non-adopters. We use unique panel survey data from India to estimate unbiased effects and their developments over time.

Bt cotton has reduced pesticide applications by 50%, with the largest reductions of 70% occurring in the most toxic types of chemicals. Results of fixed-effects Poisson models confirm that Bt has notably reduced the incidence of acute pesticide poisoning among cotton growers. These effects have become more pronounced with increasing technology adoption rates. Bt cotton now helps to avoid several million cases of pesticide poisoning in India every year, which also entails sizeable health cost savings.


India: State government approval clause in GM crops' GEAC guidelines to be revoked

- Irum Khan, Food and Beverage News (India) July 29, 2011

Respite is likely to come to those looking to initiate trials in genetically-modified (GM) crops as an important clause requiring state approval for conducting GM trials is likely to be revoked.

This was confirmed by a source from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the apex body constituted in the ministry of environment and forests focussing on manufacture, use, import, export and storage of hazardous microorganisms / genetically-engineered organisms or cells, under the Environment Protection Act,1986. The source said that the decision to revoke the clause was a recent one.

Groups like ABLE-AG (Association of Biotech Led Enterprises-Agriculture Group) have been opposing this clause in the upcoming GEAC guidelines, which makes it mandatory to seek prior permission from the states for trial of GM crops. According to the Group, it was a detrimental clause, which was likely to delay the process of adoption of the GM technology in the country to multiply yield of food grain crops.

Interestingly, Bihar and Karnataka had recently forced winding up trial of Bt maize by an international seed company on this ground. Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Orissa and Kerala were some of the states which opposed this new technology whereas, states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Haryana were favourably inclined towards GM crops.

Overall, field trials of 10 GM crops are in the pipeline in different parts of the country, according to media reports.


Peru’s GMO Moratorium not WTO Compatible: President

- ICTSD, Volume 11 Number 14

A ten-year moratorium on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been rejected by Alan García, Peru’s outgoing president who says the move breaches the country’s WTO commitments. The bill will now be sent back to Congress for reformation.

The legislation, which was approved by Peruvian Congress on 7 June, declared a ten-year moratorium on the entry of GMOs into Peru for cultivation, breeding, or as any other type of transgenic product.

García sent the legislation back to Congress saying that the moratorium is incompatible with responsibilities Lima has under WTO agreements and that it could be harmful for research.

Congress will now have the opportunity to vote on the moratorium again either after making amendments or simply putting the bill to a vote again as is. However, with the body currently on summer recess, a special session would have to be called for any action to take place before the newly elected Congress comes to power on 28 July.

For years Peru has maintained an almost zero tolerance policy on the cultivation, development, and importation of GMOs while all Latin American nations surrounding have begun to rapidly develop and grow GM crops. After nine years of discussions, García signed the biosafety regulation into law on 15 April.


Scientists take a giant step for people -- with plants!

- e! Science News, July 29, 2011

Science usually progresses in small steps, but on rare occasions, a new combination of research expertise and cutting-edge technology produces a 'great leap forward.' An international team of scientists, whose senior investigators include Salk Institute plant biologist Joseph Ecker, report one such leap in the July 29, 2011 issue of Science. They describe their mapping and early analyses of thousands of protein-to-protein interactions within the cells of Arabidopsis thaliana -a variety of mustard plant that is to plant biology what the lab mouse is to human biology.

"With this one study we managed to double the plant protein-interaction data that are available to scientists," says Ecker, a professor in the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory. "These data along with data from future 'interactome' mapping studies like this one should enable biologists to make agricultural plants more resistant to drought and diseases, more nutritious, and generally more useful to mankind."


Eucalyptus DNA blueprint revealed

- Beau Gamble, Australian Geographic, JULY-29-2011 Share |

In a major boost to global forestry research, scientists have mapped the genome of Eucalyptus grandis - the world's most common plantation tree and one of our biggest eucalypts.

The flooded gum, also known as the rose gum, is only the second commercially forested tree ever to have its genome - its entire DNA sequence - decoded.

The genome map - developed by the US Department of Energy and the Eucalyptus Genome Network - will allow scientists to identify the genes responsible for rapid growth and other desirable traits. Essentially, the knowledge will fast-track the development of superior genetic varieties of flooded gum and other eucalypts.

"In the past, we would go out and select a range of different trees, grow them up for twenty years and see how they perform," says Professor Bill Foley, a plant geneticist at the Australian National University and a participant in the study. "But now we can shortcut that process and understand exactly what makes desirable traits in a tree."


It's Time for a New Biotechnology Law

- William Brown, The Brookings Institution, July 27, 2011

In a letter dated July 1, 2011, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently notified Scotts Miracle-Gro, a lawn-care company based in Ohio, that it could develop and use a genetically modified (GM) grass without review and approval by the Department of Agriculture (DOA). The grass was engineered so that Roundup, a Monsanto weed-killer, and related pesticides would not hurt it, and lawns with the grass could be kept free of weeds by spraying. The position taken in the Secretary's letter, reportedly also taken by DOA in a case involving importation of petunias from New Zealand, reverses the Department's long-standing position that it has the authority to regulate use of any GM plant.

The DOA reversal is legally sound, but a better response to companies like Scotts Miracle-Gro is not to duck regulation, but to adopt new federal legislation prescribing an effective, comprehensive, and transparent process that assures GM organisms will not harm human health or the environment. We need such legislation to ensure that the use of GM organisms is safe. But, we also need legislation to ensure that GM organisms will be available to address the ever growing challenges for a healthy planet. These organisms offer huge potential for good, yet they suffer from public stigma, and the skepticism and confusion driving that distrust will only grow if government steps back from their scrutiny.

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Greenpeace in short, is not anti-science; Crop attacks a “method of last resort”