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September 9, 2011


EU Court Against Banning GM; Hung over Honey; Accept Science to Save Species; Celebrating 40 Years of Anti-Science


Europe's anti-GM nations warned against unilateral action
Europe’s Honey verdict gums up GM rules
Experts say EU hurts self with gene mod rules
Bangalore scientists root for Bt brinjal
Environmentalists: Save More Species By Accepting Science
China Could Sow the Seeds of GM Crops Growth
The Moral High Ground
Greenpeace: 40 Years of “Anti-Science”
Modern plant breeding: Tangible benefits for Europe
The Gates Foundation Uses Genetic Modification for Good
Rice cooker could become iron chef
Helping the World Innovate


Europe's anti-GM nations warned against unilateral action

- Expatica, Sept. 9/2011

US biotech giant Monsanto scored points Thursday in a battle with GM sceptics in the EU, when Europe's highest court warned against fresh unilateral action against genetically-modified crops. In a ruling targeting France in particular, the European Court of Justice said EU states in the future must notify the European Commission before banning GM crops.

They must moreover provide evidence "of a situation which is likely to constitute a clear and serious risk to human health, animal health or the environment", the court added. The decision stems from a long-running bid by Monsanto to overturn a 2008 ban by France on genetically-modified MON 810 maize. But six other nations too have banned Monsanto maize -- Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg.

The ruling, which is not legally binding, is to go before France's highest administrative court for consideration. But should the court, the Council of State, ratify the Luxembourg-based court's decision, the government will have to scrap its so-called "safeguard clause" against GM crops.

Environmental campaigners responded angrily to the move and French Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet wasted no time in warning that should the ban be overturned by the court, "we will introduce a new safeguard clause".

"The European Court of Justice at no time raised the environmental and health risks posed by GMs. It simply raised concerns over procedure," said Greens' European parliamentarian Jose Bove "We risk seeing GMs back in our fields from next spring," said Greenpeace France director Sylvain Tardy. GM lobby EuropaBio predictably welcomed the ruling "as a step towards choice in Europe. "French farmers should no longer be denied the choice to use this GM maize," it said in a statement.

The European Court of Justice's opinion follows a series of battles between European Union nations with a distaste for GM crops and the biotech industry, and comes two days after a key ruling on honey containing traces of GM pollen The European Commission has been willing to let individual EU states ban GM crops, on certain grounds designed to get round World Trade Organization rules, but only if Brussels is notified first.

MON 810, which is used for animal feed and is resistant to certain parasites, is one of only two GM crops to have been authorised in the 27-nation European Union. The other is German group BASF's Amflora potatoes, used to make paper.
The EU top court said that while France could adopt emergency measures, it should have applied a different set of EU rules "The member state must therefore inform the commission 'officially' of the need to take emergency measures," the court said "If the commission fails to act, the member state must inform it and the other member states 'immediately' of the content of the interim measures which it has adopted," it said.

In a separate ruling Tuesday, the court said that honey containing even tiny traces of pollen from GM maize could not be sold in the EU without prior authorisation.


Europe’s Honey verdict gums up GM rules

- Andy Coghlan, NEW SCIENTIST, 7 September 2011

Europe's dysfunctional rules authorising the sale and production of genetically modified foods just became even more of a dog's dinner. The reason: the region's highest court ruled yesterday that if ordinary honey gets accidentally contaminated with pollen from genetically modified crops, then it qualifies as a GM food itself.

The ramifications are huge. The ruling by the European Court of Justice means that to sell such honey legally under European law, beekeepers would need to get the "contaminated" produce officially approved for sale through Europe's convoluted approval process for GM foods. If cleared for sale, the honey would also need to be labelled as a GM food.

This is nonsense, says the Wall Street Journal's Market Watch site. The approval process is so complex, expensive and convoluted that the only organisations with the time and money to negotiate it are multinational agrochemical companies.


Experts say EU hurts self with gene mod rules

- Caroline Henshaw, MarketWatch, Sept. 6, 2011

PARIS - The European Union is shooting itself in the foot with its restrictive policies on cultivating genetically modified organisms, two senior experts on biotechnology said Tuesday.

Speaking at the sidelines of a conference here, Mike Bushell, principal scientific advisor for agrochemicals giant Syngenta AG (SYT, SYNN.VX), estimated that the average cost of creating a test trial of any genetically modified product in the EU stands at around $100 million.

"At the same time as we're promoting Europe as the leading knowledge-based economy, we're actually doing our very best to give ourselves a bad reputation for a place to invest in new technology," he said.

Gordon Conway, head of the Agriculture for Impact initiative at Imperial College London, said that many of the same technologies are already at work in the pharmaceutical industry but face far less resistance from politicians and consumers. "The irony is we're all quite happy to be injected with a vaccine that's been produced through a biotechnology approach," he said.

Their comments came the same day that Europe's top court ruled that food supplements containing pollen derived from a genetically modified food come under the bloc's so-called GM laws, "irrespective of the proportion of genetically modified material contained in the product," and so must be authorized to be marketed.

The decision from the European Court of Justice came after several Bavarian beekeepers who kept their hives near a government trial of one of the two GM crops approved for cultivation in the EU demanded compensation after traces of contaminated pollen were found in their honey.

"The pollen in question consequently comes within the scope of the regulation and must be subject to the authorization scheme provided for thereunder before being placed on the market," the ruling said.

Yet attitudes to GM crops remain divided in the EU. According to research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Brussels attache, Portugal's sowings of Monsanto Co.'s MON +3.61% MON 810 variety of GM corn soared by 50% to 7,300 hectares last year due to concerns about pests. In Spain, seedings rose 4.7% to 80,200 hectares--more than 20% of the total area planted with corn.

"Europe's got itself in a complete mess," Syngenta's Bushell said


Bangalore scientists root for Bt brinjal

- Times of India, Sep 7, 2011

BANGALORE: Scientists from Bangalore have petitioned the Prime Minister to lift the moratorium on Bt brinjal. Their argument: it is safe for human consumption.

A team led by C Kameshwara Rao of the Foundation of Biotechnology Awareness and Education (FBAE) and T Manjunath, consultant, agricultural biotechnology, and 15 others argued for lifting the moratorium citing the examples of Bt cotton's success.

"Let not farmers, the ultimate beneficiary of this technology as evident from Bt cotton's stupendous success suffer the tyranny of politics. By allowing Bt brinjal, you will enable millions of brinjal farmers to earn more and lead better and happier lives," Rao said on Tuesday.

In his report on use of brinjal (Solanum Melongena L) in alternative systems of medicine, Rao said the assumption that transgenic Bt gene affects synergy in medicine using brinjal is inaccurate and irrelevant. The stray mention of some insignificant uses of brinjal as medicine was probably based on its properties available centuries ago when texts of classical medicine were compiled, he explained.


Environmentalists: Save More Species By Accepting Science

- Hank Campbell, Science 2.0, September 8th 2011 10:14 AM

Unfortunate subsets of some militant environmental groups believe that anyone who uses the land, including quite responsibly, is an enemy.

That isn't the case. Science advancements like genetically modified organisms and greater understanding of agriculture issues have boosted the efficiency of farming immensely. While activists have advocated going back to 13th century energy solutions to help the environment, farmers have led the way in 'dematerialization' - growing more food on less land. Farmers were able to boosted crop yields 57 percent from 1980 to 2005 without mitigation, taxes or taxpayer-funded awareness programs - more food, same amount of land.

CO2 emissions also went up, though that is a separate issue, and in farming they went up 30 percent less than if we still used 1980 efficiency advocated by environmental groups. If you are a fan of cap-and-trade pretend money rather than simply cleaner air, the value of that carbon savings is nearly $400 billion dollars per year.

Activists...okay, nearly everyone...likes to pretend they accept science but really they pick and choose it based on their cultural beliefs. Governor Rick Perry of Texas said last night in the Republican candidate debate he accepts science but human pollution doesn't cause climate change and no presidential candidate, Republican or Democrat, will proclaim their atheism.(1) Former Governor Jon Huntsman made some overtures to science but he is clearly tilting at windmills - academia has not voted for a Republican in decades and is not doing so next year(2) regardless of Pres. Barack Obama's performance.(3) However, there was no harm in it either, he's just losing some fundamentalists in the primaries - they are not voting for a Democrat in the national election either.

It's understandable why there is confusion on what is valid science and what isn't. We're lonely voices standing up to junk science like there is any nutritional difference between 'organic' food and food grown on a normal farm. People want to believe it and studies show they ignore logical fallacies in marketing if they want to believe. Activists, including Vice-President Al Gore, insisted ethanol was terrific because it was a 'biofuel'. It was bad science and spiked food costs while doing nothing for the environment but at least Al Gore recanted and admitted he just claimed ethanol was good science because he was running for president - refreshing honesty for a politician. Other activists are still in a war on agriculture, despite concerns increased food prices will lead to riot and instability in the poorest countries.

No one can claim to be progressive and want a world where only the rich and powerful can eat - so changing the world to be 'organic' in its current form is a poor solution. Children are starving in India because farmers can't get produce to market fast enough to avoid spoilage - science can fix that.

Activists are also conserved about species in the wild - a valid concern. What they forget is that boosting the efficiency of farm land, so more crops can be grown in less space, means that more land can be set aside for habitats.

Researchers recently did a study in Ghana and India, two regions where increasing population is putting pressure on farmland and found "land sparing" policies, where the maximum food is grown on the minimum land, is a much better solution than hybrid solutions like 'land sharing', trying to mix farm land and wildlands together.

The researchers obviously don't intend for that to be an endorsement over large-scale agri-business and science approaches to farming, but there isn't much else to conclude. If species is biodiversity is the goal then it is better for biodiversity to farm as productively as possible.

Perhaps in the future large-scale 'organic' farming will be possible - science can help with that too, namely by genetically optimizing plants to be naturally resistant to pests, resulting in fewer pesticides, and growing crops in regions where little wildlife lives now.

But progressive environmentalists should stop treating science as the enemy regarding biology the same way conservatives who deny the impact of pollution do.


Reconciling Food Production and Biodiversity Conservation: Land Sharing and Land Sparing Compared

- Ben Phalan, Malvika Onial, Andrew Balmford, Rhys E. Green; Science, Sept. 2, 2011, Vol. 333 no. 6047 pp. 1289-1291

The question of how to meet rising food demand at the least cost to biodiversity requires the evaluation of two contrasting alternatives: land sharing, which integrates both objectives on the same land; and land sparing, in which high-yield farming is combined with protecting natural habitats from conversion to agriculture. To test these alternatives, we compared crop yields and densities of bird and tree species across gradients of agricultural intensity in southwest Ghana and northern India. More species were negatively affected by agriculture than benefited from it, particularly among species with small global ranges. For both taxa in both countries, land sparing is a more promising strategy for minimizing negative impacts of food production, at both current and anticipated future levels of production.

Science commentary at



China Could Sow the Seeds of GM Crops Growth

- Caroline Henshaw, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 8, 2011

China’s adoption of genetically-modified crops will provide the “tipping point” for global attitudes to biotechnology, according to two leading lights of the private and public sector debate on biotechnology in agriculture.

Speaking after a panel discussion on biotechnology moderated by The Wall Street Journal as part of a conference on sustainable agriculture in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Sir Gordon Conway of Imperial College, London, said he expected China to approve genetically-modified crops for mainstream cultivation as early as 2012.

“I think next year or the year after they will release a rice that is GM and that will change everything. They’ve got 30-40 [GM crop tests] underway right now—we’re very close,” he said.

For advocates of biotechnology, GM is a key tool for boosting world food output. With more productive and drought and pest resistant varieties of staple crops like rice and wheat available, they argue that this could be the next step in feeding the world.

They point to the widespread use of GM in major producers like the U.S. and Brazil, which enters the food chain all over the world in the form of animal feed.

Yet in many parts of the world, governments remain highly skeptical of GM crops. In Europe, debate continues to rage on the topic; today, grain giant Monsanto will hear the results of a review by the European Court of Justice over a prohibition of its MON 810 corn, which has been approved in the European Union but was banned by France several years ago.

Higher food prices have put more pressure on EU lawmakers to relax rules on GM imports, as they did on traces in feed shipments earlier this year. In Portugal and Spain, sowings of GM crops have risen to a record high this year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Mike Bushell, principal scientific advisor of agrochemicals giant Syngenta, who spoke on the panel of the same debate, agreed—despite the fact that one of the world’s largest grain traders, Bunge Ltd., has just banned a variety of the company’s GM corn on the basis it hasn’t been approved in China.

U.S.-based Cargill Inc, another giant of global agricultural markets, has also just announced it won’t accept the same variety, called Agrisure Viptera, at its North American milling plants until it is approved by the EU. “The ironic thing is China has already got people all over the place cultivating [unapproved GM rice] illegally,” said Bushell.

Certainly in the broader debate on how to feed the world sustainably, GM cannot be put aside. In some of the world’s largest agricultural producers, including the U.S. and Brazil, such technology is widespread already.

But in Europe, public opinion remains firmly against GM crops and looks unlikely to shift any time soon. However, it’s important to remember that earlier incarnations of biotechnology, like hybrid seeds, took at least 30 years to become widely accepted in the U.S. and GM technologies have been around for far less time than that.


The Moral High Ground

- Jim Lacey, National Review, SEPTEMBER 7

The Left’s “morally superior” policies kill millions and impoverish billions.

Soon after I published an article questioning the global-warming orthodoxy, the world’s foremost hypocrite, Al Gore, informed anyone who still listens to him that my position is akin to racism. The wise course of action would be to ignore the rants of a man who desperately needs the world to remain fearful of carbon, the element on which all life on earth is based. If that fear were to vanish, how would he continue to rake in the millions needed for the purchase of his next beach house?

But enough is enough. Why should I sit quietly and let myself be branded a racist? In fact, will someone please explain how the Left is always assumed to have the moral high ground in these kinds of debates? I am particularly curious about this, as leftist policies continue to destroy the lives of tens of millions in this country and billions worldwide.

Let’s go through just a small part of the evidence.
The Left has fought the spread of genetically modified (GM) foods with every weapon in its arsenal. Leftists did this in the name of combatting a long list of “potential risks” that never materialized. They have been permitted to overlook the fact that their assaults on GM food were not cost free. For instance, they have greatly delayed and in some places stopped cold the use of rice modified to increase vitamin A content. For the Left this is cause for celebration. In fact, widespread use of this “golden rice” would have prevented a half-million cases of child blindness a year. So the next time someone talks to you about the evils of genetically modified foods, remind him of the millions of poor children this crusade has condemned to a lifetime of blindness. How do folks prepared to allow millions to needlessly go blind still command the respect of any truly moral person?

However, even looking the other way as children go blind pales in comparison to the needless starving of millions that has occurred because anti-GM-food groups have frightened and bullied the people and governments of Africa into forbidding the use of GM seeds. Such seeds, modified to resist the effects of drought and disease, would make Africa self-sufficient in foodstuffs. But for most African farmers they remain unavailable because of the successful efforts of American and European anti-GM-food groups. Even though every American consumes GM foods on an almost daily basis, with no ill effects, they remain off limits to those most in need.

There is no reason the Somali child pictured below needs to be hungry except for the fact that some groups are working overtime to prevent his country from growing the food needed to feed him. What do you call people who are willing to let millions starve to death rather than let them grow food that scientists long ago proved safe? Why the anti-GM groups are not condemned for crimes against humanity escapes me. For that matter, as these groups have made it their life mission to starve poor Africans, Asians, and other peoples of color, how come they have never been branded as racists?

And malnutrition is not the only problem afflicting Africa and other poor regions of the world. Among the greatest scourges is malaria, which infects 250 million and kills 1 million every year. In fact, in Africa, one in every five childhood deaths is a result of malaria. If you are a reader of average speed, then consider that ten to twelve children will have died from malaria between the time you started this article and the time you finish it. None of this is necessary. Malaria was vanquished in the United States and Europe through the copious use of DDT. But this blessing has been denied poor African nations because Rachel Carson in her 1962 book Silent Spring blamed DDT for killing eagles and other birds.

More at



- Simon Grose, Australian Science, Sept 1, 2011

‘Is this green warrior tribe a vulnerable species?’

Three Greenpeace activists earned righteous opprobrium after they whippersnipped a plot of genetically modified wheat seedlings in one of CSIRO’s Canberra research stations.

The President of the Academy of Science, Professor Suzanne Cory, called it an act of mindless vandalism against science. A few weeks after launching a Respect the Science campaign, Science & Technology Australia said the action showed appalling disrespect to the work of scientists.

In not all of their campaigns do Greenpeace and other environmental groups deny the scientific consensus, as they do in the case of GM crops and their regulation.

The CSIRO plot was one part of a total of eleven Australian GM wheat trials approved by the Gene Technology Regulator since 2005. None involve strains that have been modified for herbicide resistance, the blackest bête noire for anti-GMsters. The wheat in the Canberra trial had been modified to lower the glycaemic index in the grain and increase its fibre content.

The plants that were destroyed were nowhere near setting grain, yet their destroyers got kitted up as if they were handling live Hendra virus and arranged “a decontamination area to safely dispose of the untested and potentially unstable GM organisms”.

Another stunt in the classic Greenpeace mode: intrepid trespass and minor lawbreaking designed to gain media coverage for a shock–horror message. It’s what Greenpeace still do best, but you have to go to their website to know because the general media doesn’t seem to get as excited about intrepid green escapades as it did a couple of decades ago.

Can Greenpeace evolve to regain its impact of days gone by? The immediate signs are not promising. A few days before the GM wheat raid on the outskirts of Canberra, the Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, was scheduled to address the National Press Club in the centre of the city. The event was advertised on the club’s website and Greenpeace networks for several weeks, but a few days before the date only 19 people had booked to attend, setting the scene for an embarrassingly low turnout for Greenpeace and a financial loss for the club.

This was a golden opportunity for a media-savvy organisation to mobilise its supporters to fill the room for a nationally televised event in a respected forum where its global leader could promote its brand. But that’s not how they saw it. Instead they blamed the club for not promoting the event, relations got testy, and Naidoo’s big Aussie gig was cancelled.

One of the big lessons of science is that adaptive individuals and species are most likely to survive and prosper as environments change. Greenpeace could do well to learn that science lesson.

Comments by Northoldmoss | Tue, 30/08/2011 - 02:38

Greenpeace is by origin a North American NGO. North America has nearly 90% GM of crops it exports (maize, soybean, canola). As a `first adopter' North America has a problem - other regions, with lower cost land and labour, are catching up - thanks to Monsanto, which is actively exporting North American seed-based GM crop technology to rivals in the global export market. The two North American countries (Canada and the USA) cannot legally stop Monsanto doing this. But funding sources can, and I suggest do, pay Greenpeace to agitate and trash trials to stop the spread of GM crops to other countries (lots of countries in Europe, and China, Brazil, South Africa and even India).

However, Greenpeace is failing: GM crop production outside North America continues to rise; North American crop exports come under increasing competition with lower returns. Countries - as with Australia - start to dismiss Greenpeace as a threat. The economic response to Greenpeace failure and increasing stridency will be funders pulling out of Greenpeace (and perhaps moving funds to more effective and less ‘testy' NGOs).


Greenpeace: 40 Years of “Anti-Science”

- Center for Consumer Freedom, Sept 8, 2011

Everybody’s (least) favorite environmental zealot group Greenpeace turns 40 this month. The organization, which started out as a bunch of hippies protesting nuclear weapons testing, has expanded its scope (and budget) in the decades since, starting scare campaign after scare campaign in pursuit of its radical philosophy.
In honor of this moment, we’d like to take a chance to remind readers of a few facts about Greenpeace they may not know:
▪ Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore left the group years ago, recognizing what’s all too apparent these days: that Greenpeace has run off the rails. Moore has called the group “anti[-]technology and anti-science”; “pro-anarchy”; “anti-trade”; and even “basically anti-civilization.” He later wrote, “My former Greenpeace colleagues are either not reading the morning paper or simply don't care about the truth.”
▪ Greenpeace blindly opposes genetically modifying crops to improve their nutrient content or resistance to drought, crying wolf over and over again about alleged health risks that haven’t come to be in the many years these foods have been on the market.
▪ This ridiculousness reached new heights this summer when Australian authorities raided Greenpeace offices after its activists recorded themselves destroying a crop experiment featuring genetically modified wheat.
▪ Tanzania’s Dr. Michael Mbwille (of the non-profit Food Security Network) has written, “By Greenpeace's scientifically illiterate standards, all foods should now be banned.”
▪ Norman Borlaug, the late father of the Green Revolution, slammed the elitism of Greenpeace and other radical environmentalists, saying, “Our elites live in big cities and are far removed from the fields. Whether it’s … the head of the Sierra Club or the head of Greenpeace, they’ve never been hungry.”
▪ Greenpeace’s alarmism doesn’t just stand to harm impoverished Third World countries, but also the poor here at home. Greenpeace scaremongers about the hypothetical risks of mercury in fish, such as tuna. Canned tuna is one of the cheapest sources of omega-3s (which boost brain development in kids), but about 4.4 million low-income households stopped buying canned tuna between 2000 and 2006, in the midst of many activists' fish-fear campaigns.

What do the next 40 years stand to bring? Hopefully, Greenpeace going bankrupt. But if not, we’ll be sure these zealots will provide plenty of future examples of “anti-human,” “anti-science” campaigns.


Modern plant breeding: Tangible benefits for Europe

- Sandra Peterson , EuroPolitics, Sept. 2, 2011

Harvest time has come again and so too have concerns about food availability and prices. In Europe, after a dry spring followed by a wet summer in many areas, some farmers fear that their business may not survive. With global projections – by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Bank – that we will see the highest world food prices since the previous record set in 2008, every individual, company, government and institution engaged in agriculture should be sharpening their focus on the sustainability of food supply. Indeed, every tool should be employed to help ensure an affordable and high-quality supply of food, feed and fiber to sustain our growing world.

Which brings me to plant biotechnology. Of course, this is not the only solution to all agriculturally-related problems, but it can make significant contributions - if we in Europe allow our farmers to reap its benefits.

Plant biotechnology was discovered and first developed in Europe and has proven it can bring benefits to the environment, to the economy and to society. Despite the abundance of innovative technologies that are on our doorstep in public and private research in Europe, today’s global agricultural players are increasingly turning toward the Americas and emerging markets in Asia as they map out their long-term growth plans. While the European market continues to struggle with the question of whether to accept genetically modified crops, farmers in other parts of the world are promptly and eagerly adopting the technology. As these foreign markets grow, research and development programmes are growing with them. But to date, innovations from this field have no real chance to be put into practice in Europe.

Advanced breeding is spawning new plant varieties that bring tangible benefits. Studies estimate that up to 60% of yield increases gained over the past decades are due to improved crop varieties made possible by plant breeding. Not only are innovative products helping to produce more food for the growing world population and are keeping production costs under control, they are doing so in a more environmentally sustainable way. If we look at the environmental benefits alone, biotech crops are for example contributing to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices by allowing farmers to use less fuel for tractors and by increasing soil carbon storage due to reduced tillage. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, in 2009 these savings were equivalent to removing 18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – the same as removing approximately eight million cars from the road for one year. Contrary to popular belief, biotech crops also promote biodiversity by saving 75 million hectares of land that would otherwise need to be used for agriculture.

These are not small numbers – they are significant contributions towards helping combat climate change and secure affordable food supplies.

Advanced plant breeding, including genetic modification, furthermore aims to increase water, nutrient and other input efficiencies. As research continues to yield new advancements in biotechnology, these characteristics will become more common – and the contribution genetically modified crops make to sustainability will become more obvious.

Meanwhile, even though the technology is available to potentially provide all these benefits to the farmers and citizens of Europe – and to our environment – Europe continues to hesitate.

And while Europe continues to be one of the largest importers of agricultural commodities worldwide, its own agricultural production is declining. At the same time, agricultural demand is rising in the emerging markets. If we want to mitigate supply scarcity from competing demands and to contribute to the prosperity of the developing world, we should increase sustainable production in Europe by applying all advanced technologies available.

While we respect the opinions of those who take a contrary view and believe they should be given a choice as to what technologies they use and the food they consume, this should not prevent others from leveraging the advantages of innovative solutions in the face of increasingly complex social, economic and environmental challenges. By choosing to accept plant biotechnology, Europe can choose to take a significant step forward towards driving sustainability within agriculture.

(*) Sandra Peterson is chair of the Board of Management of Bayer CropScience AG, Germany


The Gates Foundation Uses Genetic Modification for Good

- Ariel Schwartz, Fast Company, Sept 6, 2011

The Gates Foundation is bringing stronger, hardier versions of staple crops to the developing world. Do the good motives outweigh the issues with GM food?

It's easy to demonize genetically modified crops. After all, we don't exactly know what their long-term health effects are, and they have the nasty habit of cross-pollinating with non-GMO crops. When new stories come out about advances in the field, many people react with anger and fear. But the Gates Foundation (and Bill Gates himself) has long supported the use of GMO foods to increase crop yields and nutrition in the developing world. And now the foundation has joined the Monsanto Fund and the Howard Buffett Foundation in giving $11.9 million to the Virus Resistant Cassava For Africa (VIRCA) project, which is developing cassava varieties that can resist deadly viruses. Is it possible, then, that Gates can use GMO technology for good?

Cassava is a staple food crop for over 200 million sub-Saharan Africans. The crop has a natural tolerance for droughts, and it can survive on marginal lands, making it a perfect food for poor farmers at the whim of the elements. But over one-third of Africa's harvest is lost each year to disease, including Cassava Mosaic Disease and Cassava Brown Streak Disease--a problem that leaves millions on the brink of famine. By using gene silencing in transgenic cassava plants, the VIRCA project hopes to create resistance to both of these diseases.

This isn't the Gates Foundation's first foray into GMO crops. Among the foundation's other investments: so-called "golden rice" that cuts down on vitamin A deficiency in children, and submergent rice varieties that can survive being underwater for long periods of time. "For farmers who have been wiped out by flooding and rainfall, the crop survives. Seeing that get adopted and start to spread more widely is very exciting," explained Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes in a recent interview with Fast Company.

Genetically modified plants are a hot-button issue--even more so in Europe than the United States. And Gates's partners don't have the best reputation. Unsurprisingly, the foundation has received plenty of criticism, especially for its work with Monsanto and Cargill. One Guardian article opined: "The fact is that Cargill is a faceless agri-giant that controls most of the world's food commodities and Monsanto has been blundering around poor Asian countries... Does Gates know it is in danger of being caught up in their reputations, or does the foundation actually share their corporate vision of farming and intend to work with them more in future?"

And former Grist food writer Tom Philpott notes that GMO crops haven't been proven to increase yields. He urges Gates to turn away from biotech labs and focus on "the field, where the best research on organic ag is being done. Indeed, one of the great benefits of organic farming is its long-term focus on soil health--and healthy soils can increase productivity over time without massive ecological externalities."

It's possible that the critics are correct; high-tech solutions aren't always the best way to fix a problem. But it doesn't look like the Gates Foundation is giving up on GMO crops anytime soon--and neither is Monsanto or Cargill. We have little choice now but to watch and wait to see what happens with one of the biggest agricultural experiments ever. Here's hoping it ends in more food for everyone--and not in disaster.


Rice cooker could become iron chef

- Laurissa Smith, ABC (Australia), Sept 9, 2011

Scientists have made a breakthrough in rice genetics which could help millions of people with iron deficiencies. The team from universities in Adelaide and Melbourne modified rice to boost the amount of iron it absorbs through the grain.

Botanist Alex Johnson says the genetically modified food now has four times the amount of iron currently found in rice on the supermarket shelves.

"What I did was I looked at genes that were involved in iron deficiency responses in plants. "So in essence, the plant seems to think that it needs more iron, that it's iron deficient.

"So the plants take up more iron and they put more iron into the grain."
The research has been carried out under glasshouse conditions in Australia, but is now being trialled in the Philippines at the International Rice Research Institute. It's expected to take at least 10 years before the rice is grown commercially.


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