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May 1, 2012


AgBioView is back!!! - Scientists Plead with Anti-GM Vandals, Analyzing Bt Cotton, Way Forward with Europe - and More!


Scientists send open letter to anti-GM protesters pleading with them not to destroy 'years of work'

On the ‘Failure of Bt Cotton’ Analysing a Decade of Experience

Measuring the contribution of Bt cotton adoption to India’s cotton yields leap

National Economy Blueprint - White House document

People and the Planet: UK Royal Society Report

Europe and GMOs: Perhaps there is a way forward

Australian consumers mislead by anti-GM campaigns

Two Blades Foundation licenses TAL Code technology to Bayer CropScience

Consumer Acceptance, Genetically Engineered Agriculture Products and Biotech Crop Development to be the Focus at the 2012 BIO

Leadership Summit: Harvesting the Commercial Potential of Emerging Agricultural and Industrial Biotechnologies

Company is already growing other medicinal plants in mine

James Lovelock - Why I am a Green Skeptic (Video)


Scientists send open letter to anti-GM protesters pleading with them not to destroy 'years of work'

- Charlie Cooper, The Independent (UK), 1 May 2012

Scientists working on a new generation of genetically modified crops have sent an open letter to anti-GM protesters pleading with them not to destroy “years of work” by attacking their research plots.

The activist group, Take the Flour Back, has pledged to carry out a “decontamination” at a test site in Hertfordshire, where agricultural researchers are growing the world’s first genetically modified wheat that can repel insect pests by emitting a repellent-smelling substance.

Appealing to the protesters as fellow “environmentalists”, scientists from Rothamsted Research led by Professor John Pickett called on the group to “reconsider before it is too late”.

“Our research is trying to shed light on questions about the safety and usefulness of new varieties of the staple food crops on which all of us depend,” the scientists write. “(…)We do not see how preventing the acquisition of knowledge is a defensible position in an age of reason.”

The pheromone exuded by the new strain of “whiffy” wheat is naturally produced by “frightened” aphids as a warning signal to deter other aphids. However, activists claim that the wheat contains an artificial gene “most similar to a cow” and that open air trials represent an “imminent contamination threat to the local environment and the UK wheat industry”.

Scientists said that the suggestion they had used a cow gene “betrays a misunderstanding which may serve to confuse people or scare them but has no basis in scientific reality”.

Matt Thomson, from Take the Flour Back, told The Independent yesterday that action against the Rothamsted site would go ahead as planned.

“The concerns that we have are not addressed in this letter,” he said. “The way that Rothamsted have publicised this trial has been patronising. This wheat contains genes that are not naturally occurring.” Mr Thomson said that the allegation about cow genes in the wheat had come from comments made by a Rothamsted scientist.

The new strain of wheat could combat aphid attacks, which can cause damage upwards of £120m a year, without the need for pesticides, scientists claim. It is one of several “second generation” GM crops that scientists hope will prove more acceptable to the British public than the herbicide-tolerant, commercially-grown GM crop strains that provoked environmental concerns and widespread protests in the 1990s. The Take the Flour Back group claims to include “bakers, retailers, growers and grassroots food campaigners”

Scientists from Rothamsted, which was founded in 1843, pledged to explain their work to demonstrators on 27 May, the date set for the action.

“When you visit us on 27 May we will be available to meet and talk to you,” they write. “We would welcome the chance to show you our work and explain why we think it could benefit the environment in the future. But we must ask you to respect the need to gather knowledge unimpeded. Please do not come to damage and destroy.”


On the ‘Failure of Bt Cotton’ Analysing a Decade of Experience

- Ronald J Herring, N Chandrasekhara Rao,, Economic & Political Weekly, May 5, 201 2

Given that the controversy over success and failure of Bt technology still exists, this paper discusses the available field studies that have addressed agro-economic questions of Bt cotton cultivation in India. Since a meta-analysis of studies can give only partial conclusions, owing to differences across study methodologies and coverage, this paper takes a different strategy, i e, looking not simply at differences between Bt farms and non-Bt farms, but at the experience of farmers before growing Bt and after switching to Bt. It also examines the more general problem of comparing field studies and suggests ways to use farmer behaviour as a proxy for settling different interpretations of agro-economic effects of the new technology. The study explains why there has been so much controversy given virtually universal adoption of Bt technology in cotton and concludes that in the battle of numbers around Bt cotton, those of the farmers have been curiously missing.

Intense controversy surrounds transgenic crops in much of the world. Results from India’s fi rst genetically engineered crop – Bt cotton – have fi gured prominently in global debates about agricultural biotechnology. Disputes about the effects of Bt cotton on production fi gured into controversy surrounding India’s second transgenic crop: Bt brinjal (Solanum melongena aubergine, eggplant). Politics and policy towards agricultural biotechnology in India for the future will be conditioned by the success or failure of Bt cotton. One prominent claim is that Bt cotton has caused “crop failures and mass suicides”.

At the end of a decade of cultivation of this crop in India, an assessment of this claim seems timely.

Read full paper at


Measuring the contribution of Bt cotton adoption to India’s cotton yields leap

- Gruere, Guillaume P., Sun, Yan, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), April 2012

While a number of empirical studies have demonstrated the role of Bt cotton adoption in increasing Indian cotton productivity at the farm level, there has been questioning around the overall contribution of Bt cotton to the average cotton yield increase observed these last ten years in India. This study examines the contribution of Bt cotton adoption to long- term average cotton yields in India using a panel data analysis of production variables in nine Indian cotton-producing states from 1975 to 2009. The results show that Bt cotton contributed 19 percent of total yield growth over time, or between 0.3 percent and 0.4 percent per percentage adoption every year since its introduction. Besides Bt cotton, the use of fertilizer and the increased adoption of hybrid seeds appear to have contributed to the yield increase over time. However, if official Bt cotton adoption contributed to increased yield after 2005, unofficial Bt cotton might also have been part of the observed increase of yields starting in 2002, the year of its official introduction in India.

Full report at


National Economy Blueprint - White House document


The report contains many references to genetic modification including:

Impacts in the Agricultural and Industrial Sectors

In 2010,32 agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting employed a total of 1.3 million wage and salary workers, and another 853,400 self-employed and unpaid family workers.About 85% of employment was in crop production and animal production, and about 80% of the establishments involved employ fewer than 10 workers.Decades of advancement in research areas such as plant breeding, plant genetics and genomics, soil science, microbiology, biological control, invasive species, and organic agriculture, have made modern agriculture a robust enterprise with substantial outputs in 2011 despite sub-optimal weather conditions.33 Industrial uses for biotechnology extend well beyond health and agriculture.The industrial biotechnology sector uses genetically modified microbes as "cell factories" to produce a diversity of commercial products including vitamins, natural preservatives, biobased polymers, and enzymes for cleaning and textile industries, among many others.Given the vast array of different prod¬ucts, accurate economic numbers that represent industrial biotechnology's impact on these products are difficult to ascertain.

According to the USDA, agriculture is responsible for one out of every 12 jobs in America, and America's farmers and ranchers are the most productive in the world.In 2011, agri-cultural exports reached record levels of sales-$137.4 billion, resulting in a $42 billion trade surplus.34 In 2010, revenues from genetically modified plants and microbes, a single eco-nomic indicator of the U.S.bioeconomy, were estimated in one assessment to account for approximately $300 billion in U.S.revenues, equivalent to more than 2% of gross domestic product.35 According to the USDA, U.S.revenues from genetically modified crops were roughly $76 billion.36

Based on the best available data, U.S.revenues from industrial biotechnology were estimated to be $115 billion.37 Compared to numbers for 2009 revenues for these same sectors-revenues from genetically modified plants and microbes for health, agriculture, and industrial biotechnology-these estimates suggest that many sub-sectors of the bioeconomy are growing rapidly. (Thanks Vivian!)


People and the Planet: UK Royal Society Report

- April 2012

Rapid and widespread changes in the world’s human population, coupled with unprecedented levels of consumption present profound challenges to human health and wellbeing, and the natural environment.

The combination of these factors is likely to have far reaching and long-lasting consequences for our finite planet and will impact on future generations as well as our own. These impacts raise serious concerns and challenge us to consider the relationship between people and the planet. It is not surprising then, that debates about population have tended to inspire controversy.

This report is offered, not as a definitive statement on these complex topics, but as an overview of the impacts of human population and consumption on the planet. It raises questions about how best to seize the opportunities that changes in population could bring – and how to avoid the most harmful impacts.


Europe and GMOs: Perhaps there is a way forward

- Peter Phillips, Ag West, 3/28/2012

European politicians and regulators are widely viewed as the major barrier to the optimal development, adaptation, adoption and diffusion of biotechnology in the global agri-food system. Given that the 27 member states in the European Union combined produce more food than any other country in the world and are the world’s largest trader in agri-food crops, they cannot be ignored. As long as they are unwilling to fully use the technology, Canadian and global farmers and biotechnology companies will face challenges in profiting from the new technology.

I would like to offer my take on the prospects for change in Europe. I have just returned from Brussels, the home of the key government structures of the European Union. I was a participant in a Canadian government advocacy event coordinated through the European Parliament. A panel of Canadian regulators, a farmer and me, an academic, were invited to talk about the regulatory, scientific, economic and environmental effects of GM crops in Canada.

Before I divulge the take-home message of our event, my impressions of the trip might give you a sense of the challenge facing industry and policy makers hoping to change European attitudes about GM crops.

I was quite surprised at the changes in attitude and structure in Brussels in the past while. In the late 1980s my doctoral studies frequently took me to Brussels and I gained access to the insides of the European Commission to examine the dynamics of the Common Agricultural Policy. I was most interested in how the CAP affected the EU stance in the trade negotiations that ultimately delivered the World Trade Organization Agreement in 2005.

At that time, the European government footprint in Brussels was modest; the Commission had only about 6,000 Eurocrats, the political Councils that made many of the decisions were itinerant affairs, the Economic and Social Committee, theoretically a key part of the system, was hard to find and the European Parliament spent much of its time in Luxembourg in makeshift facilities. All important business appeared to be conducted inside a single building, the iconic Berlaymont at Rond-Point Robert Schuman.

23 years later, Brussels is clearly at the epi-centre of a much more expansive and aggressive European government, with massive new glass and steel buildings housing the Parliament and ESC and as best as I can tell, almost a new glass tower for each of the 33 Commission Directorates-general, which jointly employ about 23,000 Eurocrats in Brussels.

The EP, in particular, has come of age, occupying an impressive new building covering more than eight square blocks. The EP is the focus of thousands of visits and events daily. Even at 6:30 p.m. it was a virtual anthill of activity, with our advocacy event attracting a tiny crowd compared to a well-attended and lively Greek celebration (of another bailout, as best as I could tell!). On that day there were hundreds of committee and plenary meetings in that complex, on virtually any topic you could imagine.

While EU policy about GM crops is of vital interest to many reading this, it would be hard to see that it is on the top of the agenda in Brussels. Our audience was relatively small (we probably would have lost more of our listeners to the Greeks but for the free canapés and wine that followed) but intently interested in what we had to say. Right off the bat the chairman, a Scottish MEP, bemoaned the absence of any effective dialogue about GM crops in the EU.

We attempted to get the discussion going with a few presentations. While we thought the best part of Canada’s story is that GM crops (especially herbicide tolerant canola which Canada had a major part in developing) have proven the efficacy of our regulatory system and generated real and measurable economic returns for innovators, farmers adopting the technology and consumers, our audience really only perked up when we talked about the environmental effects.

Both at the farm-level and in the context of recent regional studies, there is strong evidence that GM canola has been good for the environment. In the first instance, herbicides used on GM canola incorporate less active ingredient, are less toxic than those used for conventional canola, require fewer applications and are less pervasive in the environment, all which benefit farmers, consumers and the broader ecology.

Probably as important, GM canola has contributed to a dramatic change in farm practices. More than 75% of producers now use conservation tillage practices, which preserves organic matter in the soil, conserves moisture, reduces erosion and – most intriguing for our audience – sequestered more than 1 million tonnes of carbon annually in the 2005-7 period. The International Panel on Climate Change estimates that crop production contributes up to 12% of anthropomorphic carbon dioxide, which is one of the major contributors to climate change. The Europeans were particularly excited that the technology could address this important EU issue.

The lure of more and cheaper food and more profitable farming generated little or no interest. The consensus of those at the event was that only the environmental evidence has any chance of shifting public opinion and eliminating regulatory roadblocks in the EU.

Perhaps it is time to rebrand GM crops as ‘green’ alternatives to conventional technologies. With the right evidence and the right messaging, it might just be possible to bring the European Union into the fold, as full-fledged developers, adaptors, adopters and consumers of GM foods.


Australian consumers mislead by anti-GM campaigns

- All About Feed, 23 Apr 2012

Misguided and misinformed media campaigns against GM crops only act to unnecessarily mislead consumers and work against the interests of Australian agriculture.

“Recent statements that encourage the continued ban of GM crops in South Australia seem to be more about an individual political agenda than good public policy debate.

“There is no fact or scientific basis to any of the statements that indicate South Australia’s reputation, environment or public health are at risk if they allow the production of GM crops. In fact, quite the opposite is true,” CropLife Australia chief executive officer, Matthew Cossey said.

“Agriculture in South Australia is actually facing a significant competitive disadvantage without the use of GM crops in the future.

“The importance of GM crops and the fast-growing nature of GM technology that could bring both economic and agronomic benefits for South Australia have been acknowledged by the President of the State’s Farming Federation, Peter White.

“Biotechnology in agriculture is delivering crucial innovation for Australia’s and the world’s farmers. Ongoing research is also being done in critical areas to enhance nutrition and higher yields, to improve drought resistance and increase salinity tolerance,” Cossey said.

Rigorous assessment
“Comments that question the safety and labelling of GM food ingredients are just political propaganda. GM products in Australia undergo rigorous scientific assessment and are safe for consumers.

“Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) already mandate the labelling of these products for consumer choice, not because of public health concerns.”

“Workable food labelling policy must be science-based and reflect the realities of agricultural supply chains and global trade, not political agendas. Technology-specific and ideologically motivated policies such as those expounded recently in the media only act to deprive responsible consumers of the choice they deserve,” Cossey concluded.


Two Blades Foundation licenses TAL Code technology to Bayer CropScience

EVANSTON, IL (May 1, 2012) -- The Two Blades Foundation (2Blades) announced today the completion of a non-exclusive license agreement with Bayer CropScience AG for access to the TAL Code technology for commercial uses in certain crop plants.

The Transcription Activator Like (TAL) effector code enables a number of highly useful tools to target specific loci in a genome and modulate the expression of genes. Named Method of the Year in 2011 by the journal Nature Methods (9:1 doi:10.1038/nmeth.1852), the technology is based on novel sequence-specific DNA-binding proteins that can be designed quickly and easily to recognize virtually any sequence of interest. Application of these tools in plants will facilitate the optimization of beneficial genes and the development of more productive crops in the future.

The TAL Code technology was discovered by Ulla Bonas, Jens Boch, Thomas Lahaye, and Sebastian Schornack at Martin-Luther University in Halle, Germany. The Two Blades Foundation holds exclusive rights for commercial uses of the technology in plants.

The license agreement with Bayer CropScience will enable Bayer to pursue their mission of using modern plant breeding techniques to improve the quality of crops and vegetables. Bayer will grant 2Blades access to its improvements to the technology for use in 2Blades’ humanitarian efforts to support subsistence farming. Bayer will also have an option to expand its crop rights in the future. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

“2Blades is interested in facilitating broad development of the TAL Code technology,” said 2Blades Chief Operating Officer Diana Horvath. “We are pleased that Bayer will deploy this powerful new technology in their crop programs.”

The Two Blades Foundation (www.2blades.org) is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation dedicated to developing durable disease resistance in agricultural crops.


Consumer Acceptance, Genetically Engineered Agriculture Products and Biotech Crop Development to be the Focus at the 2012 BIO

- International Convention, Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), June 17-21, 2012; Boston, MA

For every dollar invested in agricultural research, we reap up to $20 in economic benefit. The 2012 BIO International Convention looks to give a global perspective on regulatory and acceptance issues within the food and agriculture sector of the industry through the Food & Agriculture educational track, the Leadership Summit and the Food and Ag pavilion. Hosted by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), this year’s global event for biotechnology will take place June 18-21, 2012 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in Boston, MA.

“Attendees can expect international biotech leaders to explore the countless issues that threaten the acceptance and adoption of food and agriculture issues impacting the United States and the globe,” said Cathleen Enright, executive vice president of Food & Agriculture at BIO. “Through the dialogue amongst domestic and international leaders that Convention fosters, the spotlight will shine on how the industry can overcome these challenges and hope to bring about change in the policy and regulatory environment.”

Food and Agriculture session highlights include:

Co-Existence in the Real World: How Biotech and Organic Can Get Along
Growers of organic and other non-biotech specialty crops are lobbying for restrictions on biotech crop growers to protect against unwanted cross pollination. In the European Union, co-existence guidelines place most of the burden on biotech growers. But in North America, farmers and plant breeders have long relied on commonsense, cooperative practices to restrict gene flow and promote co-existence. This session will discuss practices that farmers and seed producers already use to ensure genetic identity preservation, examine the impacts of European co-existence plans, and critically assess proposed planting restrictions, liability funds, and other recommendations.Wednesday, June 20, 8:30 – 9:45 a.m.Moderator: Gregory Conko, Senior Fellow, Competitive Enterprise InstituteSpeakers: Don Cameron, Vice President and General Manager, Terranova Ranch Inc., Daniel Persall, Secretary, Supply chain Initiative on Modified Agriculture Crops and Allen Van Dynze, Professor, UC Davis

Environmental Permitting for GE Plant and Animal Products
Amidst the slew of environmental lawsuits in recent years, it has indeed been a challenge to seek regulatory approval for genetically engineered products. The panel will address how to navigate a successful review and survive a lawsuit if one should arise. Speakers will also discuss FDA's review process for GE animal products, and they will update attendees on APHIS' new National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Pilot Program and how it may lead to a better review process.Thursday, June 21, 8:30 – 9:45 a.m.Moderator: Kathryn Kusske Floyd, Partner, Dorsey & Whitney LLPSpeakers: Jay Johnson, Of Counsel, Dorsey & Whitney LLP, Mark Krieger, Global Leader, Biotechnology Registration and Operations. DowAgroSciences, T. Clint Nesbitt, Chief of Staff, Biotechnology Regulatory Services, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Ron Stotish, CEO, AquaBounty Technologies

Supporting Biotech Crop Development in Less Developed Markets
Why exactly do public research organizations in developing countries struggle to keep pace with advances in the developed world? How can private organizations and governments promote better collaboration and engagement between the more-and less-developed countries, to overcome these challenges? This session will present these challenges in more detail, discuss how the developed world public and private sector can more substantively engage to overcome these challenges, and offer some possible new approaches to north-south collaboration in agricultural biotechnology.Wednesday, June 20, 10:00 – 11:30 a.m.Moderator: Robert Paarlberg, Professor of Political Science, Wellesley CollegeSpeakers: Denis Kyetere, Executive Director, African Agricultural Technology Foundation and Eric Rey, President, Arcadia Biosciences, Inc.

The Strategy of Trust: Moving from Consumer Acceptance to Consumer Action
Many consumer surveys confirm a general acceptance of biotechnology in agriculture but the most vocal consumer groups are those who oppose biotech. The apparent lack of consumer support has slowed adoption of biotech products outside of the major commodity crops and delayed the regulatory process for all biotech products. Thus communication strategies focused on demonstrating alignment of company values with consumer values are more likely to gain active support from consumers than the typical focus on demonstrating the developer’s competence. This session will explore alternative communication strategies that can be used to build consumer trust based on alignment of values.Tuesday, June 19, 3:45 – 5:00 p.m.Speakers: Andrew Powell, Consultant, Asia Biobusiness Pte. Ltd., Andrew Roberts, Lead Brand Strategist, Erawan Education and Suzanne Turner, President, Turner Strategies


Leadership Summit: Harvesting the Commercial Potential of Emerging Agricultural and Industrial Biotechnologies

- BIO, Boston, 1:00 PM - 4:45 PM on Monday, June 18

How can various institutions support the research, development and commercialization of innovative biotechnological applications—applications that will enhance agricultural productivity, create a sustainable supply chain of fuels and chemicals, and support growth throughout the U.S. economy? Join high-level leaders from government, the finance industry, public institutions and the private companies responsible for developing such technologies for the discussion.


Company is already growing other medicinal plants in mine

- Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press, April 22, 2012

WHITE PINE -- In a brightly lit chamber 250 feet below the earth's surface, where hard-rock miners once blasted for copper, no marijuana is growing, but two other types of plants are.

SubTerra is using genetically modified forms of a legume called tarwi and a tuber called oca to produce an enzyme needed to fight Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, commonly known as bubble boy disease.

If successful, physicians say the research could mark significant advances in treatment for a disease that affects about one in every 100,000 births. Children born with SCID have immune systems so compromised that some must live behind plastic to protect them from germs.

The disease takes several forms. The second most common type results from a genetic defect that results in too little of a germ-fighting enzyme called adenosine deaminase, or ADA.

The tightly controlled chamber in the former White Pine Mine -- where the tarwi and oca grow -- is lit by 64 specially designed 1,000-watt bulbs and serviced by an automated system for delivering water and nutrients. The two types of plants have been modified to produce the human form of ADA.

"Plants ... can be turned into manufacturing facilities," said Brent Zettl, president and CEO of SubTerra's parent company, Prairie Plant Systems of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. "We can design the plants to make these enzymes for a therapeutic purpose."

Dr. Donald Kohn, a professor of microbiology and pediatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles, is an expert on SCID. He said SubTerra's research, if successful, could address two major problems with the enzyme-replacement therapy used today.

The first is the expense, Kohn said. The treatment costs about $250,000 per patient, per year. The other problem is the current bovine source of ADA carries some risk to the patient related to mad cow disease, he said. "It would be great if they can do it," said Kohn, who was not familiar with SubTerra's work but is familiar with the state of SCID research in general.

Dr. Anthony Jevnikar, president and CEO of the plant-based pharmaceutical company Plantigen and co-director of the multiorgan transplant program at the London Health Sciences Centre in Ontario, said plants can be excellent producers of medicine because they are nontoxic and free of viruses that can be found in animal sources.

A mine is an excellent location for plant-based work because it is biologically and genetically isolated and secure, said Jevnikar, who has worked with Prairie Plant Systems in Canada.

Zettl said his ADA work received some initial grants from the Canadian government but has been largely funded by his company. He said he is working on starting preclinical trials on fish or mice through Canadian and U.S. universities and the product could be tested on human patients in two to three years.


James Lovelock - Why I am a Green Skeptic (Video)