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July 17, 2012


AgBioView newsletter of July 17, 2012


Today in AgBioView - July 17, 2012

Food science deserves a place at the table - The new US ag research chief

Foreign funds to fertilise 'dining boom' - The Australian

Got any bright ideas to help foster food security in ‪India‬? Call for proposals -

Indian Farmers' income study stirs up ‪GM‬ cotton debate

Economic impacts and impact dynamics of Bt cotton in India

Genetically modified apples and the chilling effect of anti-science propaganda

How land-inefficient is organic agriculture?

Food Fear, Food Labels, And My Two Cents

Parkinson’s researcher fabricated data

British GM research gets £6.4m from Gates Foundation - Cereals to make their own fertilizer

How I got Bill Gates to give away his billions: Melinda

OECD-FAO Report highlights role of hi-tech agriculture

Bananas and genetic engineering: Past, present and future

Discoverer of DNA says yes to genetically modified food

Ask Surly Amy: Can we have some evidence based discussion on Genetically Modified Plants?

Young farmers back ‪GM crops

GMO ban in EU: Risks for science-based assessment; Deliberately re-constructing false allegations

Professors talk biotech - More videos!


Food science deserves a place at the table - The new US ag research chief to raise the profile of farming


Although it typically commands less attention than many areas of government-funded research, agricultural science accounts for roughly $2 billion of this year's US federal budget. A key component of this spending is the $705 million allocated to the US National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) where Sonny Ramaswamy was sworn in as director on 7 May. Ramaswamy is the former dean of agricultural sciences at Oregon State University and an entomologist by training. His research has focused on the fundamental nature of the relationships between plants and insects, and the development of tools for managing insect pests. Two months into his new role Ramaswamy chatted with Nature about NIFA research, working with a tight budget, how agricultural science needs a makeover and the 2012 US Farm Bill, now under active debate in Congress, which will set US agricultural and agricultural-science policies for the next 5 years.


Foreign funds to fertilise 'dining boom' - The Australian

(The Australia can become the new food bowl for Asia, if it embraces ‪agbiotech‬ - report)


THE nation has been urged to accept greater foreign investment in farming and food processing - and the wider use of genetically modified crops - as part of a drive to become the new food bowl for Asia's 3.2 billion-strong affluent middle class.

In the first National Food Plan, released yesterday for consultation, the Gillard government outlined the need for the Australian farming and food sector to double its production in the next 40 years, boost its export competitiveness and become more innovative. Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said the 275-page green paper was not about picking export commodity winners or the end of the family farm. Instead, it was about farming smarter and being more productive in fields such as meat, wheat and sugar production where Australia enjoyed a natural advantage.

World demand for food is forecast to grow 77 per cent by 2050 as global population passes nine billion. In the Asia-Pacific region, the destination for 40 per cent of Australia's $27 billion food exports, food demand will double in the next 30 years.

Got any bright ideas to help foster food security in ‪India‬? Call for proposals -


Despite their hardships, the Indian citizens have been fairly innovative and have, since times immemorial, been contributing to the areas of science and technology, though mostly in an informal manner. The country has numerous examples where local agriculturists have developed innovative farming apparatuses, illiterate mechanics have developed better performing mechanical tools, and students have come up with incremental and efficient innovations. It is beyond doubt that through their innovations and with their respective limited means, these innovators have tried to bridge the gap between demand and supply and through that the one between the rich and the deprived.

There is no dearth of Innovations happening at grass root level and these are the ones affecting the people at the Bottom of the Pyramid, but many a times the benefits of such Innovations do not percolate down their target customer segment. And that is one of the primary reasons behind the widening disparity between the rich and the poor in India.

Entrepreneurship and particularly those happening at a local level act as a great leveler in bringing the Innovations closer to the masses and ensuring an inclusive growth of the society, and herein lies the role of Innovation & Entrepreneurship as the twin engines driving the sustainable and inclusive economic growth model.

The need of the hour, as was rightly pointed out by the Management expert, Late C K Prahlad, is to focus on the Bottom of the Pyramid and find opportunities there, not only from a marketing perspective but also from the perspective of uplifting citizens from that level and bringing them to the mainstream. Entrepreneurship that brings Innovative Products to the market is the best bet to achieve this aim

Indian Farmers' income study stirs up ‪GM‬ cotton debate


Controversy continues over the impact of Bt cotton on the lives of farmers in India, report - M. Sreelata and T. V. Padma.

Cotton that has been genetically modified (GM) to resist bollworms, a devastating cotton pest, continues to stir passions in the Indian subcontinent, with conflicting claims regarding its degree of success.

Private firms involved in marketing GM cotton say farmers have reaped substantial profits from the crop. In contrast, several nongovernmental organisations and farmers' groups continue to denounce GM technology as an overhyped and unsuitable practice that is ruthlessly promoted by multinational firms.

Caught between these two viewpoints are those who do not contest the reports of financial profit, but caution against the hidden fallout of this technology, such as the loss of local cotton diversity and farming skills in growing traditional cotton varieties, as well the technology's limitations in rain-fed areas with few fertiliser inputs.

The debate has been re-ignited by a new study from the University of Göttingen, Germany, of the economic impacts in India of cotton that has been engineered to contain a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), making it resistant to attacks by bollworm.

Jonas Kathage and Matin Qaim, the study's authors, surveyed 533 smallholder farm households between 2002 and 2008, in four principal cotton-producing Indian states — Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

Their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in July, estimates a 24 per cent increase in cotton yields and 50 per cent rise in profits for farmers who grew GM cotton. This was due to reduced bollworm damage and savings in chemical pest control payments. As a result, household living standards improved by 18 per cent.


Bt caused 24% increase in cotton yield by low pest damage and a 50% more profit among smallholders in ‪India


Economic impacts and impact dynamics of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton in India
- Jonas Kathage and Matin Qaim, PNAS

Despite widespread adoption of genetically modified crops in many countries, heated controversies about their advantages and disadvantages continue. Especially for developing countries, there are concerns that genetically modified crops fail to benefit smallholder farmers and contribute to social and economic hardship. Many economic studies contradict this view, but most of them look at short-term impacts only, so that uncertainty about longer-term effects prevails. We address this shortcoming by analyzing economic impacts and impact dynamics of Bt cotton in India. Building on unique panel data collected between 2002 and 2008, and controlling for nonrandom selection bias in technology adoption, we show that Bt has caused a 24% increase in cotton yield per acre through reduced pest damage and a 50% gain in cotton profit among smallholders. These benefits are stable; there are even indications that they have increased over time. We further show that Bt cotton adoption has raised consumption expenditures, a common measure of household living standard, by 18% during the 2006–2008 period. We conclude that Bt cotton has created large and sustainable benefits, which contribute to positive economic and social development in India.


Genetically modified apples and the chilling effect of anti-science propaganda - By Hank Campbell. Science 2.0


While gullible anti-science progressives are against genetically modified foods because they don't understand what 'natural' means, it isn't just advocacy groups who need new things to fundraise about that are up in arms, it is also growers themselves.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits has created an apple that doesn't get brownish so fast after you cut into it. That's it. Terrific, right?

The U.S. Apple Association, which represents the American apple industry, is against this Arctic Apple, not because they believe that genetic engineering is dangerous, but because opponents will claim apples are not a 'natural' food.

In other words, activists are creating a 'chilling effect' in both science and business, simply by spending a lot of money promoting anti-science nonsense.

Here is why food activists should suppress their knee-jerk reaction and support this technology. The richer countries of the world already waste a lot of food and this will lead to less of that. Lots and lots of people cannot eat an entire apple at once but when that apple begins to brown, it is a real turn-off and they don't get finished. A healthier looking apple would lead to less apples being wasted. And it would lead to more apples being sold and therefore healthier people.

The Agriculture Department opened a 60-day public comment period on Okanagan’s application for regulatory approval of the genetically modified apple trees. A public comment period just ended in Canada, where the company is also seeking approval.


How land-inefficient is organic agriculture?


It is a truth universally acknowledged – amongst my friends and relations at least – that organic agriculture is better for the planet. Environmentally-conscious consumers typically are prepared to pay a hefty premium for organic meat and vegetables, whilst baby foods are nearly all organic these days – reflecting the equally widespread belief that organic is healthier due to the absence of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers. Everyone wants the best for their young children, and the best must surely be the most natural.

These beliefs are remarkably persistent, despite strong scientific evidence which refutes them. That natural necessarily equals more safe than artificial is a fallacy. In 2009 a major study for the UK Food Standards Agency found that there was no nutritional or health benefits to organic. Indeed there is strong counter-evidence, as relatives of those who died from eating organic bean sprouts in Germany last year can attest – as I understand it, the bean sprouts likely harboured toxic e-coli bacteria passed on via animal manure added to the parent plant. This use of manure rather than synthetic fertilisers is celebrated by organic proponents, but likely caused dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries in this instance. (Imagine if the sprouts had been GMO!)


Food Fear, Food Labels, And My Two Cents: Kevin M. Folta


If you want to scare somebody, convince them that there is a remote chance of danger in their food, water or medicine. Even if there is no evidence to back up the claim, people respond strongly to such information, causing them to abandon safe foods for alternatives. Today this fear factor is being played to influence food policy and politics, as activists realize they can change consumption with distortions of truth and perpetuation of food phobias and food anxiety. Because it works like a charm.


Parkinson’s researcher, who claimed the link between pesticides and the disease, fabricated data


Parkinson’s Researcher Fabricated Data; Neuroscientist Mona Thiruchelvam agrees to retract two studies linking neurodegeneration to pesticides. - By Hayley Dunning, The Scientist, June 29, 2012

A former assistant professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry, New Jersey (UMDNJ) committed research misconduct by fabricating data, according to an investigation by the university and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Research Integrity (ORI). The ORI, which announced its findings on Thursday (June 28), determined that Mona Thiruchelvam falsified cell count data published in two papers in 2005 in Environmental Health Perspectives and Journal of Biological Chemistry, both of which she has agreed to retract.


British GM research for the developing world gets £6.4m from Gates Foundation - Cereals to make their own fertilizer


Scientists say a grant to develop genetically modified crops could revolutionise farming in the developing world. The John Innes Centre in Norwich has been given $10m (£6.4m) by the Gates Foundation to develop cereal crops. The sum of one of the single biggest investments in controversial GM research in the UK.

Independent scientists at the centre are trying to engineer corn, wheat and rice plants that can extract nitrogen from the air and convert it into ammonia, as peas and beans do, rather than relying on ammonia spread on fields.

If successful, the innovation could have a huge impact on maize farmers in Africa who cannot afford fertilisers, leading to greater food security in some of the world's poorest regions.

Professor Giles Oldroyd from the John Innes Centre, told the BBC: "We believe if we can get nitron fixing cereals we can deliver much higher yields to farmers in Africa and allow them to grow enough food for themselves." A reduction in the use of agriculural fertilisers could also cut greenhouse gas emissions.


How I got Bill Gates to give away his billions: Melinda



OECD-FAO Report highlights role of hi-tech agriculture


The importance of agricultural science and technology in meeting the world's burgeoning demands on food, feed and fuel have been highlighted in a major international report.

The latest OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook report, released earlier this week, concludes that agricultural production must increase by 60% over the next 40 years to meet the rising global demand for food. This equates to an extra 1 billion tonnes of cereals and 200 million tonnes of meat per year by 2050 compared with 2005/07 levels.

Additional production will also be required to provide feedstock for an expanding biofuel market set to consume an estimated 16% of oilseed output, 14% of cereals and 34% of sugar cane by 2021.

But with less than 5% more arable land available to bring into production, and 25% of existing farmland already degraded, the OECD-FAO report concludes that increasing crop productivity on existing farmland will be essential to contain food price rises and reduce food insecurity.

Welcoming the OECD-FAO report’s central conclusion that access to yield-enhancing technologies such as crop protection and advanced plant breeding methods will be critical to delivering these productivity gains, CPA Chairman Stephen Henning endorsed the call for Governments worldwide to create the right commercial, technical and regulatory environment for the development and adoption of agricultural innovation.


Bananas and genetic engineering: Past, present and future


Scientists are fighting to protect the hundreds of bananas and plantains people eat around the world from a blizzard of pests: insects, fungi, worms, bacteria and viruses.

They're using old methods and new ones in their fight, as noted in our news story on the successful sequencing of the banana genome by French scientists.

In Uganda, for example, scientists have been using conventional breeding, crossing fertile wild bananas to local bananas that are eaten. They’re trying to develop resistances to banana blights such as black leaf streak disease, a.k.a. black sigatoka, said Andrew Kiggundu, plant biotechnology research officer at the country’s National Agricultural Research Laboratories Institute in Kawanda. The Black Sigatoka fungus attacks the leaves and can cause production losses of up to 50%.

A hybrid banana resistant to black sigatoka is now being scaled up for distribution for farmers, Kiggundu said. Uganda is also where the first African field trials for genetically modified bananas took place, starting in 2007.


Discoverer of DNA says yes to genetically modified food



Ask Surly Amy: Can we have some evidence based discussion on Genetically Modified Plants


Dear Lia,

No, food is not necessarily toxic because it has been modified. In fact, in many cases food is better for you after it has been modified. Case in point: Golden Rice. Golden rice is a food that has been genetically altered so that it contains beta-carotene and other carotenoids in the endosperm (the edible part of the grain). In other words the rice has been modified to produce vitamin A when normally it would not. This addition helps to saves lives in countries that are struggling daily with malnutrition. Golden rice can help fight vitamin deficiency, plain and simple. It does not produce a toxin. It produces a vitamin.

I bring this example up first to illustrate a simple point: We need to feed more people every day. We are not doing a good enough job of it. People are starving. Right. Now.

The people who complain the loudest about genetically modified foods are usually the people who are from wealthy countries where starvation is not high on their list of problems. The problem of malnutrition falls somewhere below, what shoes should they wear and do they need to get the car washed. These are the same people who pay extra for an organic labeled tomato when they might want to be more concerned with how far a tomato travels to get on their plate and the support of local farmers. In other words the people crying fowl and “ZOMG TOXINS!” probably havent taken the time to look into the issues at all.

We have been modifying plants for thousands of year. Fact. Broccoli used to be cabbage. No really. Look it up. We modified it. Bananas are sexless clones than can not exist without us humans messing with them.

Those are just a few examples of common foods I like to highlight that we, as a specie have been genetically modifying for many, many years. Most everything in our modern garden has been modified by the farmer over the years to produce larger yields or bigger, healthier plants. The only difference is that now we can be more precise in the changes and add in ways the plants grow, such as what nutrients the plant requires to grow, what vitamins the plant itself produces, how large it is and how long it gives fruit etc. We can also make quicker changes. Modifications that would have taken years, can, in theory happen in a lab, overnight. These are all important qualities that can help farmers grow studier plants with higher yields in order to feed an ever growing population.

Is this a perfect science No. We are still learning the good and the bad of rapid modifications. That’s what science does. It slowly builds upon it’s current knowledge. But to automatically cry TOXIN when you hear GMO is an ignorant knee jerk reaction to a technology that has the potential to feed billions of people and improve the quality of life for many who are in desperate need of nutrition.

Next time your friends start complaining of toxins, share with them this list of poisonous plants that are as natural as can be. And then share with them the appeal to nature fallacy: Cyanide and poison ivy are all natural too.


Young farmers back ‪GM crops


FARMERS have been benefitting from the commercial production of genetically modified (GM) crops in North America since the mid 1990s - or for almost as long as Eliza Star and Lachlan Hunter have been alive.

The two teenagers are future plant breeders who support GM technology as a way to help feed the world’s poorest nations in a food-insecure future, especially where the growing conditions are restrained by water or nutrient availability.

They want to know why their country has been so slow to adopt GMs and hope other people their age ask the right questions and come to understand the science.

Outside of cotton, Australia has been slow to adopt GM crops on a commercial scale, having only lifted State-based moratoriums on GM canola over the past three to four years in Western Australia, NSW and Victoria, despite ongoing proof about the technology’s economic and environmental benefits and the lack of any solid evidence of any adverse impacts. Lachlan and Eliza participated in an agricultural industry youth roundtable forum in Canberra last week, which looked at ways of overcoming ag workforce shortages.

The common message behind the crisis is that young people are steering clear of ag-related careers, chasing higher paid jobs in the city or in mining. But the two students are firmly committed to the agricultural industry and passionate about its opportunities, especially playing their part in advancing scientific discovery in areas like biotechnology.


GMO ban in EU: Risks for science-based assessments; Deliberately re-constructing false allegations


Marcel Kuntz is director of research at CNRS in Grenoble, France, John Davison is retired director of research at INRA, and Agnès E. Ricroch is lecturer at AgroParisTech in Paris.

"French President François Hollande has announced that the ban on the cultivation of “genetically-modified” plants, initiated by his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, will remain in place. Thus, the new government will face the same judicial problem as the former one and this has widespread implications for science-based risk assessment in the EU.

In February 2012, Nicolas Sarkozy’s government sent a document called ‘emergency measures’ (EM) to the European Commission (EC), allegedly providing new information on environmental risks of maize varieties carrying the MON810 insect-resistance trait.

It was followed by the publication in March 2012 of a national ruling banning its cultivation. Already in February 2008, this government suspended the cultivation of these MON810 varieties on the basis of their potential negative environmental impacts but its allegations have been consistently rejected by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Actually the French position was a green-washing political move. The German government also suspended MON810 cultivation in April 2009 and also justified it by alleged new data on negative environmental impacts. A scientific publication 3 and the German Central Committee on Biological Safety (ZKBS) rejected these allegations.

To understand the implication of these events it is important to keep in mind that, in Europe, “genetically modified” organisms (GMOs) are regulated by EU law and that a moratorium on GMO cultivation must have justifiable reasons with a scientific basis.


Environmentalism is not a religion

- James Murray for BusinessGreen, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Of all the blithering nonsense climate deniers throw at the environmental movement, there is perhaps one criticism that does real damage – that "green is the new religion".

We can handle the scientifically illiterate and ethically questionable attempts to undermine evidence of climatic change using cherry-picked data and discredited theories, just as we can counter the increasingly futile attempts to question the importance of the green economy and the efficacy of clean technologies. The scientific evidence linking greenhouse gas emissions and potentially dangerous levels of climate change is now so well proven, and the physical demonstration of effective clean technologies so prevalent, that the guileless smears attempted by self-styled "climate sceptics" lack their former sting.

They are fighting a losing battle with science and evidence, hence the increasingly vocal suggestion that green is the new religion. This line of attack is hugely effective and highly damaging for three main reasons.

Firstly, and most importantly, if you can convince people to see environmentalism as a religion, then you move green issues from the field of science and data into the field of theology and belief.

Religion can mean a "pursuit or interest followed with great devotion" – a definition which could just about allow environmentalism to be classified as a "religion". But it is more commonly defined as "the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods", or "a particular system of faith and worship". Equate "greens" with this type of religion, with faith and deities, adherence and heresy, and it becomes all but impossible to prove or disprove the central tenets of environmentalism


Videos: Physicians Offer Expert Advice on Food Biotechnology

Technologies, such as food biotechnology, have become an important part of agriculture. However, many myths and misperceptions about food biotechnology have led to questions about its safety and benefits for the public. The video segments below were developed to help clarify the facts on food produced through biotechnology and to address some of your most common questions. In the videos, physicians who are leaders in their field discuss the following topics as they relate to food biotechnology: Safety; Allergies; Children; Benefits; and Labeling. These physicians have relevant background in these areas, as well as knowledge of the safety and health research around food biotechnology.

Watch at http://www.foodinsight.org/biotechvideos.aspx


What do some of most informed and thoughtful professors say about biotech food - Watch these videos!