News in February 2007
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2007-03-12

General

Not everything that is biofuel is good for the environment said Danish environment minister Connie Hedegaard speaking at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council meeting held in Nairobi 5 February. The trade in biofuels should be governed by environmental standards. Environmentalists warn that planting crops solely for biofuels may cause catastrophic damage to the planet. "We should be careful on biofuels… We should focus on second-hand generation of biofuels, not first generation," she explained. See http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3397&language=1

Too Stringent Biosafety Norms Harmful
Economic Times, 20th Feb 200 http://epaper.timesofindia.com/

Founder-Chairman of the International Society for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), Dr Clive James,says the time has come for governments to state decisively whether to say yes to key food crops linked to alleviation of hunger such as GM rice. He spoke to Prabha Jagannathanon genetically modified crops, related regulatory and biosafety issues. Excerpts:

bulletAccording to experts, adverse effects of genetically modified (GM) crop, if any, are likely to come to the fore only in this second decade.
bulletYou must remember it was not critics but scientists in the field who decided biosafety would be a crucial aspect in the developing technology. Today, 11 years after commercialisation Bt cotton in 1996, there have been no major hiccups on this count, proving that the system on biosafety put in place has worked.
bulletDoes this mean that the GM industry is satisfied with the biosafety rules currently in place? - What will be significant in the second decade of GM technology is the need to simplify regulations as much as possible and to make them responsible and accessible in regions where the technology has benefited significantly. While it is imperative to have stringent biosafety standards, raising the bar too high on bio-safety standards could mean blocking out access to GM technology to some developing countries. A significant number of those benefiting from the new technology are the small and resource-poor farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Books and articles

"Populism and ideologically motivated obstructionism are once again dominating the GMO debate, warns Renate Sommer" (Member of the European Parliament) Parliament Magazine 53, January 29, 2007. SEE THE ARTICLE

Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Modern Biotechnology - FAO Workshop report

On 31 October and 1 November 2006, a training workshop on "Safety assessment of foods derived from modern biotechnology - Biosafety within a Biosecurity framework" was held in Ottawa, Canada, organized by FAO in collaboration with the Government of Canada. The summary report of the workshop is now available. The workshop was held as one of a series of biosafety-related activities within a Biosecurity framework. The overall objective of the project is to provide a standardized training package to assist countries in implementing international texts related to the food safety assessment of products derived from modern biotechnology. The purpose of the workshop was to pilot test the training package. See ftp://ftp.fao.org/ag/agn/food/meetings/2006/canada_ws_report.pdf or contact food-quality@fao.org for more information.

UC Develops Fact Sheets to Help With Development of Coexistence Programs
http://news.ucanr.org/newsstorymain.cfm?story=913

This week, the University of California (UC) Agricultural and Natural Resources Program published 13 fact sheets that outline basic information about the production and safety of biotech crops, foods, animal feed, and animals. UC experts developed these fact sheets to provide accurate information on the issue to farmers, environmentalists, lawmakers, and consumers, as an important first step in supporting coexistence discussions. UC experts hope that the information will help counties and state agencies as they develop coexistence plans for organic farmers, farmers producing products for markets that reject biotech crops, and farmers who plant biotech crops. The free, downloadable fact sheets are available online.

Genome Synthesis and Design Futures:
Implications for the US Economy

The report analyzes recent and expected impacts of advances in gene sequencing and synthesis technologies and techniques, and looks in depth at their likely significance for three strategically important sectors of the US economy: energy, chemicals, and vaccines. Here’s the link to the press release: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2007/2/prweb503903.htm. You can also access a podcast about the report release there.  Both electronic and printed versions of the 180 page, full-color report are available through the bio-era website at http://www.bio-era.net. The .pdf dowload is free -- just submit the form at http://www.bio-era.net/research/GenomePurchaseForm.html. You'll receive a link back via email.

FOOD SECURITY AND AG-BIOTECH NEWS NOW AVAILABLE IN FRENCH

Meridian Institute has announced the launch of a French-language version of Food Security and Ag-Biotech (FS-AgBiotech) News.  FS-AgBiotech News is a free daily news service that provides summarized news and analysis of global developments related to agricultural biotechnology, with a special focus on implications for food security in the developing world.  Daily news summaries are available by email, on the web, or through a RSS news feed.

To access FS-AgBiotech News online, please visit http://www.merid.org/fs-agbiotech/fr.

Two New UNEP-GEF Biosafety Publications

The UNEP-GEF Biosafety Unit has just released two new publications on the web. The first, entitled "A comparative analysis of experiences and lessons from the UNEP-GEF biosafety projects", is a study looking at the 124 countries that participated in the UNEP-GEF Project for Development of National Biosafety Frameworks (NBF), which began in June 2001, as well as the 8 countries that participated in the UNEP-GEF demonstration projects for the implementation of the NBFs.

These projects were implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) under the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Initial Strategy for assisting countries to prepare for entry into force of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The 49-page study focuses on a comparative analysis of their experiences in order to draw out lessons and best practices applicable to other global initiatives for implementation of multilateral environmental agreements. See http://www.unep.ch/biosafety/development/devdocuments/UNEPGEFBiosafety_comp_analysisDec2006.pdf (1.1 MB).

The second publication is a 4-page brief entitled "Building biosafety capacity: The role of UNEP and the Biosafety Unit". See http://www.unep.ch/biosafety/development/devdocuments/UNEPGEFBiosafety_BrochureDec2006.pdf  or contact biosafety@unep.ch for more information about either publication.

Plant Breeding and Biotechnology - Societal Context and the Future of Agriculture
Author: Denis Murphy, University of Glamorgan, UK; Paperback, ISBN-13: 9780521530880
http://www.cambridge.org/catalogue/print.asp?isbn=9780521530880&print=y

This comprehensive survey of modern plant breeding traces its history from the earliest experiments at the dawn of the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century to the present day and the existence of high tech agribusiness. Murphy tells the story from the perspective of a scientist working in this field, offering a rationale and evidence-based insight into its development.

'Taverne's Case Is, Essentially, Indisputable'
Christopher Hirst, The Independent (UK), Feb. 23,  2007
http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk
Review of "The March of Unreason, by Dick Taverne (OXFORD ?9.99 (310pp))"

Taverne's robustly argued book is aimed at those of us who are benignly disposed to organic food and alternative medicine without ever giving them much thought. The "New Fundamentalism", as Taverne terms it, is irrational and anti-scientific. He insists homoeopathy is "like the miracle of turning water into wine without divine intervention".

For all its wholesome aims, the organic movement "makes it less likely that poorer families will improve their diets". Similarly, "opposition to GM crops is not rational but political, dogmatic and ideological." Taverne's case is, essentially, indisputable

Biofuels - Is There A Role for GM?
Derek Burke (Norwich, UK), Biologist, Vol. 54 No 1, Feb. 2007.

Consumer concerns Finally, in view of all the concern expressed by the public about GM crops over the last few years we have to ask whether such concerns make it impossible to consider the use of GM crops for biofuel development. What is the current position over consumer concerns?

In addition to the latest Eurobarometer poll (European Commission, 2006) there is a new review of consumer opinions over the last 10 years: "GM foods: What Europeans Really Think" (Hutton, 2006). Its conclusions are rather different from the concerns which are commonly expressed, particularly by the environmental NGOs, and are worth briefly summarising:

  1. People generally answer attitude questions in their role as citizens rather than as consumers. When they think and act like consumers, GM is a relatively insignificant consideration and negative attitudes can often be passed over in favour of lower prices or other consumer benefits. Fears about potential GM dangers are not well founded on any experience or evidence that such dangers are real.
  2. The public generally admit that they do not feel well enough informed about GM foods and there appears to be widespread misunderstanding of what genetic modification actually means.
  3. Real concerns are not high when it comes to purchase decisions and any actual behaviour appears not to be influenced about GM foods safety.
  4. Opposition to GM foods in the UK has been declining due to lack of scientific evidence of any actual damage, in sharp contrast to other food-related issues (such as sugar and fat content and its links to obesity).
  5. On the basis of the research evidence, phrases like "overwhelming opposition" and "massive consumer rejection", which have been used in the media and by some politicians in relation to public attitudes to GM foods, present a misleading impression of what the research is actually saying, especially in the UK e.g. FSA annual surveys and British Social Attitudes annual survey.

Despite these conclusions, there is still resistance, based partly on resistance to the dominance of our food chain by North American companies, partly on "unknown unknowns" over possible risks to health and the environment, and partly on the absence of any real need. Here, I suggest, is a case where the environmental issues can go the other way, where there are little of no health risks, and where new technology could play a role in mitigating the effects of global warming.

Conclusions

It is generally agreed that a number of approaches are needed to counter the effects of global warming, that biofuel development is one of these, and that scientific and technical advances are needed to make such an approach viable. Other reviews have discussed problems and opportunities, but none has considered the advantages of using GM crops such as GM rape and GM sugar beet as sources of biofuels. Any environmental problems could be contained and there are no human health issues. But could such use of genetic modification escape the stigma that it has so inappropriately (in my view) collected? Is the British public now ready to consider the benefits of such an approach? I hope so, and then the deciding factor the will be the outcome of an economic cost/benefit analysis.

Events

The EFB is proud to support BIO-Europe Spring, and we look forward to seeing you in Milan on March 5-7, 2007. To take full advantage of BIO-Europe's Premier Partnering Opportunities, register today at the special EFB price at www.ebdgroup.com/bes/registration.htm. Make sure to write "EFB member discount" in the comments field of the online registration form. The BIO-Europe Spring™ event is the preeminent springtime partnering conference for the biotechnology industry. The event features the successful combination of one-on-one partnering meetings and company presentations characteristic of all EBD’s partnering events. It will bring together international decision-makers from all biotechnology sectors, as well as from major corporations and the financial sector. The emphasis will be on healthcare, but the 2007 event will also take a close look at industrial (“white”) biotechnology and its interface with the world of healthcare.

Conference "Perspectives for FOOD 2030", 17-18 April 2007, Brussels
On 17-18 April 2007 the Directorate-General for Research of the European Commission organises a major Conference on the future research and competitiveness aspects of the European food industry, in Brussels (Charlemagne building), Belgium

Evaluation of Risk Assessment Dossiers for the Deliberate Release of Genetically Modified Crops
October 8-122007, Ca' Tron di Roncade, Italy.

A practical course organised by the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in collaboration with the Istituto Agronomico per l'Oltremare. Closing date for applications is 27 April 2007. See
http://www.icgeb.org/MEETINGS/CRS07/BSF2_8_12_October.pdf or contact courses@icgeb.org for more information.

Understanding the Risks and Benefits of Genetically Modified Agricultural Products

The 4th annual BIGMAP Symposium will be held at the Gateway Hotel and Conference Center in Ames, Iowa on Wednesday, April 18, 2007.
http://www.ucs.iastate.edu/mnet/bigmap/home.html

2007 Plant Metabolic Engineering - Gordon RESEARCH Conference
July 15-20, 2007, Tilton School, Tilton, New Hampshire.

As research in the plant sciences enters the post-genomic era, exciting opportunities to redesign and engineer the biochemical and molecular networks responsible for agronomic traits, increased nutritional value, and for the generation of alternative, renewal fuels, and commercial products continue to emerge.

This conference integrates the most recent advances in genetics and genomics, with biochemical, metabolite and gene expression analyses. Fundamental questions in the field such as understanding how biosynthetic pathways are assembled to facilitate substrate competition and channeling, how enzymes and biochemical pathways evolve, and exploring opportunities for the manipulation of biochemical transformations towards novel substrate specificities, regio- and stereochemical transformations, and models to explain the localization, structure, and assembly of biosynthetic metabolons in native and nonnative environments are among the topics covered. More information and registration is available at http://www.grc.org:80/programs.aspx?year=2007&program=plantmet.

PLANT GENOMES CONFERENCE
15-18 March 2007, New York, USA

The sixth Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory winter conference this year will focus on Plant Genomes. The conference, to be held on 15-17 March, 2007 in New York, USA, will review progress in genome analysis of major plant groups and determine the similarities and differences in the genome structure, composition and function in major groups of experimental and crop plants.

More information on this event at http://meetings.cshl.edu/meetings/plants07.shtml

Europe - EU

EU Council Backs Hungarian GM Ban
THE DECISION WAS MADE THANKS TO THE VOICE OF THE CZECH MINISTER OF ENVIRONMENT!
Anthony Fletcher, Food Navigator, Feb. 21,2007 http://www.foodnavigator.com

EuropaBio has criticised the EU's Environment Council for 'failing to support the rights of Hungarian farmers wanting to grow GM crops'. The European Commission had asked the Council to overturn the Hungarian ban on the genetically-modified maize seed that, according to the biotech association, has repeatedly been pronounced safe in EU reviews.

It has chosen not to. "Once again the Council is not following the advice of the EU's own expert advisory bodies," said Simon Barber, director of EuropaBio.

"The Council has failed in its responsibility to implement its own laws and instead today's failure suggests that the council favours state censorship rather than offering choice to farmers to decide for themselves as to whether or not to grow biotech crops; this is deeply discouraging for the future of Europe's agriculture and growth of the bio-based economy."

But the Hungarian government has been confident that it would be allowed to retain the ban. Speaking at a news conference before of yesterday's talks, Hungary's state secretary Kalman Kovacs announced that there was sufficient anti-GM feeling within the EU to ensure support for the country's stand.

Furthermore, Robert Fridrich of environmental group Friends of the Earth Hungary claimed that upholding the ban was vital to protecting the future of the Hungarian food industry for both processors and producers. "Hungary is the second biggest corn feed producer in Europe and Hungary's reputation as a GMO free country is very important to this," he said. "The European public are very much against the use of GMO products, which gives Hungary a massive advantage in the market place."

The refusal of the Council to ignore EFSA advice has precedent. Last December the Council chose to ignore the authority's advice and rejected the Commission's request to have Austria lift its illegal ban on the cultivation of EU-approved GM crops.

"By acting in this way, the Council continues to seriously damage the credibility of the EU's regulatory system which they helped to put in place and on which much of Europe's innovative and industrial capacity relies," claimed EuropaBio. "Today's decision simply denies the freedom of choice to Hungarian farmers who want to grow insect protected maize crops." This issue goes back to1998, when the European Commission gave its consent for the marketing of Monsanto's Zea Mays L. line MON 810. A number of EU countries have now authorised the product. However, Hungary prohibited the use and sale of the product in January 2005, but its justifications for the prohibition were rejected in June 2005 and in March 2006 by the European Food Safety Authority.

On 29 March 2006, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that there is no reason to believe that the continued placing on the market of these products "is likely to cause any adverse effects for human and animal health or the environment under the conditions of its consent." This issue again underlines how polarised the issue of GM food has become in Europe. But despite the controversy surrounding the technology, GM food expansion appears inexorable.

Europe Impedes Improvement of Crops in the Developing World
Innovations Report Feb. 26, 2007 http://www.innovations-report.com

On Tuesday the 20 February 2007, Connie Hedegaard, Danish Minister for the Environment announced at a public discussion organised by Friends of Europe, that she was concerned if Europe has a negative effect on countries in the developing world by imposing its standards on the rest of the world with regard to regulation on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).

As a follow-up to this event, plant researchers from the developing world met in Brussels at a meeting organised by European Action on Global Life Sciences (EAGLES). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how European regulation on GM foods influence legislators in the developing world to call for unnecessary tough testing.

Thousands of people die every day in the developing world due to hunger or the use of harmful pesticides in agriculture. No death or any illness throughout the world has ever been connected to the use of GMO. The zero tolerance of GM foods unauthorised in Europe and the labelling of GM foods imported to Europe have a huge influence on legislators and research funding organisations in the developing countries. Even countries which have no export of foods to Europe are afraid of approving or supporting the development of GM foods because of European policy.

Food or Filth? The European Paradox
Andrew Apel,  http://www.cropgen.org/article_109.html

A major conclusion of "The Tolerance of Food Contamination in Europe" (posted at CropGen, http://www.cropgen.org) is that the European Union does not regulate food ingredients which, in the US, would be considered "filth." This seems at first to be an impossible conclusion, as it claims proof of a negative. Yet, that is the conclusion, and it's not because these regulations have not yet been found. Rather, it's because the European Union has specifically exempted such ingredients from regulation.

Much of the rhetoric which surrounds the use of engineered crops for food production makes use of the notion of 'contamination,' a theme avidly promoted by activists. It is interesting to consider what would happen if the European Union passed legislation which declared ingredients from engineered crops to be 'contaminants' on a par with insect fragments and animal hair. The result: they would either not be contaminants, and present a mere "quality" issue, or they would be 'not food,' and not subject to food law.

EU Wants Rest of the World to Adopt Its Rules
Tobias Buck, Financial Times, Feb. 19, 2007

Brussels wants the rest of the world to adopt the European Union's regulations, the European Commission will say this week. A Commission policy paper that examines the future of the bloc's single market says European single market rules have inspired global standard-setting in areas such as product safety, the environment, securities and corporate governance.

The EU's drive to establish itself as the pacesetter for worldwide business regulation could well lead the bloc into conflict with the US and other trading partners. US officials have often voiced concern about the bloc's growing clout as a global standard-setter, and the two sides have clashed over issues such as rules for the chemicals industry and the EU's stance on genetically modified foods.

The two sides are set this week to discuss a road map to a transatlantic market, harmonising regulations, at a meeting between José Manuel Barroso, Commission president, and Senator Bob Bennet of the US. The two sides have very different regulatory philosophies. The EU puts heavy emphasis on consumer protection and environmental legislation while the US tends to promote a more market-based approach. Some critics of the European approach argue that the EU's stance on issues such as GM foods may also reflect a desire to protect commercial interests.

Nature draws up funding ‘road map’ for European biotech SMEs

A recent Nature article has peeled back the overlapping layers of national and EU level funding programmes to give biotech SMEs a clear perspective of opportunities available to them.

Scientific information in the digital age: Ensuring current and future access for research and innovation

Access to research results has a significant role to play in driving innovation and maintaining the quality of research. Developments in digital technology challenge existing business models and practices for making research results available, and with open access research funding bodies are taking different approaches.

Commission launches call for analysing public perception of science programmes on European TV and radio stations

The European Commission's DG Research has launched a call for project proposals aimed at gathering data and providing an analysis on how European citizens perceive the science and research programmes offered to them on TV and radio.

Microbes becoming visible to the (almost) naked eye

Microorganisms, which form a significant part of the Earth's biomass, have long attracted the interest of researchers the world over. Their mysterious nature has proved difficult to examine because they cannot grow in labs.

Europeans discover ‘primordial’ characteristics of organisms in mine runoff

European researchers have discovered single-cell organisms with features characteristic of the organisms present at the earliest stages of life on earth. In the past, scientists have suggested that life began in an iron-sulfur rich environment where germs fed off dissolved iron. European biologists have discovered a new type of organism that lives in similar conditions surviving through previously unobserved processes.

No link between mobiles and cancer ... yet, European researchers say

A recent study examining the adverse health effects of long-term mobile phone use has found no clear link between mobiles and brain cancer. Researchers are quick to point out, however, that that doesn't necessarily mean no such link exists.

The Role of Ethics in EU Research

New document: From the Ethics of Technology towards an Ethics of Knowledge Policy and Knowledge assessment

Europe

Germany Biotechnology Biotech Corn Planting Intentions for 2007
USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. Feb. 16,2007, GAIN Report Number: GM7006. [excerpted; Andy Apel] Full report at http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200702/146280220.pdf

"German farmers registered 3,774 hectares of cornfields for biotech variety plantings in 2007, an increase of 2824 hectares over 2006. Biotech corn production will again be concentrated in the eastern third of the country." The vast majority of biotech corn will again be planted in the eastern third of the country. The irony is that the eastern part of Germany is affected by the European corn borer to a lesser extend compared to most parts of southern Germany where there are hardly any fields planted to biotech corn.

The main reason for the stronger interests in biotech corn in eastern third of the country is due to farm size. Average farm size of eastern German farms is 202 hectares compared to 34 hectares in Western Germany. In addition, minimum distances to neighboring conventional cornfields can be maintained easier than in the predominantly small-scale farm regions of southern Germany. However, such protective distance requirements have not yet been established."

Why Going Organic Could Cost the Earth
Liz Hull, Daily Mail (UK), Feb. 20, 2007

A UK government report was cited as claiming that, despite its eco-friendly image, some organic farming creates greater pollution and contributes more to global warming than produce grown using pesticides and fertilizers.

According to the study, certain organic foodstuffs -- such as milk, chicken and tomatoes -- produce more greenhouse gases, create more soil and water pollutants and require more energy and land for their production than those farmed by conventional methods. Ken Green, professor of environmental management at Manchester Business School, who conducted the research with the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, was quoted as saying, "You cannot say that all organic food is better for the environment than all food grown conventionally. If you look carefully at the amount of energy required to produce these foods, you get a complicated picture. In some cases, the carbon footprint for organics is larger."

RUSSIA APPROVES TWO BIOTECH CORN VARIETIES

Russia recently approved two biotech corn varieties for use in animal feed. The two events, Bt11 and T25 were developed by Syngenta Seeds and Bayer CropScience, respectively. "The approvals are part of the World Trade Organization (WTO) ascension agreement between Russia and the United States," commented Alexander Kholopov, USGC director in Russia. For more information, contact Irina Yakovleva of the Russian Biotechnology Information Center iacgea@biengi.ac.ru.

Russia's Chief Medical Officer: GM Crops are a Blessing for the Mankind
Novgorodskiye Vedomosti (Velikiy Novgorod), Jan 26 07; Via BBC Monitoring  and Vivian Moses

Russian chief medical officer Gennadiy Onishchenko made an unannounced visit to Velikiy Novgorod to inspect the construction of a laboratory at the Hygiene and Epidemiology Centre, Novgorodskiye Vedomosti said on 26 January. The laboratory worth R200m (about 7.5m dollars) will have capacities to diagnose infectious diseases, conduct air and water tests and identify genetically modified components in foodstuffs.

Onishchenko said genetically modified crops are a blessing for the mankind because they save billions of people from starvation. "In today's conditions Russia cannot provide itself with foods, even with potato, by using conventional agricultural methods only. We have to permit the consumption of and buy genetically modified soybeans and other crops," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Africa

GM Food and the Harm of Hysteria
Temba Nolutshungu, Business Day, Feb. 19, 2007 http://www.businessday.co.za

European consumer panic and European Union (EU) regulations about genetically modified (GM) foods threaten millions of starving Africans, who need cheap and reliable crops. Greenpeace has just garnered a million signatures around Europe for a petition to the EU demanding labels for traces of GM organisms in food.

This time last year, Zambia banned famine relief containing GM food. Uganda and Kenya are wavering and millions of people are starving in Africa right now. GM food may not solve malnutrition and starvation by itself, but it would make a huge difference.

Remember, we are talking about a product that has been eaten by Americans and Canadians for more than a decade without harming anybody: even the EU, while applying many restrictions, accepts that it is safer than conventional food.

Fifteen years of tests in 400 European laboratories led EU research commissioner Philippe Busquin to say in 2001 that they had not found "any new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding". "Indeed, the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods," Busquin said.

The "Frankenfood" myths about terminator genes, contamination and the destruction of species reflect only ignorance, pseudoscience or plain propaganda. If we applied the precautionary principle to itself, we would not apply the precautionary principle because of the harm it could cause.

Virus-resistant corn in South Africa
The Economist,  Feb 1, 2007.  Full article at
http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8626812

Genetic modification is also finding a place in African crop science. Jennifer Thompson and Edward Rybicki, of the University of Cape Town, have developed a variety of maize that is resistant to maize-streak virus, another insect-borne disease (the culprits here are leaf-hoppers). Maize is not native to Africa, even though it now, for instance, occupies 90% of the cultivated land in Malawi. But since its arrival from the Americas in the early 1500s, a virus found in local grasses has evolved a way to attack it. In bad years, such as 2006, maize-streak virus can wipe out entire harvests. Plant breeders have tried for a quarter of a century to develop crops that are immune to the disease by crossing maize with partially resistant native grasses. Unfortunately, they have met little success. The pattern by which resistance genes are inherited has proved elusive.

America

Energy Biosciences Institute

The University of California Berkeley and its partners the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will join BP in a $500 million research institute aimed at exploring the application of biotechnology in the energy arena. BP plans to invest $500 million over the next ten years to establish a dedicated biosciences energy research laboratory attached to the University of California Berkeley and its partners the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It will be the first facility of its kind in the world.

The BP Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) is expected to explore the application of bioscience and the production of new and cleaner energy, principally fuels for road transport focusing on new Biofuels components, devising new technologies and using modern plant science to develop fuels from non food crops. The EBI will also pursue bioscience-based research in the conversion of heavy hydrocarbons to clean fuels, improved recovery from existing oil and gas reservoirs, and carbon sequestration.

State regulation of coexistence and GMO growing:
http://environmentalcommons.org/gmo-tracker.html

10-year one-billion-dollar 'Specialty Crop Research Initiative' proposed by USDA

As part of its 2007 Farm Bill Proposal, USDA proposes investing $1 billion over ten years to establish a Specialty Crop Research Initiative to provide science-based tools for the specialty crop industry. In a summary of this plant research proposal presented January 31, the Department explained that enhanced research, extension, and education programs are needed to help the specialty crop industry address a number of challenges. The U.S. specialty crop industry is comprised of producers and handlers of fruits, tree nuts, vegetables, melons, potatoes, and nursery crops, including floriculture. It is a major contributor to the U.S. agricultural economy. Specialty crops accounted for 10 million harvested cropland acres in 2004. The value of total U.S. specialty crops ($49 billion in sales) now exceeds the combined value of the five major program crops ($45.8 billion in sales).

"One of the principle opportunities to enable the specialty crop industry to remain competitive in the global environment and to continue contributing to the U.S. economy is to support research programs that facilitate continued advancements in productivity and technology," USDA noted in its Farm Bill Proposals summary.

Food vs. Fuel

John Carey, Adrienne Carter and Assif Shameen, Business Week Febr 8, 2007 http://www.businessweek.com

As energy demands devour crops once meant for sustenance, the economics of agriculture are being rewritten'. Since late summer, average corn prices have leapt to nearly $4 a bushel. The spike in the price of corn isn't caused by any big dip in the overall supply. In the U.S., last year's harvest was 10.5 billion bushels, the third-largest crop ever. But instead of going into the maws of pigs or cattle or people, an increasing slice of that supply is being transformed into fuel for cars. The roughly 5 billion gallons of ethanol made in 2006 by 112 U.S. plants consumed nearly one-fifth of the corn crop. If all the scores of factories under construction or planned go into operation, fuel will gobble up no less than half of the entire corn harvest by 2008.

Bigmap Database On Genetically Modified Agricultural Products
Crop Biotech Update, isaaa.org

The Iowa State University has founded the Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products (BIGMAP), to provide science-based analysis of the risks and benefits of genetically modified agricultural products (GMAPs). BIGMAP is developing a database of the properties of selected GMAPs, with special reference to their utility and biosafety. Development of this database into a comprehensive Knowledge Base on GMAPs is now being proposed. It is expected to focus on transformed plants and animals, their expressed traits, and their products as a means of communicating knowledge concerning their safety and utility to those who need it, including scientists, breeders, regulators, universities, industry and the public.

Latin America

Without Transgenics, Brazil Might Refrain from Profiting US$ 9B in 10 years
Editorial, Estado De S??o Paulo (Brazil), Feb 6, 2007

In the analysis of Anderson Galv??o, director of C?©leres, corn producers may fail to gain US$ 6.9 billion in the next decade, in case the insect and herbicide resistant varieties are not released by the government for commercial planting. In the case of cotton, the income waiver might reach US$ 2.1 billion. "These figures are a lot more representative than those of soybeans, as the area planted with corn is virtually half of the soybean area. Whereas, for cotton, the area cultivated is of little more than 1 million hectares, which makes transforms these US$ 2.1 billion into very high saving if taking into account the hectares planted", he explains.

Asia and East

Thai Govt Urged to Consider GMO
Petchanet Pratruangkrai, Feb 7, 2007 via www.Checkbiotech.org

Experts advise the Thai government to accept more biotech crops, or else the Kingdom's competitiveness in the farm sector will drop 5 per cent each year.

At a press briefing at the Royal Sports Club yesterday, both Thai and foreign experts in biotechnology shared the same ideas that to adopt biotech crops will increase the country's economic growth. In addition, this will also reduce environment problems in the long run.  Despite strong controversy, the demand for biotech crops or genetically modified organism (GMO) plants have risen in many countries during the past 10 years.

INDONESIAN SCIENTISTS TARGET TRANSGENIC RICE AND CORN IN THREE YEARS

The Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development (IAARD) of the Ministry of Agriculture plans to develop   transgenic rice and maize in the next three years.  Dr. Ir. Achmad Suryana, head of IAARD, says this projection indicates IAARD’s commitment to biotechnology research in the country. He noted that it would be unfortunate if scientists did not do their share in taking advantage of the new technologies to improve yields and overcome major production constraints. Suryana added that aside from rice, other crops being studied by IAARD are soybean, papaya, potato, sweet potato and tomato.

Visit http://www.litbang.deptan.go.id/berita/one/430/ for more information.

'USDA director counters 'danger claims''
Boie Conrad Dublin, Arab Times. Feb 14, 2007 http://www.arabtimesonline.com

Food derived from genetically modified (GM) plants is as safe as those produced from conventional sources, according to the Abu Dhabi-based Regional Director of the Agricultural Trade Office of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), David J. Williams Tuesday during a round table discussion with the press at the US Embassy in Bayan. Williams' visit was prompted by allegations about the dangers of GM foods raised by two Greenpeace activists during a press conference held in Kuwait last week. Countering the issues raised by Arnaud Apoteker and Andi Freimuller on the supposed adverse effects GM foods could have on human health.

„GM foods available on the international market have undergone risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health in any other form than their conventional counterparts." According to a June 2005 report by the World Health Organization, Modern food biotechnology, human health and development: and evidence-based study." The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report "The State of Food and Agriculture, 2003-2004" further states: "Thus far, in those countries where transgenic (GM) crops have been grown, there have been no verifiable reports of these causing significant health or environmental harm."

Australia

AUCKLAND REGIONAL COUNCIL VOTES AGAINST RELEASE OF GMOs

The Auckland Regional Council (ARC) voted against the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in field and food, though it did not oppose the development of GMOs in laboratories for medical purposes. The Council adopted the policy in principle as a precautionary approach to GMOs, according to ARC Regional Strategy and Planning Chair Paul Walbran. The policy also acknowledges the overwhelming opposition to GMOs that was demonstrated in public submissions to the ARC's annual plan.

Read the press release at http://www.arc.govt.nz/index.cfm?88F08791-BCD4-1A24-9DE9-E5E959F47B1C&entryID=D7F3F4DF-BCD4-1A24-92AA-A39ED87569F5.

News in Science

Genetic Modification - A Tool for Making Vegetables and Fruit Healthier
Plant Research International, February 08, 2007 http://www.pri.wur.nl/

It is possible to improve the antioxidant action of tomatoes by a directed change in the production of flavonoids by means of genetic modification. This has been shown in doctoral research by Elio Schijlen on the basis of which he hopes to take his degree on Thursday 8 February at the University of Amsterdam.

Tobacco is genetically engineered to produce vaccine
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3404&language=1

Researchers have engineered tobacco plants to produce the raw material for a vaccine against a killer disease of the developing world.

Cassava Chosen for Bioenergy Research
Jeffrey Javier, Arizona Daily Wildcat, Feb. 14, 2007 http://media.wildcat.arizona.edu

By The cassava, a root similar to a potato that is grown mainly in South America and Africa, has been chosen to have its genome sequenced by researchers, including a University of Arizona (UA) scientist, for humanitarian and energy purposes by the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute.

The UA, which played a major role in sequencing the genome of rice, is providing one of the multi-institutional team's main researchers, Steven Rounsley, associate research professor for BIO5 Institute and the Department of Plant Sciences, with a place to study the cassava genome in the newly opened BIO5 building.

"The cassava is a very important crop for subsistence farmers in Africa, and to obtain more information that farmers can use will help them build better crops for the poorest people," said Vicki Chandler, director of the BIO5 Institute.

The cassava, which is second to rice in the developing world as a main source of food, has a unique potential for conversion into ethanol because of its high percentage of starch, Rounsley said. Interest in the cassava from the science community is still small, Rounsley said, but since the U.S. Department of Energy's Bioenergy Initiative, the government has taken interest in bioenergy and turning things like corn or other starchy material into ethanol fuel.

'Gene deleting' tool could lead to safer GM crops
Wady Sawahel http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3419&language=1
16 February 2007

Scientists from both China and the United States have devised a technique that could prevent the flow of transgenic genes into non-biotech crops — and might end the long-standing debate on terminator genes.

The development could free poor farmers from dependence on companies that sell genetically modified (GM) seeds, suggest the researchers.

The GM-gene-deletor system successfully removed transgenic genes from the seeds and pollen of GM tobacco.

If this technique is applied successsfully to other crops, it could allow farmers to grow non-transgenic and fully viable plants using seeds or pollen from GM plants — unlike the terminator gene system, which makes the plants infertile.

PRODUCTION OF BIO-PLASTICS IN PLANTS

There has been a growing concern on the effect of non-degradable plastic wastes on the environment. Pornpa Suriyamongkol and colleagues in Canada, say that one solution is to use naturally produced plastic compounds, called polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). PHAs have many potential applications in the food industry (in bottles and other food material packaging), and in medicine (in implants, gauzes, and suture filaments).

The efficiency of producing PHA in transgenic plants has already been examined by using the model plant Arabidopsis and several crop species. The main challenge is how to produce commercially viable levels (greater than 15% dry weight) of PHA in the transgenics. If the desired level is attained, it is hoped that the cost of producing bio-plastics in plants could be lower or equivalent to the cost of producing petroleum-based polymers, which is about $1/kg.

Subscribers to the journal Biotechnology Advances may read the complete review at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biotechadv.2006.11.007

TRANSPOSITION-BASED PLANT TRANSFORMATION

Among the public concerns on genetic transformation is the permanent introduction of bacterial, viral, and synthetic DNA into the genomes of food crops. A new method of genetically modifying plants that does not require bacterial DNA inserted into their genomes has been reported by Hua Yan and Caius Rommens of the J.R. Simplot Company in Idaho.

Yan and Rommens used Agrobacterium T-DNAs containing both a maize Dissociation (Ds) element and Activator-Transposase (Ac-Tpa) gene to deliver the desired DNA sequence to potato stem explants. The method was found effective in the transformation of ‘Ranger Russet’ potato variety. Single-copy and backbone-free transformation events were observed at a rate that is a bit lower (2.5-fold) than the regular T-DNA transformation of potato.

The abstract published by the journal Plant Physiology, with links to the full paper for subscribers, is accessible at http://www.plantphysiol.org/cgi/content/abstract/143/2/570

'Waste membrane' could help crops conserve water
http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3427&language=1

A membrane made of waste materials enables crops to retain water and regulate soil temperature — which could help farming in arid areas.

Growth Plays: Biotech Goes to the Garden
Bart Ziegler, Dow Jones, Feb 24, 2007

'Genetically modified ornamental plants are in the works; The challenge now: avoiding the 'Frankenflowers' label'

Petunias that survive frost. Impatiens that shrug off drought. Disease-free geraniums. They sound like dream plants for gardeners.

But they also present a major challenge for the gardening industry. That's because these "miracle" flowers -- now in the works, thanks to a new alliance between a German plant company and a California start-up -- are the product of genetic engineering. Ornamental plants that have had their DNA juggled could spark the same backlash created by genetically altered food crops such as corn and soybeans. Here are three examples of scientists' efforts to modify the genetic makeup of common flowers.

UNUSUAL COLORS Florigene inserted a gene from a blue petunia to create bluish-purple carnations, now available as cut flowers. The Australian company is using a similar technique to create a blue rose.

HARDINESS Ornamental Bioscience of Germany aims to make petunias that aren't killed by frost, poinsettias that are tolerant of cold air and impatiens that can survive drought, all by "turning on" genes for traits that are latent in the plants.

NEW LOOKS NovaFlora of Philadelphia is devising new roses by scrambling their genes, a process called mutagenesis. It has created a multipetaled version of the popular Knock Out rose, which is several years from the market.

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