News in October 2009
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2009-11-09

General

Reaping the Benefits: Science and the sustainable Intensification of Global Agriculture
The Royal Society, UK, 2009
The full report  at http://royalsociety.org/document.asp?tip=0&id=8825
Agriculture investment in developing countries must increase by 50% to feed 9.1B people by 2050: FAO
Agence France-Presse October 9, 2009

Developing countries need agriculture investments of $83 billion per year to meet the food needs of a projected 9.1 billion people by 2050, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a report.

The $83 billion is a 50 percent increase from current levels, the U.N. News Centre reports, adding, "More than a third of this - $29 billion - would be needed for the two countries with the largest populations, India and China. Regionally, sub-Saharan Africa would require about $11 billion, Latin America and the Caribbean $20 billion, the Near East and North Africa $10 billion, South Asia $20 billion and East Asia $24 billion" (10/8).

According to Reuters, "World agriculture needs massive investments to raise overall output by 70 percent over the next 41 years, including almost doubled output in the developing countries-- Primary agriculture investment needs include some $20 billion a year earmarked for crop production and $13 billion for livestock, the FAO said in a paper ahead of a forum on how to feed the world in 2050 it is due to hold on Oct. 12-13 in Rome" (Kovalyova, 10/8).

Fight over GMO crops threatens work on hunger

Bill Gates Says Ideology Threatens Hunger Fix

Christine Stebbins and Roberta Rampton, Reuters, Oct 15, 2009 http://www.reuters.com

bulletBiotechnology one of many tools needed to raise yields
bulletGates funding to focus on small-holder farmers
bulletWorking on "royalty-free" drought-resistant maize
bulletG8 must spell out details of its ag development funding

"Some people insist on an ideal vision of the environment," Gates said. "They have tried to restrict the spread of biotechnology into sub-Saharan Africa without regard to how much hunger and poverty might be reduced by it."

The Gates Foundation is working with research partners on drought-tolerant maize using both conventional crop-breeding techniques and biotechnology, Gates said, noting he hopes seeds will be available in two or three years. The impact of those new varieties could help convince skeptics of the benefits of biotechnology, he said. "The technologies will be licensed royalty free to seed distributors so that the new seeds can be sold to African farmers without extra charge," Gates said. "I hope that the debate over productivity will not slow the distribution of these seeds," Gates said.

Books & Articles

Plant Breeding Forum listserv.

GIPB is pleased to announce the launch of the e-mail based forum for plant breeding and related fields. The purpose of PBForum-L is to create a means for plant breeders and those in related fields to interact easily on a regular and informal basis, with inquiry, discussion and debate. PBForum-L complements PBN-L, the Plant Breeding News, a monthly e-newsletter (http://www.fao.org/ag/agp/AGPC/doc/services/pbn.html) and the global forum feature of the GIPB website (http://km.fao.org/gipb/index.php?option=com_content&task=section&id=46&Itemid=210).

Survey - Which Countries Come Down In Favor of GMO For Pharmaceuticals?
http://www.scientificblogging.com/

Like Spain, Israel, the USA and some other countries, a survey of Danish citizens support using GM plants for production of pharmaceuticals - science Austria, Germany and Japan and some others do not accept.

Global Impact of Biotech Crops: Income and Production Effects 1996-2007
Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, AgBioForum, 12(2), 184-208.  Full article at http://www.agbioforum.org/v12n2/v12n2a04-brookes.htm
(PG Economics, Ltd., Dorchester, UK)

This article updates the assessment of the impact of commercialized agricultural biotechnology on global agriculture from an economic perspective. It examines specific global economic impacts on farm income, indirect (non-pecuniary) farm-level income effects and impacts on the production base of the four main crops-soybeans, corn, cotton, and canola.

Vatican, Food Experts Say Biotechnology Will Improve African Farming
Sarah Delaney, Catholic News Service, Sep-29-2009
http://www.catholicnews.com/

ROME (CNS) -- African farmers should be able to use new biotechnology, including genetically modified organisms, to help lift their continent out of poverty, Vatican officials and agricultural experts said..

Focusing on agricultural development is the key to improving the lives of Africans and their economy, and all tools must be considered to further that goal, according to speakers at a symposium Sept. 24 in Rome on the topic "For a Green Revolution in Africa." The participants agreed that one of those tools could be genetically modified products, the use of which is widespread in the United States but controversial in Africa.

Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, former secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said that underdevelopment and hunger in Africa are due in large part to "outdated and inadequate agricultural methods." Therefore, he said, new technologies "that can stimulate and sustain African farmers" must be made available, including "seeds that have been improved by techniques that intervene in their genetic makeup."

Father Gonzalo Miranda, professor of bioethics at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University, which sponsored the symposium, said in support of new biotechnology that, "if the data shows that biotechnology can offer great advantages in the development of Africa, it is a moral obligation to permit these countries to do their own experimentation."
Synopsis of FISHERIES & AQUACULTURE research projects in the 6th Framework Programme. Publication http://ec.europa.eu/research/agriculture/library_en.htm
China's growing range of activities in Africa

This book, http://ec.europa.eu/research/social-sciences/books_en.html which is supported by the EDC2020 project describes China's growing range of activities in Africa, especially in the sub-Saharan region. The three most important instruments China has at its disposal in Africa are development aid, investments and trade policy. The Chinese government, which believes the Western development aid model has failed, is looking for new forms of aid and development in Africa.

Managing Risk in Agriculture: A Holistic Approach: Book on Online Bookshop | Book on SourceOECD
Issue 60: Special Report on Security
http://ec.europa.eu/research/research-eu/60/index_en.html
bulletSecurity, the foremost freedom?
bulletWhat security technologies for Europe?
bulletSmile, you’re being spied on!
bulletData mayhem
bulletWhen security brings fear
bulletClimate crisis: a challenge for society
bulletThe rising sun of photovoltaics
bulletSmartGrids: rethinking Europe’s electricity grids
bulletPhilanthropist of science
bulletEndocrine disruptors in our food?
bulletThe end of the mad professor?
bulletEurope’s budding geniuses
bulletMixed feelings
bulletWhere do Europe’s research euros go?
bulletHeart of wood

Events

EUROPEAN FORUM FOR INDUSTRIAL BIOTECHNOLOGY 2009
SANA Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal, 20 - 22 October, 2009
www.efibforum.com
BioVisionAlexandria 2010 11-15 April 2010 Alexandria - Egypt
AgriGenomics World Congress 8-9-July 2010 Brussels.
Oral Presentation Submission Deadline: 12 January 2010
Poster Submission Deadline: 2 June 2010
Please send any queries to: K.Shah@selectbiosciences.com

Europe - EU

Blocking Biotech Feed Harms Farmers - EU Farm Chief
Bate Felix, Reuters, Oct 15, 2009
http://www.reuters.com

BRUSSELS - The European Union's farm chief urged governments to stop blocking imports of animal feed if it contains only traces of banned genetically modified organisms (GMOs), saying such policies harmed the meat sector.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said EU countries should look at scientific evidence rather than emotions, as is now the case, when deciding on authorisations for new biotech products. "The last thing farmers need now is an increase in feed prices. For some of them, it would be the last straw," Fischer Boel told a GMO panel discussion in Brussels on Thursday.

While the EU has approved a string of GMOs -- mainly maize types -- by default rubberstamps since 2004, it does not permit other GMOs, even in minute amounts, until EU approval for that product is given. EU animal feed buyers stopped importing U.S. soy after more than 2000,000 tonnes of shipments to Spain and Germany were found to contain traces of Monsanto's (MON.N) MON88017 and Syngenta's (SYNN.VX) MIR604 GM corn.

Fischer Boel warned that worldwide availability of soybean could come under pressure because of drought in South America, low secondary stocks in the United States and increasing demand from China. "If we let our livestock sector go to the wall, we would simply be in a situation where we import meat from U.S. or South America, fed with GMO feed on which we have absolutely no control. I think that would be the ultimate irony," she added.

Slow-Motion Tennis Match

Production from animal farming in the European Union was worth nearly 150 billion euros ($223 billion) in 2008, contributing to the agriculture food sector which makes up about 4 percent of GDP in EU member states.

Over the last nine years, the EU has imported over 32 million tonnes of soybeans every year on average, essentially from the United States and South America, Fischer Boel said.

Even though the GM corn from Monsanto and Syngenta have been given the green light by the EU food safety watchdog, the European Food Safety Authority, EU ministers have failed to reach a qualified majority on whether to approve it or not.

"For the farm sector, the imbalance in GMO approval between the European Union and the rest of the world is a clear and present financial threat," Fischer Boel said. "The political decision is being knocked around like a ball in a slow-motion tennis match," she said, referring to Europe's longstanding GMO deadlock. A minority of biotech-sceptic states always manages to prevent a majority consensus, under the EU's complex weighted voting system, from securing new approvals.

The issue will be back on the ministers' agenda on Oct. 19 when they meet in Luxembourg, and it is expected that they will again fail to reach a majority for or against the authorisation, leaving it to the EU executive to make a final decision.

The Center for Environmental Risk Assessment – ILSI

(CERA) was established by the ILSI Research Foundation in March 2009 with a mandate to:  Support and facilitate the development and application of harmonized approaches to environmental risk assessment (ERA) of genetically modified organisms; Serve as a scientific resource for governments, academia and private sector organisations as they seek to develop and implement ERA programs; Disseminate science-based information about ERA.

Following ILSI RF's model of tripartite participation, CERA has already developed an extensive international network of institutions, scientists and regulators who contribute to the Center's program of work.

CERA works to support and facilitate the development and application of harmonized approaches to ERA of genetically modified organisms. Selected Projects 2009-2010. CERA is working cooperatively with the International Organisation for Biological Control and the Agricultural Biotechnology Stewardship Technical Committee to develop standardized protocols for Tier I non-target organism testing. The first joint workshop will be held at ILSI HQ in October 2009. CERA is examining the issue of data transportability to: identify characteristics of receiving environments that should be considered in evaluating the acceptability of ERA data generated "out of country"; develop a conceptual framework that may be used by the regulated and regulatory communities to identify when data transportability is appropriate; and develop case studies that exemplify when data transportability can and cannot be applied.

CERA is preparing an analysis of post-release monitoring (PRM) of GM crops that examines current regulatory requirements for PRM in key countries and approaches to PRM that have been applied in the field including the results of these. After completion of the analysis, an expert working group will be convened to develop scientifically sound strategies for PRM including the identification of appropriate risk assessment triggers.

For more information please contact:

Morven A. McLean, Ph.D.; Director, CERA; mmclean@ilsi.org, URL: http://www.ilsi.org/

Science at the Service of Europe
http://ec.europa.eu/research/sse/2008/index_en.cfm

Science at the Service of Europe is an illustrated a guide to the 2008 annual activity report of the European Commission's Research DG. It covers all research areas from Health to Transport and Energy to Environment. Each thematic areas presents four short project descriptions to explain how Science is serving Europe.

European Research: experts call for a new renaissance
http://ec.europa.eu/research/index.cfm?pg=newsalert&lg=en&year=2009&na=na-061009

The European Commission welcomed the first European Research Area Board (ERAB) annual report "Preparing Europe for a New Renaissance - A Strategic View of the European Research Area". This report outlines how the European Research Area needs to develop by 2030 – for the sake of the EU, and of the world at large. Set up by the Commission to advise on the realisation of a European Research Area (ERA), this high-level advisory group, chaired by Prof. John Wood, is composed of 22 recognized members from the fields of science, academia and business.

Europe

Europabio and Venture Valuation Report

Biotech in the new EU Member States: an emerging sector cab be downloaded at http://www.europabio.org/positions/general/IndecsHBiotechreport.pdf

Climat changes and Agriculture analysis see http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/publications/pr21.pdf

UK Urged to Lead on Future Food
Richard Black, BBC News, Oct 22, 2009

The world's food supply has to rise by about 50% in 40 years, the report says. The UK should plough Ł2bn ($3.3bn) into crop research to help stave off world hunger, says the Royal Society. It says the world's growing population means food production will have to rise by about 50% in 40 years and the UK can lead the research needed.

GM Research on Peas: Field Tests to be Relocated to the USA
http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/news/468%20.docu.html

(02 October 2009) The Institute for Plant Genetics of Leibniz University Hannover will continue field testing on genetically modified peas in the USA. Head of the Institute, Prof. Hans-Jörg Jacobsen, said that this move was taken because of the threat of destruction of test sites and the politically unstable regulatory framework in Germany.

For some time now, scientists at the Institute for Plant Genetics have been working on disease-resistant and high-yield feed peas. Their cultivation could help reduce dependency on imports of protein feedstuffs. An additional benefit of legumes such as feed peas, is that they enrich the supply of nitrates in the soil, so that less nitrogenous fertiliser is necessary the following year. Up to now, attempts at larger-scaled feed-pea cultivation have failed, mostly due to weather conditions which in some years led to fungus infections resulting in dramatic yield and quality losses.

Prof. Hans-Jörg Jacobsen based the decision to discontinue carrying out field tests of GM cultivations in Germany because of increased administration and costs required for field release tests, which a university institute could not afford. Furthermore, "undisturbed test procedures" could no longer be assumed due to field destruction and the political climate in Germany. This is "unnacceptable" particulary for those young scientists whose theses and doctoral work have been connected with the project.

Africa

Africa 'Resistant to GMOs Because of Relationship with EU'
www.theparliament.com via http://www.freshplaza.com

Europe's cautious approach to genetically modified crops is having a negative effect on agriculture in Africa, according to a group of farmers. A delegation of African farmers met with EU policymakers this week in Brussels to discuss the role of biotechnology in tackling the food crisis. Their meetings come amid concern over how climate change, drought and population increases will impact Africa's ability to feed its population.

Will GM Crops Feed Africa?
Walter Alhassan, Biotechnology consultant, Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa

"If we are able to get drought-resistant varieties in place this would really be very important." GMOs as stand-alone technologies cannot achieve food security in Africa. But GMOs are very helpful for particular challenges like pests, bad soil, or droughts. They can also enhance the nutritional content of crops. The most prominent example here is Golden Rice that contains more beta-carotene, which helps to prevent vitamin A deficiency. In Kenya, there is a similar project enhancing the nutritional value of Sorghum.

But genetical engineering alone isn’t enough. A maize variety that has been genetically modified to be resistant against a certain pest won’t deliver higher yields if you do not have conventional methods that also help you improve the maize.

Once you mention biotechnology, people talk about GMOs. But biotechnology is far more. Tissue culture, for instance, is not genetic engineering. You simply take a cell and nourish it with nutrients and hormones to get a whole new plant from which you can grow millions of clones. This is really important for crops not produced from seeds, like bananas or yams.

Another biotechnology is using gene markers to identify a specific trait in a plant, allowing the plant breeder to select traits without having to grow plants for several generations. Biotechnology also allows very accurate diagnosis of plant and animal diseases.

Asia

How Philippines Mountain Slopes Were Converted Into Rich Bt Corn Fields
Vivek Deshpande The Indian Express (India), Oct 23, 2009

Authorities claim that introduction of Bt Corn in the province, that also produces rice like most other parts of the 7,000-odd islands' archipelago, has led to the production rising by four tonnes per hectare to 12 tonnes per hectare in less than five years, increasing their incomes from a meager 10,000 Pesos (Philippines currency) to 30 to 40,000 Pesos annually. Across Philippines, Bt Corn is now sowed on over 4 lakh hectares.

India

India: Pest-Resistant Bt Brinjal Developed
M. L. Kapur, Times of India, Sept. 21, 2009
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com

DHARWAD: A team of researchers at the University of Agricultural Science (UAS) here has succeed in genetically engineering a widely grown vegetable crop in the country to manage fruit and shoot borer pest with the development of six Bt brinjal varieties popular across three south-western states. Bt brinjal incorporates `Cry1Ac' gene, expressing insecticidal protein targeting the pest larvae.

An additional advantage of the transgenic varieties over the Bt hybrids is that once a farmer purchases the seeds of the varieties, he can re-use them for subsequent generations (in the case of hybrids, they need to purchase seeds every year). This reduces the dependence on seed supply chain, and in turn, reduces the seed input cost. Non-significant difference between the Bt and non-Bt counterparts for non-target insects and original respective traits of local varieties makes them preferred by the farmers. "The breeding scheme has ensured that the fruit and plant traits almost remained as in the original respective local varieties," the team member added.

America

USA - Biotechnology Is Key To Fighting Hunger, Clinton Says
Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg, Oct 16, 2009

Biotechnology will play a "critical role" in combating hunger, which has become a global security threat with more than 60 food riots worldwide since 2007, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

Improved technology will be one of the main tools the U.S. will use to help countries produce more food, Clinton said today in a teleconference with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in observance of World Food Day.

Mexico to Start First Genetically Modified Corn Plantings
Maja Wallengren, Dow Jones, Sept 25, 2009

A total of 26 biotechnology companies have applied for permits to participate in the pilot phase for the production of corn with genetically modified seed. The seed will be based on varieties that already have been used for more than 10 years in over 40 other countries, Senasica said in the report. The ministry contends that the use of genetically modified corn will help the country increase production and reduce grain imports. The government has yet to authorize plans for commercial production.

Mexican corn yields currently stand at an average of about 3.2 tons a hectare, up from 2.6 tons at the end 2005. But most of the country's subsistence farmers use traditional corn varieties that produce yields between 300 and 800 kilograms per hectare, according to official data.

News in Science

Cassava Virus Dealt A Blow In Southern Africa
Carol Campbell, 
http://www.scidev.net/
October 1, 2009

South African scientists have engineered plants with resistance to a local cassava virus, potentially safeguarding one of the region's staple crops. The South African cassava mosaic virus is one of seven such viruses affecting different cassava-growing areas of the world. It results in yellow and green patches on the leaves of plants which impede photosynthesis and stunt the growth of the edible tuber.

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