News in April 2011
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2011-05-09

Global

Roundup Ready soybean patents will expire in the near future.
That expiration will be followed by the expiration of other patents on biotech crops and expiring approvals in overseas markets like the European Union and China.

Those expirations could lead to the planting of so-called "generic" versions of Roundup Ready seeds that lack approval in overseas markets, complicating the export process and potentially disrupting billions in trade. Whether the expirations will lead to lower seed prices and more choices for farmers is an open question and greater use of the historic practice of saving some seed and replanting it in the next crop season remains to be seen. But, as patents expire and regulatory approvals for overseas markets become uncertain, a significant question exists as to whether farmers will continue to have access to these markets.

Certainly, as patents begin to expire on various biotech crops, those crops will remain for a period of time in the commercial grain supply chain. That means that steps will likely be necessary to ensure that the crops will still meet requirements imposed by certain buyers such as the European Union and China. Without those steps, U.S. farmers could face problems in maintaining access to those markets. Another potential problem could arise if the holder of the expired patent develops and markets a new product that could potentially compete with the product for which the patent has expired (the so-called generic product).

Amylase corn sparks worries
- Emily Waltz, Nature Biotechnology 29, 294 (2011) doi:10.1038/nbt0411-294; April 8,2011

A genetically modified (GM) variety of corn intended for ethanol production is drawing objections not only from anti-GM organizations but also from some biotech supporters. The crop, approved in February by the US Department of Agriculture, and developed by Basel-based Syngenta and marketed as Enogen, expresses an α-amylase enzyme, which helps break down the starch in corn more efficiently during ethanol production. The trait could cut costs for the ethanol industry by reducing water, energy and chemical use. But if it enters the food processing stream, it could damage corn-based food quality, resulting in sticky tortillas, dense corn puffs and gummy bread, say corn millers and food processors.

Books & Articles

Plain Facts about GMOs
Hungarian White Paper
Editors: Ervin Balázs, Dénes Dudits, László Sági

“The Hungarian scientific GMO experts have compiled peer-reviewed data – ‘plain facts’ – about a controversial issue in European politics. In contrast to the ‘opinions’ based on so-called ‘information’ (without any exception all falsified by careful scientific analysis) offered by GMO-opponents since decades (and dominating the view of many decision makers and the media), these facts represent reliable and solid information.” INGO POTRYKUS. A critical issue of humanity’s future is creating the conditions of sustainable development. Efforts to devaluate the role of science and to incite groundless fear of science-based technical development are wrong and cause much damage. ERVIN BALÁZS, DÉNES DUDITS, LÁSZLÓ SÁGI.

Communication Challenges and Convergence in Crop Biotechnology
ISAAA Book 2
edited by Drs. Mariechel J. Navarro and Randy A. Hautea of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). Published by: ISAAA and SEARCA ISBN: 978-1-892456-50-8

Description: The book presents case studies that offer unique and rich examples of how countries have been able to guide through the 'drama' of crop biotechnology as they shepherd innovations from the laboratory, greenhouse trials, multi-location trials, and hopefully to farmers' fields.

Four countries in Asia and the Pacific-Australia, China, India, and the Philippines are mega biotech countries or those that grew 50,000 hectares or more of biotech crops. These countries take the lead in sharing their experiences in communicating biotechnology in the book.. Science communication initiatives of countries such as Philippines, China, Australia,Thailand, India, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam as well as the Organization of Islamic Conference countries and CropLife Asia are discussed in the 13 chapter, 310 page book.

The authors say that the book presents case studies that offer unique and rich examples of how countries have been able to guide through the 'drama' of crop biotechnology as they shepherd innovations from the laboratory, greenhouse trials, multi-location trials, and hopefully to farmers' fields. "Each country is making its own contribution, and together they converge to form a consensus on crop biotechnology," they added. Lessons learned from counter experiences will hopefully contribute to a better appreciation and understanding of the crucial role of science communication in the laboratory to farmer's field continuum.
Get your copy at http://tinyurl.com/3t2t2fq

Agriculture, Nutrition and Health | Mendeley Group
www.mendeley.com

Collaborative bibliography of research publications related to agriculture, nutrition and health, 2020 Conference on “Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health.”, Research disciplines: Economics, Medicine and Social Sciences, Last updated: 1st

EU legitimizes GM crop exclusion zones
Maite Sabalza et al. Nature Biotechnology 29, 315-317 (2011). Repropduced below with permission of the editor of NB.

On July 13, 2010, the European Commission (EC) officially proposed to give member states the freedom to veto the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops on their own territory without having to provide any scientific evidence relating to new risks1. The objective of the legislation is ostensibly to make individual member states responsible for their own policy on GM crops, and therefore to speed up pending authorizations by removing the ability of those member states to veto approval throughout the European Union by avoiding a qualified majority (Fig. 1). However, we argue that the opt-out will have exactly the opposite effect to that intended, allowing the creation of arbitrary GM-free zones in Europe that will cause untold damage to the EU economy and its global scientific standing.

One of the reasons for the low take-up of GM crops in Europe is low consumer demand and public trust in the technology compared with conventional or organic crops. Mistrust of GM crops by the European public is hard to rationalize, given that >70% of processed foods consumed by humans in the United States and Canada contain GM ingredients, a similar proportion of white maize in Africa is transgenic and several GM products are consumed by humans in China, all with no reported ill effects after 10 years. These countries also export GM seeds to other markets (including the European Union) with no reported incidents.

Geek Nation: How Indian Science is Taking Over the World
- New book by Angela Saini, 288 pages: Hodder & Stoughton (3 Mar 2011) ; ISBN-10: 9781444710144
http://www.angelasaini.co.uk/

India: it's a nation of geeks, swots and nerds. Almost one in five of all medical and dental staff in the UK is of Indian origin, and one in six employed scientists with science or engineering doctorates in the US is Asian. By the turn of the millennium, there were even claims that a third of all engineers in Silicon Valley were of Indian origin, with Indians running 750 of its tech companies.

Why Genetically Modified Crops?
- Jonathan D. G. Jones, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 13 May 2011 vol. 369 no. 1942 1807-1816
http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1942/1807.short

Abstract: This paper is intended to convey the message of the talk I gave at the Theo Murphy meeting at the Kavli Centre in July 2010. It, like the talk, is polemical, and conveys the exasperation felt by a practitioner of genetically modified (GM) plant science at its widespread misrepresentation. I argue that sustainable intensification of agriculture, using GM as well as other technologies, reduces its environmental impact by reducing pesticide applications and conserving soil carbon by enabling low till methods. Current technologies (primarily insect resistance and herbicide tolerance) have been beneficial. Moreover, the near-term pipeline of new GM methods and traits to enhance our diet, increase crop yields and reduce losses to disease is substantial. It would be perverse to spurn this approach at a time when we need every tool in the toolbox to ensure adequate food production in the short, medium and long term.

Response to the criticism by Taube et al. in ESE 23:1, 2011, on the booklet "Green Genetic Engineering" published by the German Research Foundation (DFG)
Inge Broer et aL. , Environmental Sciences Europe 2011, 23:16 doi:10.1186/2190-4715-23-16; 15 April 2011

The authors of the DFG booklet Green Genetic Engineering" respond to the criticism by Taube et al. in Environmental Sciences Europe 2011, 23:1. The broad criticism on current cropping systems in agriculture is replied to by the notice that the booklet focusses on the role of Green Genetic Engineering as a modern tool in plant breeding and on the potential uses of GMO cultivars. It is pointed out that the risks of GMO crops for the environment or human health which have been put forward in the criticism are not provable. The reproaches of wrong facts being contained in the booklet are particularly addressed and rebutted.

If you can read German, read the paper here >>>

Agricultural biotechnology for crop improvement in a variable climate: hope or hype?
- R. K. Varshney et al. Trends in Plant Science; Article in Press, doi:10.1016/j.tplants.2011.03.004 |
(For reprint- r.k.varshney@cgiar.org )
http://www.sciencedirect.com

Developing crops that are better adapted to abiotic stresses is important for food production in many parts of the world today. Anticipated changes in climate and its variability, particularly extreme temperatures and changes in rainfall, are expected to make crop improvement even more crucial for food production. Here, we review two key biotechnology approaches, molecular breeding and genetic engineering, and their integration with conventional breeding to develop crops that are more tolerant of abiotic stresses. In addition to a multidisciplinary approach, we also examine some constraints that need to be overcome to realize the full potential of agricultural biotechnology for sustainable crop production to meet the demands of a projected world population of nine billion in 2050.

The New Harvest - Agricultural Innovation in Africa
Calestous Juma, (professor at Harvard's Kennedy School). Oxford Univeersity Press, ISBN13: 9780199783199ISBN10: 0199783195 Paperback, 296 pages.

Filled with case studies from within Africa and success stories from developing nations around the world, The New Harvest outlines the policies and institutional changes necessary to promote agricultural innovation across the African continent. Incorporating research from academia, government, civil society, and private industry, the book suggests multiple ways that individual African countries can work together at the regional level to develop local knowledge and resources

Events

BIOCOM
hosts a dedicated meeting on May 4 in Brussels: Risk Management in Life Sciences Companies.

Find the complete programme and register now at www.biocom.de

AFFINITY 2011
Molecular binding and recognition through life sciences, bioengineering and nanobiotechnology. Vila-Galé Albacora beach resort, Tavira, Portugal. June 16-19, 2011

For more information please follow the link http://events.dechema.de/en/affinity2011.html

2011 International Conference on Food Engineering and Biotechnology
07 - 09 May 2011, Bangkok, Thailand
http://www.technologynetworks.com/AgriGenomics/index.aspx?Login=2&redirect=/AgriGenomics/eventsid.aspx?ID=117003

The conference series seeks to provide a forum for a new principled approach to Food Engineering and Biotechnology. The meeting aims to foster cross-pollination between different research fields and to expose and discuss innovative theories, methodologies and applications.

BIOTECHNICA
- In 2011 is expanding its portfolio and from 11 – 13 October will, for the first time, serve as a marketplace for service providers in the biotech and pharmaceuticals sector.

Your contact for further information at Deutsche Messe: Katharina Siebert:
Tel.: +49 511 89-31028 katharina.siebert@messe.de

Europe - EU

Assessment of the economic performance of GM crops worldwide
http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/biotechnology/reports_studies/docs/economic_performance_report_en.pdf
- Kaphengst, Timo et al. Report to the European Commission, March 2011

Do the results tell the whole story? While a wide range of literature on the analysis of GM crop performance is available, empirical sensitivity analyses with regard to the potential limitations of available and comparable data were not widely applied. This study has aimed to generate a more complex picture on how different kinds of research methods, as well as other varying factors, may affect results on the economic performance of GM crops.

The assessment conducted in this study shows that the manner in which data is gathered (e.g. if a field trial or a survey was conducted) has an influence on the results. For instance, cotton yield data observed in field trials are generally lower, but gross margins are higher, than those observed in surveys. Differences in seed costs and pesticide costs between Bt and conventional cotton are higher in field trials than in surveys. In contrast, differences between GM and conventional cotton are lower for management and labour costs in field trials compared to results derived with surveys.

It could also be shown that the study conductor influences the performance estimates of GM crops. For example, higher yield advantages of Bt cotton are observed if private companies conducted the study when compared to studies conducted by public institutions (e.g. universities and governments).

Crop yields have a strong effect on the perception of the economic performance of GM crops as higher seed costs of GM crops often have to be compensated by more income from the crop itself, which can largely be achieved by higher yields. But yield levels in general depend upon a wide range of different factors which go far beyond the mere choice between GM and conventional crops. For example, this study demonstrated that the crop yields highly depend on the appropriate variety (no matter if GM or conventional) chosen by a farmer in relation to the weather and climatic conditions, under which the crop is grown.

Press release: 30 September 2010: Brussels, Belgium
A new Economic Impact Assessment of the EU’s Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation suggests that the current way in which this Regulation is being implemented is likely to cause substantial, mostly negative, economic impacts.

“There is widespread expectation in the EU food supplement sector that if the many negative health claim opinions, so far made by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), lead to decisions not to allow these claims, the EU market for food supplements may decrease significantly in size, resulting in important reductions in profitability and employment levels” said Graham Brookes, author of the report. “Barriers to entry into the sector are expected to increase, levels of innovation will fall, third country suppliers will increase their EU market share and the viability of many EU businesses (notably SMEs) would be threatened. Consumers would also lose out from reduced choice and possibly higher prices”.

Current impact
  1. To date, the authorisation process for health claims has not yet had a significant sector level impact mainly because none of the ‘general function’ (Article 13.1) claims on which EFSA has given opinions have yet been formally allowed or prohibited by legal decision.
  2. Levels of business uncertainty have, however, already increased. Some companies have already incurred costs of adjustment associated with negative opinions/assessments by EFSA and levels of research/development and new product development are ‘on hold’ in some businesses.
  3. Resources invested by the sector to compile the entries of the Article 13.1 list for submission to the European Commission amounted to a cost of between €4.51 million and €7.65 million.
  4. In comparison, the cost of submitting an Article 13.5 or Article 14 health claim application (inclusive of a human clinical trial) is likely to be €0.26 million to €1 million plus per application.

Europe

Demonstration plant
Toulouse – Three French research clusters have earmarked EUR20 million to build a pre-industrial demonstration plant in the area of white biotechnology. The new facility, will test the feasibility of industrial production of 2nd.
http://www.eurobiotechnews.eu/service/start-page/top-news/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=13233&cHash=57a0c76c34

Crescentino/Tortona – Chemtex, the engineering arm of Italian PET producer Mossi & Ghisolfi Group has started to build to the world’s first industrial plant for fermentation of second generation bioethanol from cheap straw.

http://www.eurobiotechnews.eu/service/start-page/top-news/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=13229&cHash=9f9837d958

Berlin – Germany has begun to cross-link and to standardise its existing registries for medical human samples and data (so-called biobanks) at five locations, to make the promise of personalised medicine a reality.

Africa

GM crops in Africa
http://www.scidev.net/en/editorials/the-gm-debate-is-about-more-than-biosafety-1.html
David Dickson, 28 April 2011 Scidev.net

Next month (May), after almost a decade of intense debate, Kenya is expected to become the third country in Sub-Saharan Africa - after South Africa and Burkina Faso - to approve the commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) crops.

Other countries are not far behind. By 2015, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda and could all be growing GM crops such as maize, rice, wheat, sorghum and cotton, according to a report published by the industry-sponsored International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

This marks a potential victory for evidence-based policy. Despite claims to the contrary, there are no documented health or environmental problems linked to GM crops.

Nigerian biosafety bill may fail, say scientists
http://www.scidev.net/en/news/nigerian-biosafety-bill-may-fail-say-scientists.html?utm_source=link&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=en_news&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
- Emeka Johnkingsley, Scidev.net, 27 April 2011

Supporters of genetically modified (GM) crop technology fear that their four-year effort to get a biosafety bill enacted in Nigeria may have been in vain if the country's upper house fails to pass it before its tenure ends next month (29 May).

Asia

Grant to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines
WASHINGTON –

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $10.3-million grant to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines to fund the development of Golden Rice, a genetically modified strain of rice containing beta carotene which the body converts to vitamin A. Globally vitamin A deficiency alone accounts for 670,000 childhood deaths each year and causes 350,000 cases of childhood blindness, health officials said.

Millions of people rely on rice for up to 80 percent of their daily food intake, and many lack access to or cannot afford nutritious food containing vitamin A. In Southeast Asia alone, more than 90 million children suffer from vitamin A deficiency. Rice contains negligible amounts of beta carotene so genetic modification is required to boost micronutrient levels.

The grant will develop and evaluate Golden Rice varieties for the Philippines and Bangladesh with the aim of applying for regulatory approval of these varieties as early as 2013 in the Philippines and 2015 in Bangladesh. The Gates Foundation said to ensure the safety and effectiveness of Golden Rice the grant includes rigorous safety testing, compliance with international standards, and adherence to the regulations and laws of the countries where they operate.

The Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) have been working with IRRI on Golden Rice for several years. They are leading the development of Golden Rice varieties in their countries. "We are conducting our breeding carefully to make sure that the new Golden Rice variety retains the same high yield, pest resistance, and excellent grain and eating qualities while helping to address the pervasive problem of vitamin A deficiency in the Philippines," Dr. Antonio Alfonso, chief science specialist and Golden Rice team leader at PhilRice said in an article published in the IRRI website.

"This week we are applying for permission to import the beta carotene-rich BRRI Dhan-29 from the IRRI experiment field and make a greenhouse trial at BRRI prior to going for open field trial in Bangladesh," said Dr Alamgir Hossain, principal plant breeder at BRRI.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) global database on vitamin A deficiency, one in every five pre-school children in Bangladesh is vitamin A-deficient, and 23.7 percent of pregnant women are affected by vitamin A deficiency.

Golden rice in Bangladesh
http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=182319

Bangladesh is all set for developing further the world's first-ever vitamin A-rich rice. A genetically engineered variety, the Golden Rice will go through greenhouse and field tests before advancing into production phase.

And if everything goes well, Bangladesh, within 5 years, will be able to fight vitamin A deficiency in expecting mothers and children through the most-consumed food item. The deficiency causes blindness and child death in acute cases.

The country's most productive rice variety -- BRRI Dhan 29 -- engineered at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines with beta carotene-rich genes from corn-- was successfully field-tested at the IRRI in February.

This is a big step towards developing Golden Rice, said scientists at Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) at Joydebpur, who are involved in the process.

India to spend $70 million on GM crop research
www.fnbnews.com

India's department of biotechnology (DBT) has allocated Rs 300 crore specifically for conducting research on genetically-modified (GM) crops

China

The Impact of Commercialization of GM Rice in China
http://www.idosi.org/aejaes/aejaes10%283%29.htm
- Tao Tan, Jintao Zhan and Chao Chenf; American-Eurasian Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences; Volume 10 Number 3, 2010

Since 2009, genetically modified (GM) rice has been approved for commercial use and it is likely that China will become the world leader in large scale commercialization. While China is the world's leading rice producer, only a small fraction of the crop is exported. Hence, the commercialization of GM rice in China is not likely motivated by the international trade market. Conversion to GM rice significantly decreases the use of pesticides and therefore reduces the threat to human health and ecological contamination. Furthermore, Chinese consumers accept GM food more readily compared to consumers in other developed countries. It is hypothesized that while in the short term the commercialization of GM rice in China may have a negative impact on rice export, in the long term there is the potential for Chinese GM rice to dominate international markets.

America & Canada

Food coexistence in Canada
Achieving Coexistence of Biotech, Conventional and Organic Foods in the Marketplace
- Vancouver, Canada, October 26-28, 2011;
- GMCC Coexistence Conference - http://gmcc-11.com/

On the coexistence of biotech, conventional and organic foods. World class academic and industry experts, regulators, policy makers and other key stakeholders from around the world gather to discuss the challenges and opportunities in managing the growth of different types of foods in the global marketplace. In order to ensure that all sectors continue to thrive to meet the growing food demand around the world and satisfy the preferences of different consumer segments, industry, governments and stakeholder groups engage in active discussions on proper market practices and government policies. Every two years, the GMCC conferences provide a big stage for active debate on policy, legal, economic, and technical solutions that seek to facilitate coexistence.

Peru approves the biosafety law paving way for GM crop commercialization
On Friday, April 15th 2011, by means of Supreme Decree DS N° 003-2011-AG, the Peruvian Government has finally approved the Biosafety Regulations for the Development of Activities with Living Modified Organisms and Derived Products in the Agriculture and Forestry Sectors of Peru. The approved Regulations were due since 1999 when the Biosafety Law 27104 was issued by the Congress, and since 2003 when the General Regulation of Law 27104 was then approved.

The Decree DS 003-2011-AG and the full text of the Regulation and its Annexes I and II (in Spanish) are accessible at the website of the National Institute for Agrarian Innovation-INIA, the responsible organzation at the Ministry of Agriculture to implement the biosafety regulations:

http://www.inia.gob.pe/eventos/evento0694/default.htm

Environmental impacts from herbicide tolerant canola production in Western Canada
Stuart J. Smyth*, Michael Gusta*, Kenneth Belcher*, Peter W.B. Phillips, David Castle#; Agricultural Systems 104 (2011) 403-410;
http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journaldescription.cws_home/405851/description#description

The commercial production of herbicide tolerant (HT) canola began in Western Canada in 1997. With more than a decade of use, the actual farm-level environmental impact of HT canola can be evaluated. This article reports on a spring 2007 survey of nearly 600 canola farmers in the three prairie provinces of Western Canada. Producers were asked about their crop production experiences for 2005 and 2006 and expected crop planting for 2007.

A reduction in the total number of chemical applications over the 3-year period was reported, resulting in a decrease of herbicide active ingredient being applied to farmland in Western Canada of nearly 1.3 million kg annually. Fewer tillage passes over the survey period were reported, improving moisture conservation, decreasing soil erosion and contributing to carbon sequestration in annual cropland. An estimated 1 million tonnes of carbon is either sequestered or no longer released under land management facilitated by HT canola production, as compared to 1995. The value of this carbon off-set is estimated to be C$5 million. Comparisons with similar studies and against non-adoption of HT canola can guide future decisions about HT canola adoption.

News in Science

Transgenic banes
Kampala - A banana strain resistant to a common fungal disease could help smallholder farmers in East Africa better control the crippling disease, which has been spreading across the region over the last three decades.

The results of confined field trials of a genetically modified (GM) banana with improved resistance to a black sigatoga disease, the devastating leaf spot fungus, are promising, researchers have told www.SciDev.Net.

The disease is caused by the fungus Mycosphaerella fijiensis and it can halve fruit production in affected plantations. It is easily spread by airborne spores, rain, planting material, irrigation water and packing material used in transporting goods between banana-growing countries.

The team led by Andrew Kiggundu - head of banana biotechnology research at the Uganda's National Agricultural Research Laboratories Institute (NARL) in Kawanda - analysed 19 lines of GM bananas and found promising results in five of them. Andrews told SciDev.Net further research is needed to calculate the exact yield gains from using the resistant banana strain.

The researchers inserted genes for chitinase - an enzyme that breaks down chitin, the hard substance that makes up the cell walls of the invading fungi - preventing the fungus from invading the plant cells and causing the disease.

Reminder to content type on to