News in June 2011
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2011-06-29

Even Bolivian socialist strongman - president Evo Morales - joined the twenty-first century.

http://www.consumerfreedom.com/news_detail.cfm/h/4462-a-scientific-merger

As recently as last year, Morales was promising that a five-year "transition period" would rid his South American country of GMOs. He even told a climate-change conference last year that eating GMOs caused baldness and homosexuality. (We're not making that up.)

But 7th of June 2001 Morales's government announced that it will permit cultivation of bio-engineered crops in order to increase food production. We only wish Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Organic Consumers Association, the misnamed "Center for Food Safety," and other food-scare groups would do a similarly decent thing.

Books & Articles

Searchable Database of Approved GM Crops
http://www.isaaa.org/gmapprovaldatabase/

Database of Biotech/GM crop approvals for various biotechnology stakeholders. It features the Biotech/GM crop events and traits that have been approved for commercialization and planting and/or for import for food and feed use with a short description of the crop and the trait.

The Food Security Reader: The Best of Truth about Trade & Technology
- New Book by Mary Boote (ed), 452 pages,
Publisher: CreateSpace, May 12, 2011, ISBN-10: 146115328X; $19.
http://www.amazon.com/Food-Security-Reader-Truth-Technology/dp/146115328X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1305654251&sr=8-1

From the start, Truth about Trade & Technology has spread its message of hope and growth. We began a weekly column, produced a weekly economic analysis, launched a website, spoke to journalists, appeared on radio and television, and attended meetings in the United States and abroad.

More than a decade later, we can report many successes, such as the passage of new free-trade agreements and the growing acceptance of biotech crops. Yet plenty of tests await us: Agricultural trade remains badly distorted and biotechnology continues to face substantial resistance in Europe and many developing nations. As old battles end, new ones emerge--and our work remains as important and daunting as ever. The Food Security Reader is a chronicle of what we've done, a collection of our best columns on a wide range of subjects.

Impacts of GE Crops on Biodiversity
Janet E. Carpenter, ISB News Report, June 2011
http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2011/Jun/Impacts-GE-Crops-Biodiversity.pdf

The potential impact of genetically engineered (GE) crops on biodiversity has been a topic of interest both in general as well as specifically in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity. In a recent review, I took a biodiversity lens to the substantial body of literature that exists on the potential impacts of GE crops on the environment, considering the impacts at three levels: the crop; farm; and landscape scales1. Overall, the review finds that currently commercialized GE crops have reduced the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity, through enhanced adoption of conservation tillage practices, reduction of insecticide use, and use of more environmentally benign herbicides. Increasing yields also alleviate pressure to convert additional land into agricultural use.

Biotech Crops and Political Gullibility: Educators Speak
- Fernando A. Bernardo, Ph.D. Manila Bulletin, June 12, 2011 9Former Dean, UP College of Agriculture)

MANILA, Philippines - Some European organizations are rightfully promoting the green revolution, but unfortunately launching worldwide campaigns against Genetically Modified plants or biotech crops. They always say No, No to biotech crops, claiming that they are a great threat to human health and cause environmental pollution.

Political gullibility can be a big obstacle to economic progress. GM plants are science-based. Politicians should keep this in mind and refrain from making political decisions for or against any particular product of genetic engineering. Each case of GM plant needs to be studied carefully and scientifically to minimize if not completely eliminate risks to human health, environment, and biodiversity.

Organic = Good, and Mass-produced = Bad. Right?
David Ropeik , Big Think, June 20, 2011
http://bigthink.com/ideas/38938

The latest example that that assumption is naďve, and wrong, and potentially dangerous, is the recent discovery that the worst food-borne disease outbreak in Europe in decades may have been carried by organic bean sprouts. The danger here is the way you and I perceive and respond to risk, a subconscious decision making process that often works well, but which sometimes can create risks all by itself.

Setting aside the issue of whether organic food is intrinsically any healthier than non-organic food, or safer because pesticides have not been used, organic farming offers no advantages over non-organic agriculture when it comes to by far the greatest risk our food poses, the risk that what we eat might carry germs. The suspected sprouts in Germany are only the most recent example of organically produced food believed to have made people sick. Organic eggs and spinach and lettuce have caused big outbreaks in the U.S. in the past few years. The way those foods are produced and processed and shipped is part of the risk, but we make it worse because of the positive/healthy/better-for-you reputation organic food enjoys. That encourages the assumption that organic food poses less danger of carrying disease. That leads to less of the caution that should be applied in handling all foods; washing, cooking, temperature control. So our benign assumptions about organic food can raise our risk.

Why Our Fears Don't Match the Facts" I call The Perception Gap, when our feelings about a risk don't match the facts and the gap between our emotions and the evidence creates risks of its own. Here are a few others similar to organic food; Most of us are less afraid of radiation from the sun, which causes 1.3 million cases of skin cancer a year in the U.S. and approximately 8,000 deaths from melanoma, than radiation from cell phones and nuclear power plants. We are less afraid of mixing the genes of plants indiscriminately by "natural" hybridization than by the much more precise and controlled process of changing just one gene in a lab.

What's the common thread in what seems like so much irrationality? The perception of risk is not just a matter of the facts, but also depends on how those facts feel. One of the subconscious psychological filters we apply when assessing how scary something feels is whether it's natural or human-made. Natural risks feel less scary. Human-made risks feel scarier. The sun is far more likely to give you cancer than radiation from a nuclear power plant or a cell phone or from power lines, but the sun is natural and the others are human-made, so even though they are all radiation risks, they don't feel the same.

Risk perception is intrinsically subjective. At this point in human evolution there is no way to take emotions out of the process. Perfect objective reason, as appealing as it is, is just not possible. (As Ambrose Bierce once wrote, "Brain, n, the organ with which we think we think.") So criticizing this as irrational is wrong, and counterproductive, because it traps us in a fruitless debate over how we should go about perceiving risk more objectively, rather than moving on to the real question...how do we reduce the risk of getting risk wrong when our feelings don't match the facts.

Here's what we can do. We can heed the insights from a rich body of research that has revealed in detail where the Perception Gap comes from. We know that natural risks are less scary, voluntary risks are less scary, risks over which we have control are less scary, risks with which we're familiar are less scary. And those are just few of the details risk perception research has discovered.

Events

- June 27 -30, 2011, - Washington DC http://convention.bio.org/schedule/ 

* Tuesday, June 28 - Keynote Luncheon: Tony Blair

* Wednesday, June 29 - Scientific American Worldview 2011 -  Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek      International editor and CNN host and author, will moderate a panel on BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) country efforts to build local biotechnology hubs.

- A Look Into the Future of Animal Biotechnology, Wednesday, June 29-; Speakers: Mark Walton, Zhiying Zhang: Moderator - Rob Readnour

- Environmental Review of GE Food and Agriculture Products,A

 Thursday, June 30; :Jay Johnson, Mark McCaslin, Larisa: Michael Smith

- Excellence Through Stewardship (ETS): The value of Quality Management Systems (QMS) to Plant Biotechnology, Tuesday, June 28:Michael Gregoire, Judith Rylott; Brian Sabus

- Experimental Field Trials With Biotech Corn and Conservation of Corn Landraces in Mexico, Thursday, June 30:Luciano Castro, Agustín López-Herrera, Enriqueta Molina-Macías, Héctor Carlos Salazar-Arriaga: Jaime Padilla-Acero

- Getting a Biotech Crop to Market - How Much, How Long, and What Steps?,

 Wednesday, June 29 :Francisco Aragăo, Josette Lewis, John McDougall: Denise Dewar

- International Regulation of Animal Biotechnology, Tuesday, June 28,  :Carlos Alvarez Antolinez, Larisa Rudenko, Simon Smalley: James Murphy

- Looking Beyond Row Crops: What's Next for Agricultural Biotechnology?,

 Tuesday, June 28:Michael Cunningham, C. Preston Linn, Susan MacIsaac, Shawn Semones: Gwyn Riddick

- New Technologies for Sustainable Crop Production, Wednesday, June 29:Roger Beachy, Tom Greene, Jacqueline Heard: T. Lynne Reuber

Europe - EU

 Zero tolerance of unapproved GMO redefined
- Reuters, June 24, 2011
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/24/eu-gmo-imports-idUSLDE75M1EA20110624

EU allows 0.1 pct unapproved GM material Threshold applies only to imports of feed, not food.

The European Union adopted new rules on 24 June allowing traces of unapproved genetically modified (GM) material in animal feed imports, in a bid to secure grain fodder supplies to the import-dependent bloc. The EU and its trading partners -- backed by industry -- argue the 0.1 percent threshold is needed to avoid a repeat of supply disruptions in 2009, when U.S. soy shipments to Europe were blocked after unapproved GM material was found in some cargoes. The regulation, which will enter into force 20 days after its publication in the EU Official Journal, improves legal certainty for operators by reducing the uncertainties they face when placing feed imported from non-EU countries on the market.

But environmental campaigners and consumer groups have accused the EU of caving in to GM-industry lobbying by reversing its "zero-tolerance" policy on unauthorised GM crops. Some environmentalists argue that the effect of consuming GM crops is unknown and say these varieties have not completed the EU's safety assessment process.

The GM crops in question must have been approved in a non-EU producing country and an EU authorisation request must have been lodged with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for at least three months.
EFSA must also have issued an opinion that the presence of GM products at 0.1 percent does not pose risks to health or the environment.

The 0.1 percent threshold will only apply to imports of animal feed and not human food, despite warnings from traders and exporting states that it is impractical and costly to separate global grain supplies into those destined for humans and those for animals.

The EU currently imports some 45 million tonnes of protein crops a year, much of it soy beans and soy meal from Brazil, Argentina and the U.S. destined for use as animal feed.

A majority of EU governments are reported to be in favour of a similar threshold for food imports, but the Commission has said it currently has no plans to table such a proposal.

Dtto Anne Eckstein, EuroPolitics , June 24, 2011
http://www.europolitics.info/sectorial-policies/zero-tolerance-and-controls-on-feed-art308024-11.html

Europe

UK's Biochemical Society Position Statement, "Genetically modified" Crops, Feed and Food
June 2011
http://www.biochemistry.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=qf3Zm6MDTmw%3d&tabid=491

The Biochemical Society recognises that GM crops are not a magic bullet that will feed the whole world or eliminate poverty. However, the application of molecular biology will allow more targeted, precise, predictable and controllable improvement of crops, and can be used in two major ways: marker-assisted breeding to develop new varieties faster and GM to introduce new traits into crop plants. These technologies must not only be applied to improve food production in major crops but also to orphan crops (those of minor economic significance, and so perhaps overlooked in commercial developments, but nevertheless of great importance for specific populations, often very poor ones in the developing world eg.Cassava, Sorghum), which are a vital resource for farmers in the developing world. As a scientific society, we have a responsibility for fully evaluating and deploying these technologies where appropriate, and thus contributing to the security of future generations; unfortunately, time is not on our side.

The Biochemical Society supports the view that, while it is indeed proper to maintain a reasonable level of regulatory control, a wealth of experience and experimental data from national academies, governments and regulatory authorities has shown that the use of GM techniques presents no particular or novel hazards beyond those already encountered in agriculture. This view has just been clearly endorsed in an EU reportii: "According to the projects' results, there is, as of today, no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms".

The Biochemical Society wishes to thank Chris Leaver CBE FRS FRSE Emeritus Professor of Plant Science and Emeritus Fellow of St Johns College, Oxford for his work in producing this position statement.

Europe's GM barrier is 'starving the poor'
http://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk/World-News/Europe-s-GM-barrier-is-starving-the-poor
- Rick Pendrous, Food Manufacture, UK; June 13, 2011

Giving the Institute of Food Science and Technology 2011 lecture at the Royal Society last month (sponsored by Food Manufacture), Professor Sir David King said: "Because we in Europe decided not to choose GM foodstuff and set the gold standard for the rest of the world, GM has been banned in many countries. Many poor nations are avoiding using GM technologies for fear of being shut out of potentially lucrative EU export markets.

King, formerly the UK government's chief scientific adviser and now director of the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, cited GM variants such as such as drought-, disease- and saline-resistant crops and 'submergence-tolerant' rice as GM technologies that would benefit developing nations. Submergence-tolerant rice prevents crop loss when there are early monsoon rains. "Had we moved quickly to introduce submergence-tolerant rice in the 1990s this could have been in the marketplace 10 years ago and the number of lives lost as a result of malnutrition would have been very substantially reduced," said King. and added: "The scientific community needs to ... inform public debate in a rational, easily assimilable manner. We just haven't managed this well at all."

George Freeman, Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk, believes the public will accept the need for GM if the benefits are clearly shown. "I intend to carry the flag for GM and try to sell it in parliament," he said at a Crop Protection Association debate last month.

Sweden - Loud Voices in the Way of GM Crops
- Torbjörn Fagerström, Dagens Nyheter, Sweden June 1, 2011
http://www.dn.se/debatt/hogljudd-opinion-star-i-vagen-for-gm-grodorna

Europe stands at the side of where the rest of the world embraces the technology of GM (genetically engineered crops processed). There is a future-oriented, profitable and environmentally friendly technology which according to science is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Our study - commissioned by the Treasury Department's Expert Group for environmental studies - shows that European national economy each year, throwing 25 billion in the lake, do not use, for example, herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape and sugar beet. EU fight against a demon that does not exist while the tiger, leopard and lion economies of Asia, South America and Africa is developing a modern, bio-based green technology, writes Torbjörn Fagerström.

Some opinion-related accidents have a greater impact than others. Among the more disastrous are probably by no pat in Europe on the perception of genetically engineered crops (GMOs or GM crops). On behalf of the Expert Group for Environmental Studies, Ministry of Finance, we have analyzed the benefits that Europe thus missing out on. The report presented here at a seminar on Tuesday.

The situation in Europe is following. On the one hand we have a future-oriented, profitable, environmentally sound technologies for plant breeding, which according to science is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. On the other hand, we have a regulatory framework, influential interest groups, and a political system that deals with the same technology as if it were the devil's invention.

This will mean a total clash between science and politics, between the best practices and public opinion, between trust and suspicion. By way of explanation often cited a loud protectionist agricultural lobbies, influential green movement with the business idea to be opposed to GM crops, and outrage that a few large companies have power over plant breeding.

But none of these factors is of course unique to Europe. There must be a specific inability of the political system in Brussels, a long bench syndrome, some humility towards the loud voices, which explains why Europe is in addition to when the rest of the world embrace a promising technology.

Torbjörn Fagerström , Senior Advisor and former Vice-Chancellor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science.

Italy - interview with Professor Drew Kershen
 http://www.ilsussidiario.net/News/English-Spoken-Here/Science-Technology/2011/5/31/BIOTECHNOLOGY-Benefits-and-worries-about-its-use-in-agriculture/print/182249/
- Zenit (Italy), May 31, 2011

ilsussidiario.net is pleased to host an interview with Professor Drew Kershen, an expert in the legal issues of biotechnology, agriculture and intellectual property rights. This interview was originally done by Professor Piero Morandini, Department of Biology, University of Milan, Italy, for the Italian site of the international news agency Zenit.

“Multinational corporations do have a significant presence in the creation and in bringing to the market of transgenic plants. But it is a myth that large corporations are the only creators and developers of transgenic plants. Public sector scientists in universities and national agricultural research institutions also have a significant presence in modern scientific breeding, including transgenic plants. Brazil, China, India, and the Philippines (to name just four relevant countries) have many scientists with substantial financial and physical resource devoted to the genetic improvement of numerous plant species. These public sector programs have done excellent work to benefit farmers in their own countries and elsewhere.”

“With respect to public sector research, farmers will benefit from these improved crops (be they obtained through transgenic- or conventional means) through the agricultural extension programs existing in each nation. The public sector crops are developed for the public good and for agricultural development.”

“With respect to multinational corporations, farmers purchase these transgenic crops because they see now the benefits agronomically, socially, economically, and environmentally in their own fields. In 2010, 15.4 million farmers - 14.4 million small resource farmers - grew transgenic crops. These farmers did so because these crops improved their lands and their lives. They did so voluntarily because they wanted improved seeds. Farmers easily calculate their advantage from these improved seeds, taking into account the purchase price including any royalty. If farmers do not think they will benefit from a particular seed, farmers will not purchase the seed.”

“The facts show that farmers do want these improved seeds. Farmers planted 148 million hectares of transgenic plants in 2010; since the first commercial release of a transgenic plant in 1996, farmers have planted more than 1 billion hectares of transgenic plants. This is the fastest adoption by farmers of an agricultural technology in history. Farmers know their fields and their own self-interest.”

“I am in full agreement with the Statement of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences Study Week that concluded, "Given these scientific findings, there is a moral imperative to make the benefits of GE (genetically engineered) technology available on a large scale to poor and vulnerable populations who want them and on terms that will enable them to raise their standards of living, improve their health and protect the environment. Catholic social doctrine urges science and societies to choose options for the benefit of the poor. Transgenic crops have proven to be an option for the poor because through them poor resource farmers can improve and have improved their personal lives, the lives of their families, and the lives of their fellow citizens in the wider communities.”

Africa

Challenges and Opportunities for Agricultural Intensification of the Humid-Highland Systems of sub-Saharan Africa
Southern African Nations United in Policy on Genetic Crops
Southern African Development Community (Sadc) countries could soon be planting genetically modified crops after the farming unions in 12 of the 14 member countries signed a common policy framework on the crops and called on their governments to harmonise policies in the region.

Farming unions in Sadc countries sign common policy framework on genetically modified crops and called on their governments to harmonise policies in the region. Uganda recently allowed controlled research into genetically modified organisms with the intention of developing seeds suitable for local crops.

CEO Ishmael Sunga, of the Sacau secretariat, said in a statement that the conference believes genetically modified technology is one of the options that increased production, generates and improves income for farmers, and contributes to food security challenges in the region.

Signatories of Sacau's framework include the farmer unions of Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, SA, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo are not yet affiliated.

Asia

Philippines - Greenpeace Violators of Bt Eggplant Trial to be Prosecuted for Malicious Mischief
- SEARCA BIC Press Release, June 3, 2011 http://www.bic.searca.org/

Greenpeace members led by Daniel Ocampo who trespassed and destroyed the experimental site of the fruit and shoot borer resistant (FSBR) Bt eggplant in the University of the Philippines Los Bańos (UPLB) last February 17, 2011 are to be prosecuted for malicious mischief by the Provincial Prosecution Office of Laguna Province.

News in Science

Low-acrylamide potato lines
http://www.news.wisc.edu/19473

The problem starts with storage: low temperatures can cause simple sugars to accumulate in the tubers. University of Wisconsin-Madison plant geneticist Jiming Jiang, a professor of horticulture, has a solution. Jiang's solution is to insert a small segment of a potato's own DNA back into its genome. The extra DNA helps block a single gene - the vacuolar acid invertase gene, which codes for an enzyme - that's responsible for converting sucrose into glucose and fructose, the sugar culprits that cause both acrylamide formation and browning. Through this process Jiang has created a number of potato lines that produce very little acrylamide when cooked.

Deep History of Coconuts Decoded
- Diana Lutz, Washington Univ. , June 24, 2011

Written in coconut DNA are two origins of cultivation, several ancient trade routes, and the history of the colonization of the Americas.

The coconut - in one neat package it provides a high-calorie food, potable water, fibre that can be spun into rope, and a hard shell that can be turned into charcoal. No wonder people from ancient Austronesians to Captain Bligh pitched a few coconuts aboard before setting sail. So extensively is the history of the coconut interwoven with the history of people travelling that Kenneth Olsen, a plant evolutionary biologist, didn't expect to find much geographical structure to coconut genetics when he and his colleagues set out to examine the DNA of more than 1300 coconuts from all over the world.

It turned out that there are two clearly differentiated populations of coconuts, a finding that strongly suggests the coconut was brought under cultivation in two separate locations, one in the Pacific basin and the other in the Indian Ocean basin. What's more, coconut genetics also preserve a record of prehistoric trade routes and of the colonization of the Americas. The most striking finding of the new DNA analysis is that the Pacific and Indian Ocean coconuts are quite distinct genetically. That's a very high level of differentiation within a single species and provides pretty conclusive evidence that there were two origins of cultivation of the coconut.

Olsen points out that no genetic admixture is found in the more northerly Seychelles, which fall outside the trade route. He adds that a recent study of rice varieties found in Madagascar shows there is a similar mixing of the japonica and indica rice varieties from Southeast Asia and India.

To add to the historical shiver, the descendants of the people who brought the coconuts and rice are still living in Madagascar. The present-day inhabitants of the Madagascar highlands are descendants of the ancient Austronesians. This is why, Olsen says, you find Pacific type coconuts on the Pacific coast of Central America and Indian type coconuts on the Atlantic coast.

"The big surprise was that there was so much genetic differentiation clearly correlated with geography, even though humans have been moving coconut around for so long."

Far from being a mish-mash, coconut DNA preserves a record of human cultivation, voyages of exploration, trade and colonization.

Reminder to content type on to