News in September 2011
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2011-08-06

General - Global

Joyce Tait & Guy Barker , EMBO reports (2011) 12, 763 - 768; 15 July
http://www.nature.com/embor/journal/v12/n8/full/embor2011135a.html

Food security has become an issue of serious concern because global food supplies are threatened by systemic collapse. Increasing demand for food caused by global population growth, changing lifestyles in developing countries, climate change and competition with biofuels are combining to create a 'perfect storm' (Godfray et al, 2010). Moreover, short-term weather pattern changes leading to floods and droughts and associated fires in key grain-producing areas of the world encourage speculation in agricultural commodities and cause wild price fluctuations. Drastic price hikes for staple foods during the past few years have triggered famine and revolts in developing countries, where people are hardest hit (Henn, 2011).

European regulatory systems-instead of scientific progress-will therefore determine whether technology-based solutions are part of the future of agriculture...

Basic research into plant, animal and microbial physiology and molecular processes has yielded extensive knowledge about plants, their pathogens and symbiotic partners. Scientists and policy-makers are confident that the application of this knowledge could lead to new and more efficient approaches to crop production that will eventually improve food security. In this context, Europe has a particularly important role, as it contains highly fertile land and is agriculturally very productive.

However, European countries find it difficult to respond constructively to these challenges, given their divergent opinions on how to address food-security issues, particularly in terms of whether and how science and technology should be part of the solution. In addition, individuals and interest groups opposed to genetic modification and related technologies have influenced policy making in agriculture.

Unfortunately, the European Union (EU) has yet to develop a coherent approach that allows European citizens to reap the benefits of scientific progress and prevents special interests from dominating decision-making processes. European regulatory systems-instead of scientific progress-will therefore determine whether technology-based solutions are part of the future of agriculture within Europe, and in many other countries. This article explores the link between regulation and innovation in the context of food security in Europe, and considers the impact of European policy on the ability of other countries to respond to food-security challenges.

Foresight and horizon-scanning are important tools for the development of government policies and planning. They help to determine both the level of investment in scientific research and the policies that facilitate the application of such knowledge. Unfortunately, for more than a decade the prevailing policies in Europe have been either negative or neutral towards innovation for agricultural production. This has led to a lack of new genetically modified (GM) crop varieties for European agriculture and created an environment that is unreceptive to their application.

Books & Articles

Precaution Without Principle
- Alan McHughen and Henry Miller Forbes, August 31, 2011
http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2011/08/31/precaution-without-principle/

In recent decades Europeans have suffered a series of food safety setbacks that have roiled public opinion. These have resulted variously from shoddy animal husbandry practices (BSE, or "Mad Cow" disease), negligence (the recent E. coli O401 contamination of organic sprouts) and criminal enterprises (benzene in Perrier water, anti-freeze in wines).

Chastened by such threats and confronted with the prospect of what some call "Frankenfoods" - that is, food derived from genetically engineered new varieties of plants - European consumers have welcomed strict safety regulations based on a postmodern concept called "the precautionary principle." According to this principle, governments are encouraged to regulate actions that raise conjectural threats of harm to human health or the environment - even if the probability or potential significance of these dangers is uncertain or negligible.

The application of the precautionary principle - which is not really a principle at all, but rather a tautology amenable to various contortions - is sometimes represented as "erring on the side of safety" or "better safe than sorry." However, this formulation often fails to consider that the status quo is not risk-free and that excessive regulation has costs and can result in an actual increase of risk if important new products and technologies are delayed or abandoned.

In response to supposed public safety concerns about genetically engineered crops, E.U. politicians established a "farm to fork" food safety system in which every aspect of crops used for food production would come under intense scrutiny and documentation.

It didn't work. In spite of massive funding to create a food safety bureaucracy and enforce the regulations the disasters continued, with regular reports of contamination by toxic chemicals and pathogenic organisms in a wide range of foodstuffs across the continent. (None of which involved genetic engineering, we hasten to add.) Over the past decade chemical toxins called dioxins were found in bakery products, meat, cheese, poultry and eggs in various European countries, and pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria and E. coli continued to appear in various foods, causing illness and death.

The celebrated but expensive E.U. "farm to fork" food safety policy was supposed to protect European consumers from such hazards. So why has it failed?

The answer can be found in large part in the E.U.'s skewed, ideological interpretation of the precautionary principle - specifically the assumption that all new products, processes and technologies are inherently hazardous and must be proven safe before they can even be tested in field trials, let alone commercialized. But apart from the scientific impossibility of proving anything absolutely and incontrovertibly safe, European regulators assumed that currently used products and practices, especially those that seem intuitively to be more "natural," are inherently safe and thus need no regulatory oversight. Nowhere is this misconception more dangerous than in agriculture and food production.

EU policymakers have focused much of their zeal and attention on important but incremental technological advances such as the genetic engineering of plants. Never mind that numerous professional medical and scientific societies around the world had concluded as early as the 1980s that the new molecular techniques of genetic engineering posed no greater risks to health or environment than other products. And after a quarter century of rapidly expanding cultivation and consumption of genetically engineered crops and foods around the world, there remains no documented example of harm to either health or the natural environment attributable to the modern techniques of genetic engineering. (The crops are currently cultivated in three dozen countries, and the inhabitants of North America alone have consumed more than 3 trillion servings of foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients.) Nevertheless, European politicians chose to compound their initial mistakes and to maintain unnecessarily onerous, expensive and obstructionist regulations that apply only to genetic engineering, while genuine threats to food safety go unchecked.

Consider the spring 2011 E. coli O401 disaster in Europe. Thousands were stricken, and more than 40 people died as a result of the contaminated foods not being subject to regulatory safety checks. Because organic foods are often exempt from farm-to-fork policies in the postmodern Euro-Zeitgeist, the source of the outbreak could not be readily identified. This led to frantic searches, false accusations and unnecessary destruction of harmless, wholesome foods - not to mention losses to markets and the livelihoods of blameless farmers and workers. With thousands of consumers succumbing to severe food poisoning and the body count rising, widespread consumer panic was understandable. Eventually, the actual source, organic sprouts, was found and contained.

EU regulators could have neutralized this outbreak much earlier had they listened to their scientists instead of capitulating to certain NGOs' genetic engineering-phobic interpretation of the precautionary principle. It may have been politically expedient to limit farm-to-fork food safety policies to genetically engineered plants and the foods derived from them, but the price of such foolishness has been the health of thousands of European consumers, and the trust of millions more.

The expensive lesson from E coli O104 seems to be going unheeded, with Euro-regulators preferring their perverse, populism-driven application of the precautionary principle to a scientific approach to food safety.

Alan McHughen, a molecular geneticist, is a professor of botany and plant sciences at the University of California, Riverside. He is currently a Jefferson Science Fellow at the U.S. Department of State.

Henry Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He was the founding director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology.

September 8, 2011
A brief look into attitudes by the general public, politicians and journalists on green biotechnology and genetically modified food by Sebastian Olényi, TUDelft
http://www.btsblog.tnw.tudelft.nl/?p=27

In the recent weeks, field trials in Belgium and Germany with genetically modified (GM) crops have been destroyed by Anti-GM activists. Statements in the media and also by many researchers involved in plant science and green biotechnology imply that the general public does not support GM and is particularly negative about food containing genetically modified plants or other GM ingredients (GM food). Some scientists, especially the ones in favour of this research, feel misunderstood and misrepresented especially by politicians and the media. But is that correct? What does the attitude of the general public and particularly journalists and politicians really look like?

The Eurobarometer survey of 2010 indicates indeed scepticism towards GM - 61% disagree totally or tend to disagree with the statement "GM food should be encouraged", while only 23% are supportive of GM food. This scepticism has even grown since the last survey in 2005, when 57% were against GM food and 27% in favour of it. However, if one asks about concrete applications of GM, the survey shows a different picture. The majority of the interviewed people said they would buy GM if it was healthier or contained less pesticide residues. However only 36% of the respondents said they would buy GM food if it was cheaper, while 56% say they would not buy GM in this case.

In another question, the Commission wanted to know if people would have different opinions on GM food that contains "foreign" genes, for example an inserted bacterial gene (transgenic) as opposed to GM food with genes from a related species or ancestor, e. g. a red apple variety with an inserted gene from a green apple variety (cisgenic). It indeed turns out that the support for cisgenic apples is significantly higher -55% of the Europeans agree or totally agree with the encouragement of this technology, while only 33% support transgenic apples. Despite huge differences between the different European countries, from 76% of the people in Cyprus to just 35% of the inhabitants of Luxembourg supporting cisgenic apples, the vote is clear enough and even in traditionally GM sceptical countries such as Austria and Germany, more people would want to encourage this GM food than not encouraging it. People decide very different if they are in a shopping situation.

The study of Knight, Mather, & Holdsworth, published in Nature biotechnology in 2007, comes to very similar results: It was observed what happens if "spray-free" GM is sold on a "farmers market booth" at a 15% discount in comparison to being priced equally with conventional and organic food. It turns out that the price tag does have a significant impact on the shopping behaviour: Once GM is cheaper, it increases in almost all countries in market share, making it in Germany, Sweden and New Zealand even from third place to first place. According to this study, more people of those countries would buy GM food than people buying organic or conventional products if they could save money with it.

How about the attitudes of journalists and politicians?

In my research project "Green biotechnology and Genetically Modified Food: Perception and Attitudes of European Politicians and Journalists", I tried to verify if science can find proof to the belief that politicians and journalists are (more) negative on the issue than the general public or not.

At first sight, the results are not exciting: Although both Members of the European Parliament and journalists are on average more negative than the general public, the difference on the general attitude questions is not significant. More striking are differences between different kinds of journalists and politicians: Journalists in different news departments think very differently about GM, so do - foreseeably - politicians from different parties. Science journalists are significantly more positive than the general public and their colleagues, while local journalists are very negative on the topic. Liberal politicians and conservative ones are more supportive than the greens, with the social democrats being somewhere in the middle. Both politicians and journalists are more sceptical towards GM regulations and towards industry and especially retailers, but trust University scientists, consumer organizations and environmental groups more than the respondents of the Eurobarometer.

When journalists and politicians are asked "who should communicate more on the topic of GM, it is especially university scientists who are said to be missing actors in the public debate. All three groups - the general public, politicians and journalists - rank health and environmental arguments as being of highest importance when it comes to GM food. Politicians and journalists know significantly more about the topic and know more arguments against than in favour of GM, especially environmental ones. Still, many members of both of those groups would buy GM if it was healthier for them - 45% of the politicians and even 55% of the journalists said so.

Global food security and the governance of modern biotechnologies
- Joyce Tait & Guy Barker , EMBO reports (2011) 12, 763 - 768; 15 July
http://www.nature.com/embor/journal/v12/n8/full/embor2011135a.html

Food security has become an issue of serious concern: global population growth, changing lifestyles in developing countries, climate change and competition with biofuels are combining to create a 'perfect storm' (Godfray et al, 2010). Drastic price hikes for staple foods during the past few years have triggered famine and revolts in developing countries, where people are hardest hit (Henn, 2011).

European regulatory systems-instead of scientific progress-will therefore determine whether technology-based solutions are part of the future of agriculture...

Basic research yielded extensive knowledge about plants, their pathogens and symbiotic partners. Scientists and policy-makers are confident that the application of this knowledge could lead to new and more efficient approaches to crop production that will eventually improve food security. In this context, Europe has a particularly important role, as it contains highly fertile land and is agriculturally very productive.

However, European countries find it difficult to respond constructively to these challenges, given their divergent opinions on how to address food-security issues, particularly in terms of whether and how science and technology should be part of the solution. In addition, individuals and interest groups opposed to genetic modification and related technologies have influenced policy making in agriculture.

Unfortunately, the European Union (EU) has yet to develop a coherent approach that allows European citizens to reap the benefits of scientific progress and prevents special interests from dominating decision-making processes. European regulatory systems-instead of scientific progress-will therefore determine whether technology-based solutions are part of the future of agriculture within Europe, and in many other countries. This article explores the link between regulation and innovation in the context of food security in Europe, and considers the impact of European policy on the ability of other countries to respond to food-security challenges.

Unfortunately, for more than a decade the prevailing policies in Europe have been either negative or neutral towards innovation for agricultural production. This has led to a lack of new genetically modified (GM) crop varieties for European agriculture and created an environment that is unreceptive to their application.

GM crops are already contributing to increased yields, greater ease and predictability of crop management, a reduction in pesticide use and fewer post-harvest crop losses.

EUROBAROMETER
http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_363_en.pdf

Internal Market: Awareness, Perceptions and Impacts

Citizens' views on EU policies are of the utmost importance. To better gauge these views, DG MARKT undertook research out in the first quarter of 2011 on "Awareness, Perception and Impacts of Internal Market Policies". The data is representative of EU citizens' views and fills the often deplored information gap on our key stakeholder's needs and opinions. The study gauges the current level of awareness of the Internal Market and its benefits amongst the general public. It also measures citizens' attitudes as regards key Internal Market issues (e.g. cross-border work, public procurement that may involve foreign.

Events

Genomic Research 2012, Boston 19-20 April 2012
http://www.selectbiosciences.com/conferences/RNAiWC2012/

The five conference tracks at this event include

RNAi & miRNA, Advances in qPCR, Epigenetics, Next Gen Sequencing and Exosomes in Oncology. Registered delegates will have access to all five meetings ensuring a very cost-effective trip.

11-13 October, Hannover, Germany

BIOTECHNICA 2011 has so much to offer: innovations, products, know-how and new business contacts.

Europe's leading trade fair for biotechnology and the life sciences covers key categories such as Enabling Technologies, Bioanalytics, Bioinformatics, Services and Biotech Applications. At the same time BIOTECHNICA examines major trends for the future with three focus themes: BioServices, Biotechnological Innovation in Food and Industrial Biotechnology.

17 - 19 Oct 2011, Montreux, Switzerland

Europe-EU

No voluntary banning GM crops.
Europe's highest court warned against fresh unilateral action against genetically-modified crops. In a ruling targeting France in particular, the European Court of Justice said EU states in the future must notify the European Commission before banning GM crops. Europe's highest court warned against fresh unilateral action against genetically-modified crops. In a ruling targeting France in particular, the European Court of Justice said EU states in the future must notify the European Commission before banning GM crops.

The ruling, which is not legally binding, is to go before France's highest administrative court for consideration. But should the court, the Council of State, ratify the Luxembourg-based court's decision, the government will have to scrap its so-called "safeguard clause" against GM crops.

"The European Court of Justice at no time raised the environmental and health risks posed by GMs. It simply raised concerns over procedure," said Greens' European parliamentarian Jose Bove "We risk seeing GMs back in our fields from next spring," said Greenpeace France director Sylvain Tardy. GM lobby EuropaBio predictably welcomed the ruling "as a step towards choice in Europe. "French farmers should no longer be denied the choice to use this GM maize," it said in a statement.

Europe's Honey verdict gums up GM rules
Andy Coghlan, NEW SCIENTIST, 7 September 2011
http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2011/09/honey-verdict-gums-up-gm-rules.html

Europe's dysfunctional rules authorising the sale and production of genetically modified foods just became even more of a dog's dinner. The reason: the region's highest court ruled yesterday that if ordinary honey gets accidentally contaminated with pollen from genetically modified crops, then it qualifies as a GM food itself.

The ramifications are huge. The ruling by the European Court of Justice means that to sell such honey legally under European law, beekeepers would need to get the "contaminated" produce officially approved for sale through Europe's convoluted approval process for GM foods. If cleared for sale, the honey would also need to be labelled as a GM food.

This is nonsense, says the Wall Street Journal's Market Watch site. The approval process is so complex, expensive and convoluted that the only organisations with the time and money to negotiate it are multinational agrochemical companies.

Experts say EU hurts self with gene mod rules
- Caroline Henshaw, MarketWatch, Sept. 6, 2011
http://www.marketwatch.com/story/experts-say-eu-hurts-self-with-gene-mod-rules-2011-09-06

PARIS - The European Union is shooting itself in the foot with its restrictive policies on cultivating genetically modified organisms, two senior experts on biotechnology said Tuesday.

Speaking at the sidelines of a conference here, Mike Bushell, principal scientific advisor for agrochemicals giant Syngenta AG (SYT, SYNN.VX), estimated that the average cost of creating a test trial of any genetically modified product in the EU stands at around $100 million.

At the same time as we're promoting Europe as the leading knowledge-based economy, we're actually doing our very best to give ourselves a bad reputation for a place to invest in new technology," he said.

Gordon Conway, head of the Agriculture for Impact initiative at Imperial College London, said that many of the same technologies are already at work in the pharmaceutical industry but face far less resistance from politicians and consumers. "The irony is we're all quite happy to be injected with a vaccine that's been produced through a biotechnology approach," he said.

Their comments came the same day that Europe's top court ruled that food supplements containing pollen derived from a genetically modified food come under the bloc's so-called GM laws, "irrespective of the proportion of genetically modified material contained in the product," and so must be authorized to be marketed.

Powerful lobby groups opposed to genetically modified food are threatening public acceptance of the technology in Europe, research suggests
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-09/uoe-gfs092311.php

They are also hampering Europe's response to the global challenge of securing food supplies for current and future generations, researchers claim.

Drawing upon a decade of evidence, researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Warwick University say that Europe's regulation of GM crops has become less democratic and less evidence-based since the 1980s.

Anti-GM groups such as organic food lobbyists and environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) dominate the decision making process, they claim, resulting in greater restriction of plant biotechnology research and development in Europe compared with most other parts of the world.

Some developing countries resist GM crops, even though they might benefit from the reduced crop losses and increased yields of GM technology, because they would not be able to sell their produce in Europe, the researchers found.

Professor Joyce Tait of the University of Edinburgh's ESRC Innogen Centre, who took part in the research, said: "At a time when an increasing number of people are living in hunger and climate change threatens crops, the system that regulates GM food sources ought to become more based on evidence and less subject to the influence of politically motivated NGOs."

The findings, published in EMBO Reports, were funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Europe

Turkey - the delicate GM balance
- Taylan Bilgiç , World Crops.com, Sept. 15, 2011

Turkey has cracked the door to imports of genetically modified (GM) corn, and it's only a matter of time until that door gets blown wide open.

Turkey's economy grew in Q2 for the ninth successive quarter, and by 8.8% on the previous year (Q2 2010 - Q2 2011). The rate of GDP growth surprised even the central bank, and while inflation is not yet a concern, food prices are high and rising.

This has brought the complicated issue of genetically modified (GM) food to the fore, with a request to the government from feed, poultry and egg producers to allow imports of three types of genetically GM corn to be used as animal and chicken feed.

"We can solve our raw material problem only through imports," says Ulku Karakus, chief of the Turkish Feed Industrialists Union, explaining the problem. "Costly feed translates into expensive meat. Unless we pull down the cost of feed, we cannot drive down meat prices."

Right now it looks like corn is moving up in importance in Turkey's fluctuating agricultural equation. And industrialists see no way out other than imports - just like the textile manufacturers who had to import cotton in the past few years.

It may be that GM crops are the solution to this problem, but as an increasingly important global economic power, the Turkish authorities must pay greater attention to managing the delicate balances of choices and expectations in the agricultural sector. If they decide to use GM crops as a means to resolve this tension, then they must also find ways to address public concerns over the issue, rather than turning the law into a complicated masquerade.

How would Swiss consumers decide if they had freedom of choice? Evidence from a field study with organic, conventional and GM corn bread
- Philipp Aernia, Joachim Scholdererb, David Ermena; Food Policy, In Press,
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306919211001102

In 2005, the Swiss expressed their negative attitude towards genetic engineering in agriculture by voting in favor of a ban to use genetically modified (GM) crops in domestic agriculture. At the same time, certain GM food products remain approved but are not on offer since retailers assume that consumers would shun labeled GM food. In our study we tested this claim by conducting a large-scale field study with Swiss consumers.

In our experimental design, three clearly labeled types of corn bread were offered at five different market stands across the French and German-speaking part of Switzerland: one made with organic, one made with conventional, and one made with genetically modified (GM) corn. In addition, we tested the consistency between purchasing decision at the market stand and the previous voting decision on GMOs in 2005 by means of an ex-post questionnaire. The results of our discrete choice analysis show that Swiss consumers treat GM foods just like any other type of novel food.

Africa

Food security
- Andre Louw, Business Day (South Africa), Sept 19, 2011

'Agricultural innovation needs to be encouraged in a responsible manner and not strangled by a bureaucratic regulatory system'

(Louw is Professor of Agribusiness Management at the University of Pretoria).

There are a number of tools available to African farmers to help increase food productivity. These include farming methods. In the future, genetic modification and other applications of modern biotechnology will, in all likelihood, play a substantial role in addressing the problem of increasing productivity under less than ideal climatic conditions. Useful GM products might include crops with drought tolerance, salinity tolerance, or products with quality traits such as oranges and sorghum with high vitamin C or A, or peanuts and wheat with no aflatoxin or allergenicity problems.

To date, South African farmers and consumers have been able to benefit from advances in agricultural technology due to the institutional infrastructure created by the pre- and post-democratic governments through investment in public research institutions, education and training of scientists and the establishment of guiding policies, legislation and regulatory authorities.

Due to a sound scientific background, South African authorities were, for instance, able to assess the permit applications for general release of GM cotton, maize and soybeans in a responsible and scientifically rigorous manner. As D eputy Agriculture Minister Pieter Mulder said this year, both SA and Africa require funding for scientific research to further inform the GM debate.

However, more recently it seems as if the regulation of genetically modified crops in SA has become more a bureaucratic hurdle than an enabling environment. For instance, getting approval for a basic permit to do confined "test of concept" trials with GM products has become a frustrating and expensive endeavour - not only for private companies but also for public research entities. Whether this is a result of lack of capacity or lobby group influence is not clear.

What is clear is the potential damage this could do to South African food production and food security.

Kenya's scientists urged to engage in GM debate
- Maina Waruru, SciDev.Net , 19 Sep 2011

There has been fierce debate at a high level about allowing the import of GM maize to improve food security, and some politicians have claimed that GM foods are harmful.

"Our research institutions have experts who can educate the public and save them from dangerous propaganda," said Songa. With the Horn of Africa faced with severe drought and crippling food shortages, he said scientists should inform the public of alternative options. "We [scientists] must no longer be cowed into silence as our people face starvation year in year out while politicians make wild allegations," he said.

Songa was speaking at the fellowships awards ceremony for African Women in Agricultural Research and Development last month (18 August). He said scientists feared being seen to contradict ministers and policymakers.

Shaukat Abdulrazak, head of the National Council for Science and Technology (NCST), told SciDev.Net that scientific bodies such as the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute (KARI) and the National Biosafety Authority must educate the public, but stressed that this should be about the drawbacks of GM crops as well as their benefits.

China

China Could Sow the Seeds of GM Crops Growth
- Caroline Henshaw, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 8, 2011

China's adoption of genetically-modified crops will provide the "tipping point" for global attitudes to biotechnology, according to two leading lights of the private and public sector debate on biotechnology in agriculture.

Speaking after a panel discussion on biotechnology moderated by The Wall Street Journal as part of a conference on sustainable agriculture in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Sir Gordon Conway of Imperial College, London, said he expected China to approve genetically-modified crops for mainstream cultivation as early as 2012.

"I think next year or the year after they will release a rice that is GM and that will change everything. They've got 30-40 [GM crop tests] underway right now-we're very close," he said.

India

Farmers with scientists
Business Standard (India) August 17, 2011, 14:50 IST
http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/farmers-call-to-embrace-technology-in-second-green-revolution/446206/

Farmers came together with scientists and agri-biotech industry to demand the second green revolution in India. Speaking in a unified voice they agreed that use of new technologies in agriculture was the only hope for farmers and solution to address the challenges of food security. According to a working paper by Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) India would have to double its food production by 2025. Faced with tremendous challenges of ever reducing arable land & water resources, quality of soil, climate change, and shortage of labour farmers find it difficult to enhance their farm yields and need technology push.

The group strongly appealed that the Indian Parliament clears the long-awaited Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill (BRAI) and Seeds Bill. They also emphasized on expeditious approvals of biotech crop trials and commercialization under the existing system till the BRAI is approved.

Prof. C. Kameswara Rao, eminent agri-biotech scientist and founder, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness & Education cautioned, "Some groups with vested interests are providing misleading information to public, media and policy makers and this is dangerous. Biotech crops undergo rigorous safety assessments following international and national guidelines and no verifiable cases of harm to human or animal health have occurred."

Said Mr. Kaundinya, "Today, Indian and international corporations as well as Indian universities and other research institutes across the country are testing technologies or conducting field trials both independently and in partnerships. He further added, "There should be a level playing field for all companies who invest millions in research and the there should be more efforts at encouraging further research on Indian soils for the benefit of India's farmers and future of the country."

Biotech cotton constitutes more than 90% of the total cotton grown in India. Bt cotton is safe and with no negative impact on soil. Families of Bt cotton seed farmers are increasingly enjoying a higher standard of living.

The seed and agricultural biotechnology industries in India
An analysis of industry structure, competition, and policy options
- Spielman, David J.; Kolady, Deepthi; Cavalieri, Anthony; Chandrasekhara Rao, N.

2011, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
http://www.ifpri.org/publication/seed-and-agricultural-biotechnology-industries-india

America

Cantaloupe Outbreak: 13 Dead, 18 States, More To Come
Maryn McKenna, Wired, September 28, 2011
http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/09/canteloupe-outbreak-more/

An outbreak of foodborne illness that appears to be spread by fresh cantaloupes has sickened 72 people so far, in 18 states, and 13 have died. According to investigators, the source of the contamination has not yet been found. And also, according to a media briefing today, the contaminated cantaloupes were also shipped overseas, to countries that investigators would not identify. And, as an extra bonus, the tally of cases and deaths is likely to keep rising, because the particular illness in this outbreak has an incubation period of up to two months.

The outbreak, which has been building for several weeks, involves melons from a single grower in Granada, Colo. called Jensen Farms. The first cases occurred at the beginning of August and authorities began to be concerned when the outbreak crossed state lines in early September. On Sept. 14, the growers did the right thing and launched a recall of all the whole cantaloupes they shipped between July 29 and Sept. 10. To their knowledge, they had sold cantaloupes to wholesalers and distributors in25 states. The organism that is causing the illnesses and deaths is Listeria monocytogenes.

EPA's Proposed Biotech Policy Turns a Deaf Ear to Science
- Nina Fedoroff, Robert Haselkorn, and Bruce M. Chassy; The FASEB Journal, vol. 25 no. 9 , September 2011
http://www.fasebj.org/content/25/9/2855.full

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed to further expand its regulatory coverage of transgenic crops in a way that cannot be justified on the basis of either scientific evidence or experience.

Twenty-five years ago, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy published a policy statement (51 Federal Register; 23302 June 26, 1986) that created a "Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology" in the United States. At the time the Coordinated Framework was articulated, a degree of caution seemed reasonable. The Framework sought to achieve "a balance between regulation adequate to ensure health and environmental safety while maintaining sufficient regulatory flexibility to avoid impeding the growth of an infant industry." At that time it was acknowledged that the framework should be "expected to evolve in accord with the experiences of the industry and the agencies, and, thus, modifications may need to be made."

Yet the regulatory apparatus in the U.S. has increasingly moved in the opposite direction toward ever greater regulation and increased data requirements for transgenic plants, despite the abundant accumulation of data attesting to their safety. In March 2011, the EPA announced (in the Federal Register) a draft proposed rule to codify data requirements for plant incorporated protectants (PIPs). This draft was forwarded by the EPA to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Health and Human Services and Congress for review in accordance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. Based on initial reviews of that draft proposal and recent EPA actions associated with biotechnology-derived crops, it is clear that the EPA is departing from a science-based regulatory process, instead walking down a path toward a policy based on the controversial European "precautionary principle" that goes beyond codifying data requirements for substances regulated as PIPs for the past 15 years. While this principle is politically popular in some constituencies, it is not supported by experience gained over the past several decades with transgenic crops.

We are particularly troubled by proposals to expand the EPA's current oversight into areas such as virus resistance and weediness. These areas have been adequately addressed by the USDA since 1986. Already, the EPA has expanded its oversight into virus resistance, which previously had been the purview of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and which the EPA prudently proposed in 1994 to exempt from its regulations. Under the draft proposed rules, the EPA would further expand its regulations and data demands to other areas historically covered by USDA-APHIS without the slightest justification based on either data or experience.

It is most troubling that the EPA is also proposing to increase its regulation to cover matters which are still not deemed to be threats even after years of study, such as gene transfer from plants to microorganisms. In other actions, the EPA has expressed its right to regulate plants engineered for altered growth (e.g., by suppression of ethylene production) the same way it regulates synthetic plant growth regulators. The agency does so based on a generous interpretation of the enabling legislation, despite the absence of any scientifically credible hazard.

Such an expansion in regulatory purview would reverse long established and highly successful policy under the Coordinated Framework. Such a shift would 1) create a duplicative regulatory system for very low risk products delivering substantial, demonstrated environmental benefits; 2) increase costs, reduce efficiency and prolong the review timelines, thereby discouraging innovation; 3) dramatically increase the hurdles already facing academic institutions and companies attempting to improve so-called minor use or specialty crops through modern biotechnology; and 4) adversely impact trade in safe and wholesome commodities produced by U.S. growers because of the stigma attached to anything characterized as a "pesticide" (a regulatory label for DNA that is unique to the U.S.) and with no concomitant increase in product safety. In addition, any expansion in regulatory oversight not resulting from documented risk could have global ramifications, as policymakers in other countries routinely consider U.S. policymakers as leaders in the regulation of crops derived from biotechnology.

Transgenic bean developed by Embrapa is approved in Brazil
- Crop Biotech Update, Sept 19, 2011
http://www.isaaa.org/

This is the first transgenic plant that is totally produced by public institutions September 15, 2011 - The National Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio) approved today the genetically modified (GM) bean resistant to the golden mosaic virus, the worst enemy of this crop in Brazil and in South America.

Developed by Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária - Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural and Livestock Research Company), this bean event is the first transgenic plant that is entirely produced by public research institutions. Nearly 10 years were needed for the research in a partnership between Embrapa Recursos Genéticos e Biotecnologia - Cenargen (Embrapa Genetic Resources and Biotechnology) and Embrapa Arroz e Feijăo (Embrapa Rice and Beans).

"In the field trials performed, even with the massive presence of the whitefly, the insect that transmits the mosaic virus, the transgenic plant was not affected by the disease", says Francisco Aragăo, Cenargen researcher and one of the people in charge of the project.

Beans are a type of crop that is extremely important especially in Latin American and African societies, and it is the most important legume in the eating habits of over 500 million people. In Brazil, it is the main vegetable source of protein and iron, and when associated to rice, it results in an even more nutritional mix.

The world production of beans corresponds to over 12 million tons. Brazil is the second country in this rank and the plant is produced especially by small farmers, with nearly 80% of the production and cultivated area in properties smaller than 100 hectares. When the golden mosaic virus attacks the plantation at its initial phase, it can cause damage to 100% of the production. Embrapa Arroz e Feijăo estimates that the loss caused by the disease would be enough to feed up to 5-10 million people.

The transgenic bean presents economic and environmental advantages, such as reduced waste, guaranteed harvest and reduced agrochemicals applications. With the approval, the transgenic seeds will be multiplied and must reach the market in two or three years.

News in Science

Low fat soybean
The Associated Press, September 1, 2011,
http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-09-01/entertainment/30120902_1_soybean-industry-new-soybean-american-soybean-association

New genetically modified soybean will produce oil lower in saturated fat, offer consumers a healthier alternative to foods containing trans fats and increase demand for growers' crops.

Demand for soybean oil has dropped sharply since 2005, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began requiring labels to list levels of trans fats, which have been linked to coronary heart disease. Vegetable oil does not naturally contain trans fats, but when hydrogen is added to make it suitable for use in the food industry, trans fats are created.

Monsanto Co. says oil from its new soybean will meet manufacturers' requirements for baking and shelf life without hydrogenation, resulting in food that's free of trans fats as well as lower in saturated fat.

The FDA approved the new bean, called Vistive Gold, earlier this year, and Monsanto and several state and national soybean groups are now seeking approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service said in an email to The Associated Press that it has no timeline for making a decision.

U.S. farmers harvested more than 3.3 billion bushels of soybeans valued at nearly $39 billion in 2010. But the Iowa Soybean Association said in a letter to APHIS that the industry's share of the food oil market dropped from 83 percent to 68 percent after the FDA enacted the labelling requirements. Iowa grows more soybeans than any other state.

How insects resist Bt pesticides
For the first time, researchers have identified how cabbage looper caterpillars in the field develop resistance to the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which naturally occurs in the soil and on plants and has been developed into the most successful and widely used biological insecticide.

When ingested, the insecticidal toxins in Bt kill insects by destroying their guts. Insects in the field develop resistance to it, however, via a genetic mechanism that alters a toxin receptor in the insect's gut, two Cornell researchers have discovered. The receptor belongs to a class of digestive enzymes called aminopeptidase N (APN), two of which undergo changes when cabbage loopers develop resistance to Bt on crops.

Under normal circumstances, the Bt toxin Cry1Ac, which is a caterpillar-specific toxin, binds to an enzyme called APN 1 along the wall of the insect's gut, where the toxin destroys the gut lining. But when cabbage loopers develop resistance, APN 1 significantly decreases while another aminopeptidase, APN 6, which does not bind to Bt, significantly increases, allowing the insect to properly digest food and Bt without harm.

"If an insect loses an aminopeptidase N, you will expect to see a negative effect on the physiology of the insect gut," said Ping Wang, associate professor of entomology and senior author of the paper published online in the Aug. 15 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Kasorn Tiewsiri, a postdoctoral associate in Wang's lab, is the paper's lead author.

"To compensate for the loss of the enzyme APN 1, the activity of APN 6 jumps up high, and that allows the insect to perform a normal digestive process, where Bt no longer binds to the gut," Wang added.

Organic farmers use Bt as a key weapon against insects, and crops genetically engineered with insecticidal Bt genes are now sown on 59 million hectares (more than 145 million acres) worldwide.

Farmers first reported Bt resistance in the field 20 years ago. Since then, researchers have uncovered a number of mechanisms for resistance in insects in the lab, but then learned that lab insects, which don't face the same stressors as field insects, develop different tactics for overcoming Bt.

In this study, Wang and Tiewsiri obtained cabbage loopers from greenhouses in British Columbia that were resistant to Bt and crossed them with a lab strain that had no resistance. The progeny carried the isolated Bt-resistant trait from their field-stressed parent. The researchers then used that line of cabbage loopers to conduct biochemical, proteomic and molecular studies.

Next, the researchers plan on trying to identify which gene mutates in the Bt-resistant insects, how that gene controls the expression of targeted proteins, and uncover resistance mechanisms to other Bt toxins, as many varieties are used in agriculture. The researchers hope their studies will lead to new management strategies for Bt-resistant insects, Wang said.

Diabrotica resistant to Bt corn
http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/Pages/gassmann-research-reminder-of-need-for-comprehensive-IPM.aspx

On July 29, Dr. Aaron Gassmann, an entomologist at Iowa State University, published a paper in the online journal PloS ONE entitled "Field-evolved Resistance to Bt Maize by Western Corn Rootworm." In his study, Dr. Gassmann reports western corn rootworm (WCR) in four fields in Iowa have developed resistance to the single Bt protein Cry3Bb1 - used in Monsanto YieldGard® VT Triple and Genuity® VT Triple PRO™ corn products.

It appears he has demonstrated a difference in survival in the lab, but it is too early to tell whether there are implications for growers in the field.

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