News in November 2005
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Premium comment:

The inability of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to understand the relationship between public policy and innovation is only the tip of the iceberg. Last month in Tokyo I participated in a bizarre meeting of the U.N.-sponsored task force on biotechnology-derived foods. The scope of the work, which has gone on for five years, is unscientific, the projects are pointless and gratuitous, the attendees (from scores of countries) are inexpert, and political correctness prevails. Focused on regulatory requirements only for foods made with the newest, most precise and predictable techniques of biotechnology, the project exempts other products made with far more crude and less predictable technologies, including irradiation mutagenesis and hybridization. As a result, there is an inverse relationship between risk and the degree of regulation.

Henry I. Miller, M.D., The Hoover Institution, Stanford, Calif.
Wall Street Journal, Letters to the Editor, Nov. 2, 2005

Premium remark:

bulletTed Sheely, Truth About Trade & Technology,
bulletIs there anything more unnatural and frightening than a seedless grape?
bulletSomething tells me that if today's anti-biotech activists had been around in the 19th century, when William Thompson introduced seedless grapes to California, they would have called his wonderful innovation a scary example of "Frankenfood."

Horrible news:

Animal Rights Leader Dr. Jerry Vlasak Endorses Murder of Scientists In U.S. Senate Testimony
Washington, DC (November 2) -

During yesterday's hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public works, long-time former Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine spokes-doctor Jerry Vlasak reiterated his support of murder and other violence against medical researchers whose lifesaving work requires the use of animals.

Speaking of scientists who use lab rats in their search for cancer and AIDS cures, Vlasak insisted that if they "won't stop when told to stop, one option would be to stop them using any means necessary."

Asked by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) if he endorsed the use of deadly force, Vlasak insisted that murder "would be a morally justifiable solution." "somebody that you don't know, somebody's kid, somebody's parent, somebody's brother, somebody's sister" whose family members might be involved in medical research using animal models. Vlasak replied: "These are not innocent lives."

Great Britain has banned Vlasak and his wife (former child actress Pamelyn Ferdin) because of this and other threats. More at and

Conferences and meetings

First Mediterranean Congress on Biotechnology
Location: Hammamet, Tunisia, Date: 25 - 29 March 2006

Three biosafety workshops among 23 scheduled events by the ICGEB Directorate in 2006 will be organized:


Detailed information on the three courses is available at url>

OECD Forthcoming event:
11th Meeting of the Task Force for the Safety of Novel Foods and Feeds, Berlin, Germany, 6-8 March 2006. More at EHS Division, Environment Directorate, OECD, 2 rue André-Pascal, 75775 Paris Cedex 16, Tel: (33-1) 45 24 93 15, Fax: (33-1) 44 30 61 8

The Role of Biotechnology for the Characterisation and Conservation of Crop, Forest, Animal and Fishery Genetic Resources in Developing Countries

- Summary document of the FAO e-mail conference; messages posted during Conference 13 are available at The Background Document to the conference can be found at

GM Crops: 10 Years On
Dec. 14-16, 2005; Homerton College, Cambridge, UK
Organised by Nigel G Halford and Martin A J Parry, Rothamsted Research

Books, Publications and Reviews

Genetic Engineering (Introducing Issues with Opposing Viewpoints) - Scott Barbour; $32.45, 125 pages, Greenhaven Press (October 5, 2005), ISBN: 0737732237

OECD publications

1) OECD Review of Agricultural Policies - China
This book presents a comprehensive overview and assessment of China's agricultural policies combined with OECD estimates of the level of support provided to the Chinese farm sector. China’s Farm Support Less Protectionist than in Most OECD Countries

2) OECD Review of Agricultural Policies - Brazil
This Review measures the level and composition of support to Brazilian agriculture, and evaluates the effectiveness of current measures in attaining their objectives. Brazil Would Gain from Freer Agricultural Trade but Small Farms Need to Adjust

1) and 2)  Now available in paperback and/or PDF E-Book from the Online Bookshop
Available online (PDF) from SourceOECD (for subscribing institutions):  
Agriculture & Food Emerging Economies

3) The OECD Health Project - Health Technologies and Decision Making
This book analyses the barriers to, and facilitators of, evidence-based decision making in OECD health-care systems.

Now available in paperback and/or PDF E-Book from the Online Bookshop
Available online (PDF) from SourceOECD (for subscribing institutions):

Science & Information Technology 
Social Issues/Migration/Health

4) Three New Volumes Issued in International Standardisation of Fruit and Vegetables Series: BEANS on Online Bookshop | CULTIVATED MUSHROOMS on Online Bookshop | STRAWBERRIES on Online Bookshop | These publications will be posted on SourceOECD shortly.

5) The Measurement of Scientific and Technological Activities
Oslo Manual: Guidelines for Collecting and Interpreting Innovation Data, 3rd Edition

This book is the foremost international source of guidelines for the collection and use of data on innovation activities in industry.

* Now available in paperback and/or PDF E-Book from the Online Bookshop
* Now available online (PDF) from SourceOECD (for subscribing institutions)

6) Measuring Globalisation - OECD Economic Globalisation Indicators
Identifies the economic activities of member countries that are under foreign control, and their contribution to growth, employment, productivity, labour compensation, research and development, technology diffusion, and trade.

* Now available in paperback and/or PDF E-Book from the Online Bookshop
* Now available online (PDF) from SourceOECD (for subscribing institutions)

7) Consensus Document on Compositional Considerations for New Varieties of Barley (Hordeum vulgare L.): Key Food and Feed Nutrients and Anti-Nutrients

8) Consensus Document on Compositional Considerations for New Varieties of Alfalfa and Other Temperate Forage Legumes: Key Feed Nutrients, Anti-Nutrients and Secondary Plant Metabolite

Upcoming publication:

An Introduction to the Food/Feed Safety Consensus Documents of the Task force
Web site: Safety of Novel Foods and Feeds available through BioTrack Online:


Rights and Liberties in theBiotech Age: Why We Need a Genetic Bill of Rights - edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Peter Shorett; Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005; 256 pp., cloth, $70; paperback, $27, ISBN 0-7425-4340-4; Reviewed by: Daniel Callahan, Nature Biotechnology v.23, p.1220; October 2005. " Rejecting the Gambler's Principle -

The Poison Paradox: Chemicals as Friends and Foes by John Timbrell; Oxford University Press: 2005. 360 pp. ?19.99, $29.95" Reviewed “Mixed Reactions” by Pierluigi Nicotera, Nature 437, 1093; October 20, 2005.

Transgenic rice for allergy immunotherapy - Shengwu Ma and Anthony M. Jevnikar PNAS 2005;102(48) 17255-17256

Glyphosate inhibits rust diseases in glyphosate-resistant wheat and soybean - Paul C. C. Feng, G. James Baley, William P. Clinton, Greg J. Bunkers, Murtaza F. Alibhai, Timothy C. Paulitz, and Kimberlee K. Kidwell PNAS 2005;102(48) 17290-17295

Rabi Asher Meir on EU labelling - A fascinating conflict is brewing in Europe over stringent EU rules for labeling of "Frankenfoods" - agricultural products that have been genetically modified. Gene splicing of various kinds is used to increase yields, to improve resistance to herbicides (so they harm only weeds and not crops), to enable crops to withstand weather extremes, and so on.

Creating hybrids, a staple of agriculture for thousands of years, is after all also a kind of genetic engineering.

But at the heart of their argument to be released from labeling requirements there is a glaring paradox. On the one hand, they claim that there is nothing for consumers to object to in GM crops. Yet at the same time they complain that they will lose market share if they are required to label.

I think that EU regulations on labeling of Frankenfoods, like so many EU regulations, are silly and superfluous, but ultimately harmless. I don't see any objection to requiring the producers of these foods to take the same responsibility borne by any innovator to educate the buying public about the unique characteristics of new products.

--- The writer is research director at the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem (, an independent institute located in the Jerusalem College of Technology. He is also a rabbi. Ethics@work: Frankenfoods - Rabbi Asher Meir, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 17, 2005

A Cultural History of Technology and Science' by Mikael Hard & Andrew Jamison; Routledge: 2005. 335 pp. $90 (hbk); $29.95 (pbk) Reviewed: Howard P. Segal, Nature 438, 562-563; December 1, 2005 'Hubris and Hybrids: It is a truism that culture, broadly defined, shapes science and technology as much as they shape culture. This once controversial position became the conventional wisdom decades ago, after purely internal histories of science and technology, followed by largely uncritical interpretations of their developments, were displaced as the dominant models.

Rights and Liberties in theBiotech Age: Why We Need a Genetic Bill of Rights - edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Peter Shorett; Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005; 256 pp., cloth, $70; paperback, $27, ISBN 0-7425-4340-4"
Reviewed by: Daniel Callahan, Nature Biotechnology v.23, p.1220; October 2005.

Harvest for Hope by Jane Goodall, Gary McAvoy and Gail Hudson;
ISBN: 0446533629; price $16.47;

GM Crops: The Global Economic and Environmental Impact - The First Nine Years 1996-2004 - Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, AgBioForum, 8(2&3), 187-196. Full paper at

2005 represents the tenth planting season since genetically modified (GM) crops were first grown in 1996. This milestone provides the opportunity to critically assess the impact this technology is having on global agriculture. This study examines specific global economic impacts on farm income and environmental impacts of the technology with respect to pesticide usage and greenhouse gas emissions for each of the countries where GM crops have been grown since 1996. The analysis shows that there have been substantial net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to a cumulative total of $27 billion. The technology has reduced pesticide spraying by 172 million kg and has reduced the environmental footprint associated with pesticide use by 14%. The technology has also significantly reduced the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, which is equivalent to removing five million cars from the roads.
Full paper at

Select Scientific Papers (Peer-Reviewed) on GM Feed Safety (with abstracts) now posted at

New Laws Unnecessary To Deal With GM Crops: Study - A study has found Australia's current laws and procedures are tough enough to protect farmers from getting genetically-modified (GM) and non-GM crops mixed. ABC News (Australia) - 10/24/2005

Prevalence Of Patents Could Spell Doom
Financial Express (India) - 10/24/2005 - Ashok B Sharma

The worldwide extension of patent regime on life forms has raised new concerns for both agriculture and public healthcare sectors.

The frequency of bio-piracy has also increased. Attempts to patent turmeric, neem fungicide, basmati rice, naphal wheat landrace and method of preparing wheat flour are few of the several recent examples of how traditional knowledge of countries was sought to be misappropriated.

Swiss biotech giant Syngenta has recently sought patent rights over thousands of gene sequences of rice. Rice is the staple food in most countries and if Syngenta is accorded patent rights over these gene sequences, it would practically "own" the world's staple crop.

CAST Commentary Addresses Crop Biotechnology and Future of Food Production by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST)

In response to recent concerns raised about the use of biotechnology in crop production and the resultant safety of the food supply, effect on the environment, and potential for further industrialization of agriculture at the expense of biodiversity, CAST has released a Commentary on the subject, Crop Biotechnology and the Future of Food: A Scientific Assessment. The purpose of the Commentary is to weigh hypothetical hazards voiced by activist critics against available scientific evidence and experience with transgenic crops and to provide the public and policymakers with valid information on which to base current and future decisions on the use of crop biotechnology in food production

CAST Releases New Commentary on Safety of Foods Produced Using Biotechnology

Agriculture in the Developing World - Connecting Innovations in Plant Research to Downstream Applications. - Deborah Delmer,  PNAS. 102(44): 15739-15746. Nov. 2005

The revolution in plant genomics has opened up new perspectives and opportunities for plant breeders who can now apply molecular markers to assess and enhance diversity in their germplasm collections, to introgress valuable traits from new sources, and to identify genes that control key traits. Functional genomics is also providing another powerful route to the identification of such genes. The ability to introgress beneficial genes under the control of specific promoters through transgenic approaches is yet one more stepping stone in the path to targeted approaches to crop improvement, and the new sciences have identified a vast array of genes that have exciting potential for crop improvement. Full text at

Will Transgenic Plants Adversely Affect The Environment? - Velkov Vassili V; Medvinsky Alexander B; Sokolov Mikhail S; Marchenko; Anatoly I. 2005. Journal of biosciences, 30. 4. 515 - 548.

In general, it seems that large-scale implementation of transgenic insecticidal and herbicide tolerant plants do not display considerable negative effects on the environments and, moreover, at least some transgenic plants can improve the corresponding environments and human health because their production considerably reduces the load of chemical insecticides and herbicide.

CropLife International Launches Guidance Document for Field Trials of Biotech Crops
CropLife International announces the release of its new general compliance management document for conducting confined field trials of biotech crops. Confined field trials refer to small-scale experimental field trials of a genetically engineered plant species performed under the terms and conditions that mitigate impacts on the surrounding environment. This practical tool demonstrates industry's commitment to proper stewardship of biotechnology products by ensuring that confined field trials are conducted under appropriately controlled conditions and in a workable and efficient manner. It also assists countries by providing a model around which national guidelines can be developed. This is particularly important for developing countries, where regulations may not currently exist.

CROPLIFE Press Release - CropLife International launches guidance document for field trials of biotech crops.pdf

The Writing is on the Label: Less Could be More When it Comes to Labelling GM Foods
- Alicia Roberts, Sparkplug, Nov. 16, 2005

Canadian consumers are curious customers, but how much information do they really want? That's the question philosophy professor David Castle of the University of Guelph is trying to answer. He's leading a study that's investigating whether or not food labels should include information about genetically modified (GM) foods. The Canadian General Standards Board says labelling is a voluntary standard, which means the industry creating the product can decide to use labels or not.

Experts maintain 'co-existence' of GM and GM-free crops impossible
Leading experts maintained that it is biologically impossible for GM and GM-free crops to co-exist, at a conference organised by Consumers International and Regione Emilia-Romagna. Ignacio Chapela, Associate Professor at University of California-Berkeley, told Consumers International (CI): '"Co-existence" might be a convenient thing to have politically or commercially but biologically it is an impossibility. For most GMOs the problem of contamination arises immediately: within one generation you have escaping genes.'


Europe – EU

Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen responsible for enterprise and industry policy said: "This Commission has made biotechnology a high political priority. If used properly, it has the potential to become a driving force in our knowledge-based economy."

Commissioner Janez Potocnik, responsible for research policy, added: "The JRC study will be a very useful and timely contribution. It will help to inform the debate on biotechnology at European level and provide a scientifically sound basis for future decisions".

EU's Go Ahead for Biotech Maize - EuropaBio, Brussels, November 3, 2005
The European biotechnology industry welcomes the EU Commission's decision to approve biotech maize 1507 for import and processing, including for use in animal feed throughout the European Union. This decision follows after the EU Council in September was unable to reach the required qualified majority to approve 1507 maize.

The product is already approved in 12 other countries around the world and meets all the EU's regulatory requirements, including a positive safety opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

1507 maize is genetically modified with a Bt gene, making it resistant to certain insect pests and was jointly developed by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., a subsidiary of DuPont, and by Dow AgroSciences. --Updated fact sheet - EuropaBio Background Briefing on 1507 maize Background Briefing1507_Update October 2005 Final.doc

Food sector falling behind in competitiveness, Commission warns

The EU's food industry is falling behind in comparison to its main competitors, such as the US, and is especially weak on the use of information communications technology, investment in research and development and innovation in products and processes, according to a European Commission report... The industry is also not innovating fast enough to create new products and production processes, particularly in the area of biotechnology. The EU makes 30 per cent less biotechnology patent applications than the US, according to the Commission. In response the Commission has developed a technology programme called "Food for Life" that aims at funding research in nutritional sciences and food technologies... In the area of regulation, the Commission noted the new food legislation addressing safety concerns and access to the bloc's single market. The sector has become one of the most regulated industrial sectors. "For some domains, such as GMO's and labelling, the legislation may be seen as a considerable regulatory burden, which might haper innovation, particularly in an industry dominated by SMEs, but this needs to be put into context of ensuring that the legitimate health and safety concerns are taken into account," the Commission stated.


A new integrated industrial policy: to create the conditions for manufacturing to thrive - EUROPA –

News in EU

For references see:

Quick guide to French agro-environmental engineering research
Surfing the web for information about European research activities can be a hit and miss affair. Every now and then, you come across a site which, although not necessarily a work of art, tells you why it exists and guides you to its core activities with minimal fuss. France’s Agricultural and Environmental Engineering Research (Cemagref) is that sort of website.

* New leaflets available

bulletFood safety in Europe
bulletCombating obesity in Europe
bulletMarine Sciences
bulletUrban research
bulletInternational research co-operation
bulletSurface Transport

Coordination of research-activities: ERA-NET
Publication: Networking the European Research Area - Coordination of National Programmes : ERA-NET, Article 169; Now available in French and German.

Communicating European Research 2005 - International Conference
Brussels Exhibition Center (Heysel), 14-15 November 2005; Some of the presentations used by speakers at the conference are now available. More to come soon.

The Knowledge-based bio-economy Brussels, Charlemagne conference centre 15-16 September 2005 ;A report outlining the discussions and main findings of the conference, which was held in Brussels on 15 and 16 September 2005, is now available.

Europeans discover genetic clues to hardier plants. A root is simply a way for plants to feed themselves, but the English language has a fascination with it. We can ‘root out evil’, ‘get to the root of a problem, ‘get back to our roots’ and any number of other permutations. To scientists, healthy roots mean healthy plants, which means good crops and, for farmers at least, good returns. So, findings by Belgian researchers on exactly which genes control root development represent good news.

What do Europeans think about science and scientists? see at

MP given sharp message for Blair PLAID CYMRU Euro - MP Jill Evans has condemned a recent decision by the European Court of Justice which could stop areas and regions from declaring themselves to be GM-free zones. The Luxembourg-based court last week overturned a law in Upper Austria that effectively banned GM crops. The decision comes despite mounting public concern about the safety of genetically modified crops and opposition to GM ingredients being present in food. Ms Evans described the decision as outrageous. "It goes against our democratic right to choose what we grow and eat in Wales," she said. "I've campaigned for Wales to be made a GM-free country and will continue to do so. It's what people want and we deserve no less." ICWALES



French Activist Bove Jailed for Destroying GM Crops - Agence France Presse, Nov 15, 2005 French anti-globalisation activist Jose Bove was handed a four-month jail sentence by an appeals court on Tuesday for destroying genetically modified (GM) crops. The moustachioed campaigner, who has become a cult figure within the anti-globalisation movement, was accused of helping to uproot a field of GM maize near the south-western French city of Toulouse in July 2004.

Activists' destruction of GM crops was justified: French court
Fri Dec 9, 1:49 PM ET

In a judgement expected to send a chill through companies growing genetically modified (GM) crops in Europe and embolden their opponents, a French court acquitted 49 activists who destroyed GM plants after ruling their actions were justified.

"The defendants have shown proof that they committed an infraction of voluntary vandalism in a group to respond to a situation of necessity," the court said.

That situation of necessity "resulted from the unbridled distribution of modified genes that constitutes a clear and present danger for the well-being of others, in the sense that it could be the source of contamination and unwanted pollution," it said.

SYNGENTA - In the race to develop high-tech seeds and plants, shares of Syngenta have lagged behind Monsanto's. But now the Swiss company looks like the better bet. How it is charting a course from super-sweet tomatoes to bio-pharmaceuticals. Syngenta, a leading developer of biologically engineered seeds and plants, was something of a late bloomer. Created five years ago from the agrochemicals and biotechnology operations of Switzerland's Novartis and Britain's AstraZeneca, the Swiss-based Syngenta immediately ran into two problems; worries about mad-cow disease and a sharp downturn in world agricultural market. "It was more difficult at the beginning than we expected," says Syngenta's chief executive, Michael Pragnell. "But the synergies we expected from, the merger were realistic, and we were confident that with time we would be able to meet their potential." Sure enough, Syngenta has more than made up for lost ground. After a $65 million loss in 2002, a turn around took shape in 2003 and began gathering momentum. "Profits nearly doubled last year, to $460 million-and then jumped 21% in the first six months of this year. "DOW JONES via CHECKBIOTECH -

Genetically engineered organisms out of control in Romania: Ex-Monsanto director speaks out

Massive illegal cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops threatens farmers and the economy in Romania. At a Greenpeace press conference today in Bucharest, Monsanto's former general manager in Romania warned that Romanian authorities have totally lost control over genetically modified organisms in the country. During a research tour in Romania, Greenpeace discovered illegal growing of GE soya in ten counties of the country's total 42. Greenpeace presented findings that prove that Romanian authorities have lost control over the situation. Romania, a future member of the EU, is the only country in Europe where planting of the controversial Roundup Ready (RR) soya is allowed.


Swiss electorate London (28 November 2005) - The electorate in Switzerland yesterday voted in favour of a five-year moratorium banning the use of genetically modified organisms in Swiss agriculture (2). November 2005)

VATICAN CITY (AP) - A Vatican cardinal said Thursday the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, warning that religion risks turning into "fundamentalism" if it ignores scientific reason. Cardinal Paul Poupard, who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture, made the comments at a news conference on a Vatican project to help end the "mutual prejudice" between religion and science that has long bedevilled the Roman Catholic Church and is part of the evolution debate in the United States.
- Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, Nov 4, 2005


Asia plans stem-cell boom
Regional collaboration will be key to Asian plans to dominate stem-cell research and cloning technology, a conference in Thailand has heard. (Source: Nature)

Greenpeace is fined almost $7,000 after damaging a coral reef in the Philippines.

India Maps DNA Of Basmati Rice To Protect It From West
The Independent and Independent on Sunday (London) - 11/04/05 - Justin Huggler

Scientists are hoping to 'fingerprint' basmati rice. Indian scientists are mapping the DNA of one of the country's basic food products: basmati rice. Concerned that Western corporations may try to take out patents on the food, their aim is not to produce genetically modified rice but to protect one of India's most treasured natural products from a foreign takeover.

Bt cotton controversy. K.S. Jayaraman, Nature Biotechnology 23, 1326; November 2005.

A fresh controversy has erupted over Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton after the publication of a study by a government institute in India showing that Bt cotton planted in India is not as efficient in killing bollworms there as it is in the US or China. That's because it is not designed for India's longer ripening season. This raises concerns that bollworm resistance to Bt cotton could emerge in the country.

Entomologist Bruce Tabashnik of Arizona University says that decline in Cry1Ac concentration in Bt cotton late in the season causes nonrecessive inheritance of resistance in H. armigera.  "Higher survival of cotton bollworm on Bt cotton will not necessarily speed its resistance to Bt cotton, particularly if survival of susceptible pests increases, as reported by Kranthi" says Tabashnik. But he fears "incomplete control of cotton bollworm by Bt cotton will not reduce insecticide use enough to avoid resistance to the sprayed insecticides."

Explaining Contradictory Evidence Regarding Impacts of Genetically  Modified Crops in Developing Countries. Varietal Performance of  Transgenic Cotton In India. - Bennett, R.; Ismael, Y.; Morse, S. 2005. Journal of Agricultural  Science. 143. 1. 35 - 41.

Abstract: A study of the commercial growing of different varieties of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton compares the performance of growing official and unofficial hybrid varieties of Bt cotton and conventional (non-Bt) hybrids in Gujarat by 622 farmers. Results suggest that the official Bt varieties (MECH 12 and MECH 162) significantly outperform the unofficial varieties. However, unofficial, locally produced Bt hybrids can also perform significantly better than non-Bt hybrids, although second generation (F2) Bt seed appears to have no yield advantage compared to non-Bt hybrids but can save on insecticide use. Although hybrid vigour is reduced, or even lost, with F2 seed the Bt gene still confers some advantage. The F2 seed is regarded as 'GM' by the farmers (and is sold as such), even though its yield performance is little better than the non-GM hybrids. The results help to explain why there is so much confusion arising from GM cotton release in India.

Asian publications on GM plant science are soaring
A study of research papers published in the past thirty years shows Asia becoming a knowledge producing power in plant transgenic science.

China's five-year hunt for toxin-absorbing plants ends
Chinese researchers have completed a five-year nationwide search for native plants that can absorb pollutants from soil.

Seeds are sown but few are harvested - A wide-ranging analysis of China's biotechnology industry argues that GM crops are the only area where the Chinese are competing at the top level, and is now one of the pioneers in the field. China spent about $121 million on GM crop research last year, and its main contribution has been the development of a GM cotton that gives seeds the protein from a soil organism that protects the plants from some diseases.


Dalai Lama says science needs ‘secular ethics’
The Dalai Lama says science and society must engage in a deeper dialogue on how to overcome the problems humanity faces. (Source: International Herald Tribune)

Iran, First to Plant GMO Rice, Hopes to Cut Import – Manila – Iran, which says it was the first country to commercialise genetically modified rice in 2004, hopes to cut its imports of about 1 million tonnes each year by developing higher-yielding varieties, a senior scientist said. Behzad Ghareyazie of the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran said the area planted to GMO rice was likely to rise in the next several years after high acceptance among farmers and consumers of the initial variety. “In the near future, we will have better varieties and more higher-yielding varieties,” he told reporters on the sidelines of an international rice conference in the Philippines. Dolly Aglay, Reuters News Service, November 21, 2005

Population Boom Pushes Asia to Accept GMO Rice - Manila – Opposition to genetically modified (GMO) rice in Asia is likely to dissipate in the next 5 to 7 years as the region struggles to feed its growing population, a senior scientist said. Gurdev Singh Khush, a consultant at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), said opposition by environmental groups and the tedious regulatory process in getting approvals for GM crops have delayed the release of GM rice in the region. But Khush said he expected GM rice to follow the path of GMO corn, which was eventually nglophone sed starting in the Philippines in 2002, despite protests by groups like Greenpeace. Dolly Aglay, Reuters, Nov. 22 2005.


MALARIA DOSSIER LAUNCH Controlling a disease as entrenched as malaria, which kills up to three million people a year — mostly young children in sub-Saharan Africa — is an enormous challenge.

Dossier, compiled under the guidance of an international panel of advisors, of specially commissioned in-depth articles about malaria research and policy in developing countries is available at .

GM Crops ‘Vital’ for Africa’s Food Supply
John Yeld, Cape Argus (South Africa), Nov. 16, 2005

Africa will have a projected cereal crop shortfall of 88.7 million tons by 2025, but the population will have doubled to 1.5 billion in the same period, a University of Cape Town biotechnologist has warned.

This was why biotechnical solutions involving genetic engineering to produce more and better crops were a vital part of efforts to achieve food security for Africa, Professor Iqbal Parker told parliament’s agriculture committee yesterday.

Major Heretofore Intractable Biotic Constraints to African Food Security That may be Amenable to Novel Biotechnological Solutions - Jonathan Gressel, et al., Crop Protection v.23 p661-689 (2004)

The input costs of pesticides to control biotic constraints are often prohibitive to the subsistence farmers of Africa and seed based solutions to biotic stresses are more appropriate. Plant breeding has been highly successful in dealing with many pest problems in Africa, especially diseases, but is limited to the genes available within the crop genome. Years of breeding and studying cultural practices have not always been successful in alleviating many problems that biotechnology may be able to solve.

We pinpoint the major intractable regional problems as: (1) weeds: parasitic weeds (Striga and Orobanche spp.) throughout Africa; grass weeds of wheat (Bromus and Lolium) intractable to herbicides in North Africa; (2) insect and diseases: stem borers and post-harvest grain weevils in sub-Saharan Africa; Bemesia tabaci (white fly) as the vector of the tomato leaf curl virus complex on vegetable crops in North Africa; and (3) the mycotoxins: fumonisins and aflatoxins in stored grains.

Zambia Declares Food Disaster as 1.7 Million go Hungry - Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa declared a national food disaster on Monday, appealing for immediate donor help to feed hundreds of thousands of people left hungry by drought and crop failures. Mwanawasa’s declaration follows a government estimate last week that 1.7 million Zambians were suffering from acute food shortages in the current crisis, part of a wider food emergency stretching across parts of southern Africa. Shapi Shacinda, Reuters News Service, November 22, 2005

Junk Science and Inept Politics Compound Nature’s Wrath In Zambia - It makes a very sad reading that the Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa had to declare a national food disaster, appealing for immediate donor help to feed over 1.7 million people left hungry, by crop failures due to drought in 2005 (Reuters, November 22, 2005).

In July 2002, the Zambian government made international headlines when they ordered the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to take back over 35,000 tones of food aid, even while three million Zambians faced hunger caused by a severe drought, as the package contained ‘potentially unsafe GM maize’ (Panos). The stand of the Zambian government received a standing ovation from the anti-GE groups the world over and this ‘bold decision’ was endlessly praised making the Zambian government the hero (see, May 17, 2005, and November 10, 2005, for the latest).  C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotech Awareness and Education, India

Burkina’s Gene Revolution Promises High Improvement In Yield and Sharp Decrease In Production Cost - Many African countries are becoming more convinced about the potential of agricultural biotechnology, and are currently engaged in some aspect of research in particular areas of priority, and Burkina Faso is one of them.

Burkina Faso, the second biggest cotton producer in West Africa, has embraced agricultural aiotechnology and officially permits field trials (on station) of genetically modified crops such as the transgenic BT cotton since 2003.

The trials are located at Fada 230km east of Burkina, and the other at Bobodioulasso in the western part of the country. In a bid to share experience with other countries within the sub-region, and to de-mystify genetically modified (GM) crops in the eyes of Journalists, a field visit to the trials was organized from the 17th – 20th October, 2005. Participants were mainly members of the (newly-formed) network of anglophone and francophone journalist on biotechnology from West African countries and some agricultural scientists. Karim Sonko, Daily Observer (Gambia) Nov. 17, 2005

Ethiopian Biotech Institute Planned -

‘Center, slated to cost $1.8 million, has goal of fighting hunger and poverty in the region’ Ethiopia will get its first Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute (ABRI) by next year, with the goal of exploiting the region’s biological resources, and providing sustainable economic development. Many scientists said that the institute can provide long-term solutions to problems plaguing the country, including poverty and hunger.
Wagdy Sawahel. The Scientist, Nov. 15, 2005

Africa Biofortified Sorghum

Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project Consortium is a needs-driven, African-initiated and African-led initiative. It brings together nine globally-respected institutions under the leadership and co-ordination of the Africa Harvest Biotechnology Foundation International (AHBFI) or “Africa Harvest”.

The ABS Project – also dubbed “The SuperSorghum Project” (see is truly African initiative as seven of the nine consortium member organisations are in Africa while the other two in the USA. At least 80% of the project budget will be spent on ABS research and developments in Africa. The project will also build the infrastructure and human capacity of many African organizations.

Group threatens Kari with court action over GMOs
KENYA Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) has been threatened with a court action if it fails to divulge information regarding Genetically Modified Organisms. Yesterday, Africa Nature Stream – a non governmental organisation opposed to the introduction of genetically modified organisms in the country – gave KARI seven days to respond to questions regarding the GMOs and their impact on human life. Speaking in Nairobi, the organization’s chairman Masoa Muindi accused the government and Kari in particular of trying to introduce GMOs on behalf unnamed foreign companies without considering its impact on the environment and human health. He accused Kenyan scientists of being money-minded and said the introduction of GM seeds in the country would destroy the economy. GM crops were likely to multiply and introduce diseases, besides degrading the environment, he said.


Corn genome – UA/BIO5 researchers have received a $29 million federal grant as part of a consortium to unlock the genetic code of the corn plant. The knowledge gained from the Maize Genome Sequencing Project will enable plant scientists and breeders to improve agronomically important traits in cereal crops more rapidly.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) chose the UA team and its partners from a highly competitive pool of applicants including the Broad Institute and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute.

The National Science Foundation has selected a consortium of four research institutions to sequence the maize genome: The University of Arizona, Washington University in St. Louis, Iowa State University in Ames and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. Daniel Stolte, University of Arizona, November 16, 2005

Brazilian wins UNESCO prize for popularising science
Brazilian biologist Jeter Bertoletti has won UNESCO’s Kalinga prize for his pioneering efforts to popularise science.

Shoppers Uneasy About Cloning; ' Poll Finds Worries Over Meat and Milk
The Washington Post - 16-Nov-2005 - Justin Gillis

Two-thirds of American consumers are "uncomfortable" with animal cloning and 43 percent believe food from clones would be unsafe to eat, according to a new poll that comes as the government considers allowing products from clones into the food supply.


Mosquitoes That Could Save Us From Malaria - BRITISH scientists have developed genetically modified mosquitoes which could save millions of people from malaria if released into the wild. The breakthrough has been made by a team at Imperial College London, who have discovered a way of identifying the sex of mosquitoes. They altered the DNA of the mosquito species by adding a gene which made the testicles of the males and the larvae they produced fluorescent. A sorting machine using a laser beam picked up the green larvae, singled it out and separated it from the females. The aim is to breed, sterilise and release millions of these male insects so they mate with wild females but do not produce offspring, so reducing the population. The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday (London) – 10-Oct-2005 – Khushwant Sachdave.

Genetically modified field peas and reported effects in mice. – Between 1997 and 2002, CSIRO conducted research and development field trials of genetically modified (GM) peas that were protected against pea weevils as a result of introducing an insecticidal protein (alpha-amylase inhibitor) derived from bean plants. These field trials enable data to be collected progressively under controlled conditions to enable researchers to decide whether results justify proceeding with further development. The trials were conducted under strict containment conditions – none of the GM material has been permitted to enter the human food chain. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has not conducted any safety assessment of the peas since they are still in research and development, nor has any data been submitted to FSANZ for assessment. However, CSIRO approached FSANZ several years ago to obtain advice on the type of data they would need to support an application to FSANZ to approve the peas for human consumption. FSANZ gave advice to conduct studies to, amongst other things, fully characterise the novel protein and in particular to determine its potential for toxicity and allergenicity in line with internationally accepted guidelines.

The Food You Eat May Change Your Genes for Life – Two years ago, researchers led by Randy Jirtle of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, showed that the activity of a mouse’s genes can be influenced by food supplements eaten by its mother just prior to, or during, very early pregnancy (New Scientist, 9 August 2003, p 14). Then last year, Moshe Szyf, Michael Meaney and colleagues at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, showed that mothers could influence the way a rat’s genes are expressed after it has been born. If a rat is not lick ed, groomed and nursed enough by its mother, chemical tags known as methyl groups are added to the DNA of a particular gene.

The affected gene codes for the glucocorticoid receptor gene, expressed in the hippocampus of the brain. The gene helps mediate the animal’s response to stress, and in poorly raised rats, the methylation damped down the gene’s activity. Such pups produced higher levels of stress hormones and were less confident exploring new environments. The effect lasted for life (Nature Neuroscience, vol 7, p 847).

Now the team has shown that a food supplement can have the same effect on well-reared rats at 90 days old – well into adulthood. The researchers injected L-methionine, a common amino acid and food supplement, into the brains of well-reared rats. The amino acid methylated the glucocorticoid gene, and the animals’ behaviour changed. Alison Motluk, New Scientist, Nov. 18, 2005

Biofuels threaten rainforests as important European Commission decision lies ahead

To meet Kyoto protocol commitments, various European and other governments are encouraging the use of biomass as fuel (biofuel) in transport and electricity. Biofuels are mostly carbon neutral, and switching from fossil fuels to biodiesel is promoted as a solution to climate change. Rainforests will be threatened by increased demand for agricultural products to be raised on once forested lands, and by use of forest biomass as a fuel. An unregulated rush to biofuels will lead to more natural rainforest loss and fragmentation, increased pressures upon endangered primary forests, and more monoculture, herbicide laden and genetically modified tree plantations. Two important tropical crops suitable as biofuels include palm oil, grown mostly in Southeast Asia, and soya oil largely from South America. Both are already amongst the world’s major causes of tropical forest destruction and further stimulation of their markets will surely result in massive and irreversible new losses of tropical rainforests and savannas.

Glyphosate Resistant Weeds On The Move - As farmers plant more corn and soybeans with glyphosate-tolerant technology, the potential impact of glyphosate-resistant weeds increases. Right now, the number of weed species in the U.S. with glyphosate resistance is only five(?) common ragweed, marestail, Palmer amaranth, Italian ryegrass and rigid ryegrass(?) but several states are affected. Compared with most other herbicides, this is a small number of resistant weeds, but weed scientists anticipate a steady growth of that number and more acres affected. Farm Journal - 9/28/2005 - Andrew Burchett

Soybeans With Heart-healthy Omega3 Fatty Acids - Soybeans with heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids are also coming. A well-known feature of tuna and other oily cold-water fish, Omega-3s are also produced in flaxseed and in some dark green leafy vegetables. Scientists at Monsanto are transferring Omega-3-generating properties to soybeans with an eye to putting such soybeans on the market by 2011. The Kiplinger Agriculture Letter ( Kiplinger Publications ) - 14-Oct-2005

Crop-to-crop gene flow using farm scale sites of oilseed rape -Brassica napus- in the UK

From 2000-2003 a range of Farm Scale Evaluation (FSE) trials were established in the UK to assess the effect of the release and management of herbicide tolerant (HT) crops on the abundance and diversity of farmland wildlife compared with their conventionally managed non-GM-equivalents. The objective of this research project was to investigate gene flow within the winter (WOSR) and spring oilseed rape (SOSR) FSE trials and to develop a statistical model for the prediction of cross-pollination frequency that can be used to evaluate current separation distance guidelines. Seed samples were collected from the non-GM half of the trial sites and were tested for evidence of cross-pollination from the GM HT halves using a quantitative PCR assay specific to the HT (bar) gene. Rates of cross-pollination were found to decrease rapidly with increasing distance from the GM source. The quantitative data were subjected to statistical analysis and a two-step model was found to provide the best .t for the data. Significant differences were found between the results for WOSR, SOSR and varietal association (VA) crops. The model predicted that the %GM content (including upper 95% confidence limits) of a sample taken at a distance of 50 m away from the GM source would be 0.04% (0.84%) for WOSR, 0.02% (0.39%) for SOSR, 0.77% (21.72%) for WOSR VA and 0.37% (5.18%) for SOSR VA. The data and models presented here are discussed in the context of necessary separation distances to meet various possible thresholds for adventitious presence of GM in OSR.
TRANSGENIC RESEARCH, 14: 749-759 -,23,27;journal,1,52;linkingpublicationresults,1:100225,1

Assessing the transfer of genetically modified DNA from feed to animal tissues

In Europe, public and scientific concerns about the environmental and food safety of GM (Genetically Modified) crops overshadow the potential benefits offered by crop biotechnology to improve food quality. One of the concerns regarding the use of GM food in human and animal nutrition is the effect that newly introduced sequences may have on the organism. In this paper, we assess the potential transfer of diet derived DNA to animal tissues after consumption of GM plants. Blood, spleen, liver, kidney and muscle tissues from piglets fed for 35 days with diets containing either GM (MON810) or a conventional maize were investigated for the presence of plant DNA. Only fragments of specific maize genes (Zein, Sh-2) could be detected with different frequencies in all the examined tissues except muscle. A small fragment of the Cry1A(b) transgene was detected in blood, liver, spleen and kidney of the animals raised with the transgenic feed. The intact Cry1A(b) gene or its minimal functional unit were never detected. Statistical analysis of the results showed no difference in recovery of positives for the presence of plant DNA between animals raised with the transgenic feed and animals raised with the conventional feed, indicating that DNA transfer may occur independently from the source and the type of the gene. From the data obtained, we consider it unlikely that the occurrence of genetic transfer associated with GM plants is higher than that from conventional plants.
TRANSGENIC RESEARCH,14: 775-784 -,25,27;journal,1,52;linkingpublicationresults,1:100225,1

Transgene expression and fitness of hybrids between GM oilseed rape and Brassica rapa.

Oilseed rape (Brassica napus) is sexually compatible with its wild and weedy relative B. rapa, and introgression of genes from B. napus has been found to occur over a few generations. We simulated the early stages of transgene escape by producing F1 hybrids and the first backcross generation between two lines of transgenic B. napus and two populations of weedy B. rapa. Transgene expression and the fitness of the hybrids were examined under different environmental conditions. Expression of the transgenes was analyzed at the mRNA level by quantitative PCR and found to be stable in the hybrids, regardless of the genetic background and the environment, and equal to the level of transcription in the parental B. napus lines. Vigor of the hybrids was measured as the photosynthetic capability; pollen viability and seed set per silique. Photosynthetic capability of first generation hybrids was found to be at the same level, or higher, than that of the parental species, whereas the reproductive fitness was significantly lower. The first backcross generation had a significantly lower photosynthetic capability and reproductive fitness compared to the parental species. This is the first study that examines transgene expression at the mRNA level in transgenic hybrids of B. napus of different genetic background exposed to different environmental conditions. The data presented clarify important details of the overall risk assessment of growing transgenic oilseed rape.

Degradation of Cry1Ab protein from genetically modified maize in the bovine gastrointestinal tract

Immunoblotting assays using commercial antibodies were established to investigate the unexpected persistence of the immunoactive Cry1Ab protein in the bovine gastrointestinal tract (GIT) previously suggested by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Samples of two different feeding experiments in cattle were analyzed with both ELISA and immunoblotting methods. Whereas results obtained by ELISA suggested that the concentration of the Cry1Ab protein increased during the GIT passage, the immunoblotting assays revealed a significant degradation of the protein in the bovine GIT. Samples showing a positive signal in the ELISA consisted of fragmented Cry1Ab protein of approximately 17 and 34 kDa size. Two independent sets of gastrointestinal samples revealed the apparent discrepancy between the results obtained by ELISA and immunoblotting, suggesting that the antibody used in the ELISA reacts with fragmented yet immunoactive epitopes of the Cry1Ab protein. It was concluded that Cry1Ab protein is degraded during digestion in cattle. To avoid misinterpretation, samples tested positive for Cry1Ab protein by ELISA should be reassessed by another technique.

Seeds of debate

The future of GM rice depends on how the government resolves its desire for food security and social stability. As they finalise the next five-year economic plan, improving the lives of the country's 750m farmers has emerged as a top priority for China's leaders. But with one much-debated agricultural initiative, the government faces a controversy which has never before risen in the country's long history: whether or not to allow the planting of genetically modified (GM) rice. After years of research and recent successes in pre-production trials, pressure from scientists is mounting for officials to approve the commercial production of GM rice. Researchers say this would raise the output of the country's most important crop and help China achieve its stated goal of food self-sufficiency. Chinese scientists evaluating the field trials of GM rice report that its large-scale cultivation will boost the country's overall rice production, while substantially reducing pesticide use. But despite the positive outlook, the laboratory and field results have failed to expedite the approval process. This is because the government fears that social consequences and a potential international backlash might cancel out any economic benefits.

All cars will run on 'biofuel' mix by 2010

OIL companies are to be forced to add fuel made from crops such as oil seed rape and sugar cane to all petrol and diesel sold in Britain. The Government is preparing to announce a Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation under which 5 per cent of all fuel sold by 2010 will have to come from crops, known as biofuel. The oil industry is expected to comply by selling a blend which will comprise 95 per cent diesel or petrol and 5 per cent biofuel. All cars can use the 5 per cent blend without modification. Some models, including versions of the Saab 9-5 and Ford Focus, have been adapted to take a blend containing 85 per cent biofuel. About 2 per cent of fuel currently sold in Britain is biofuel. Ethanol made from Brazilian sugar cane is added to petrol. Oil seed rape and reprocessed vegetable oils are added to diesel.
THE TIMES -,,22749-1853984,00.html

Biotechnology as a key driver for sustainable bioenergy production

The problem is straightforward and can be quantified with reasonable accuracy. The world currently utilizes 420 quads/year (quad = 1015 Btu) and the conservative case projection is that within 30 years the world requirement will be 650 quads/year, largely due to economic development in India and China. While energy demand is growing rapidly, fossil fuel reserves are finite. In addition, if the current global temperature elevation is even partly related to anthropogenic gas emissions then what will happen during the projected massive increase in the use of fossil fuels? A conceptually attractive feature of bioenergy is that carbon dioxide release will be at least neutral due to carbon recycling on a relatively short time-scale. Currently, bioenergy and bio-based inputs account for less than 5% of all basic inputs to the existing Western economy. While several government-industry initiatives1 have highlighted the issues and challenges, and some companies have also taken steps to embrace the emerging bio-industry, the pace of change may be too slow. Moving from 5% of inputs to >50% of inputs in less than 20 years is a "moon-shot" type of challenge.
ISB NEWS - - nov0505

DNA amplification shows promise for food safety testing

A technique based on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification of DNA sequences may help food companies by providing a rapid and inexpensive method of identifying microorganisms. UK-based Campden and Chorleywood Food Research (CCFRA) says the new PCR protocol was developed and validated for Enterobacteriaceae, Pseudomonas, Bacillus and Clostridium species. Enterobacteriaceae are among the most pathogenic and most often encountered organisms in microbiology. Infection can cause intestinal problems, meningitis, bacillary dysentery, typhoid and food poisoning. Salmonella is one type of Enterobacteriaceae. Tougher regulatory standards and the increased reporting of food contamination in restaurants, supermarkets and processing plants has pushed companies to put a higher priority on safety, shelf life and cleanliness. The trend has fueled the demand for more stringent testing and tracing of food products along the supply chain to the consumer.

Monsanto Expands Availability Of Low-Lin Beans For 2006
Agriculture Online - 11/16/2005

Monsanto has announced plans to make Vistive low-linolenic soybeans more broadly available in 2006, through additional seed brands and expanded geographic distribution.

Low-lin beans are used to produce oils with a lower need for hydrogenation, which makes them lower in unhealthful trans-fats than other processed oils.

'GM-Lite' Scientists Harness Plant Defence Mechanism

A cheaper, safer and more productive alternative to genetically modified crops could soon be available. A team of scientists in Canberra has discovered a plant defence process that can silence certain genes to control specific plant features. Dr Peter Waterhouse, from the CSIRO, says by triggering the mechanism, plant productivity, disease resistance, even the colour of flowers can be made to order. He has dubbed the process "GM-lite" because no additional proteins from other organisms have to be added. "A nice example of this is you might want to make decaffeinated coffee," he said. "What we can do is take the gene that makes caffeine in the coffee plant and switch it off.

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