News in April 2008
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Collaboration Between Science and Industry: Pro's and Con's of the Conflicts-of-Interest Movement
American College of Science and Health (report), Apr. 2, 2008

The collaboration between science and industry has been threatened by the development of a movement that proposes to end or drastically limit such cooperation on the grounds that it involves unacceptable conflicts of interest.

American Council on Science and Health white paper by Ronald Bailey, science correspondent for Reason magazine, the conflicts-of-interest movement is examined, with an emphasis on the following topics:

bulletThe scientific evidence on whether industry ties are actually leading to biased decisions, threats to patient safety, and distorted research results;
bulletThe bias that may be created by focusing exclusively on industry-related financial conflicts of interest, while ignoring other types of potentially conflicting interests;
bulletThe mechanisms currently in place to protect the integrity of scientific research; and, most importantly
bulletThe very real harm that can result from limiting industry/university collaborations and preventing industry-connected scientists from serving on government advisory boards.

Books & Articles

The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) has released a report that calls for radical change in agriculture to 'serve the poor and hungry if the world is to cope with a growing population and climate change while avoiding social breakdown and environmental collapse.'

The report however was not endorsed by CropLife International. In a press release, it noted that the report failed to recognize the role modern plant sciences, including plant biotechnology and crop protection, can play in increasing agricultural crop productivity. Other organizations, including the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI) have 'independently reached similar conclusions and expressed dissatisfaction with the report.'

Read the full report at

For the press release of CropLife International, view

Results of a study conducted by scientists from the Ghent University in Belgium show that most herbicide regimes used with genetically modified (GM) herbicide-resistant maize have a better environmental impact than those used in non-GM varieties. This is due to the lower potential of glyphosate (Gly) and glufosinate ammonium (Glu) to leach into the groundwater and their lower acute toxicity to aquatic organism. The article published in the journal Transgenic Research is available at

Organic lobby spreading 'nonsense' about GM, claim scientists
Elaine Watson, Food Manufacture, Apr. 21, 2008,_claim_scientists.html

New claims by environmental lobbyists that genetic modification (GM) does not increase crop yields or reduce pesticide use have been dismissed by plant breeding experts as "total nonsense".

Graham Brookes, an agricultural economist and director of consultancy PG Economics, said he was becoming "increasingly frustrated by reports that cherry-pick pieces of information out of context and use them to support a fundamentally unsound argument".

Brookes, a joint author of a major report on the environmental and economic impact of agricultural biotechnology published last year, said: "This is just complete nonsense. Pesticide use has not increased as a result of the adoption of biotech crops - indeed, it has fallen significantly relative to levels of use that would have occurred without using biotechnology."

Likewise, it was "deeply insulting to the intelligence of farmers" to say that there were no economic benefits to using GM technology, he said. "They criticise biotech companies for having a vested interest - along the lines of 'you would say that wouldn't you', but they also have a vested interest in attacking GM crops and supporting organic agriculture, which typically delivers far lower yields."


“World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy”

High-Level Conference organised by FAO at its headquarters in Rome from 3 to 5 June 2008, thus offering a forum for Heads of State and Government to discuss the pressing challenges facing global food security and to adopt required actions to deal with the situation.

10th International Symposium on the Biosafety of GMOs

The 10th ISBGMO, which will be held 16/11 -21/11 at Wellington, New Zealand, includes eight plenary sessions, four evening workshops, and posters.

Established as a biennial event since 1990 to showcase environmental biosafety research, ISBGMO brings together scientific researchers, policy makers, regulators, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and industry representatives to foster productive dialogue and multidisciplinary approaches while embracing diverse perspectives from all parts of the globe.

This international meeting will be held in Paris, France in June 3, 2008 and organized by the National Research Institute (INRA) and the Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), and their public interest group IFRAI, the French Initiative for International Agricultural Research. The goal is to identify research priorities in agriculture by creating a space for a constructive dialogue between the different players in the agricultural arena. INRA and CIRAD hope that this meeting will initiate future collaborations and provide an opportunity for French agricultural research organizations and their partners to highlight their expertise and establish new partnerships. The programme will consist of oral presentations (keynote papers and case studies) and round-table discussions. This will be followed by floor discussions and debates focusing on: Ecology of Innovation and New Challenges Facing Integration. The deadline for preregistration is 30 April, 2008.See details at:


The European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology 2008, facilitated by the European association for BioIndustries (Europabio), will be held 15-17 September, 2008 at Brussels. The forum is expected to attract over 200 delegates and will, for the first time in Europe, provide a meeting place for science, industry, policymakers and investors. Issues involving policy developments, market growth, technological advances and future trends in industrial and environmental applications of biotechnology will be discussed in the forum. For more information, visit

Biotechnology and Biobusiness Trade Fair – Bio-Forum VII - 15-16 May 2008 - Lodz, Poland

European White Biotechnology Summit – 21-22 May - Frankfurt, Germany

Biopharmaceuticals: why use yeasts? - 22-23 May 2008 - Waedenswil, Switzerland

4th International Conference on Analysis of Microbial Cells at the Single Cell Level - 23-24 May 2008 - Schandau, Dresden, Germany

Biological Production 2008 - 2-4 June 2008 - Munich, Germany

Industrial Biotechnology International Conference IBIC 2008 - 8-11 June 2008 - Naples, Italy

2008 BIO International Convention - 17-20 June 2008 - San Diego, USA

33rd FEBS Congress & 11th IUBMB Conference on Biochemistry of Cell Regulation - 28 June - 3 July 2008 - Athens, Greece
3rd ESF Conference on Functional Genomics and Disease
October 1-4, 2008, Innsbruck, Austria
30 May 2008 for abstract submissions - 30 June 2008 for early registration

For further information on the programme, exhibition and poster sessions, please visit


This perspective was stressed during the recent international symposium on "Genomics, Proteomics, Metabolomics: Recent Trends in Biotechnology" held at the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics (MMG), University of The Punjab in Pakistan. The symposium was organized in collaboration with Pakistan's Higher Education Commission, National Biotechnology Commission, Core Group in Biological Sciences. Over 190 delegates attended the workshop which aimed to discuss new ways to use animal, plants and microbes to improve quality of life, and to bridge the gap between global scientific communities in the fields of genomics, proteomics and metabolomics. Read Ijaz Ahmad Rao's article at


Rush to restrict trade in basic foods
Alan Beattie, The Financial Times (London), Apr. 1, 2008

Governments across the developing world are scrambling to boost farm imports and restrict exports in an attempt to forestall rising food prices and social unrest.

Saudi Arabia cut import taxes across a range of food products on Tuesday, slashing its wheat tariff from 25 per cent to zero and reducing tariffs on poultry, dairy produce and vegetable oils.

On Monday, India scrapped tariffs on edible oil and maize and banned exports of all rice except the high-value basmati variety, while Vietnam, the world's third biggest rice exporter, said it would cut rice exports by 11 per cent this year.

In Argentina, farmers have protested against attempts by the government of Cristina Fernández to redistribute the benefits of rising commodity prices by increasing export taxes on soyabeans and other crops. In the Philippines, government investigators have raided warehouses suspected of hoarding rice.
Global rice prices have risen by a third since the turn of the year, and higher soyabean costs have sparked protests in countries such as Indonesia.
China, Peoples Republic

On April 16, China's National Bureau of Statistics announced that the CPI for the first quarter of 2008 grew eight percent. This increase was partially a result of a 21 percent increase in food prices, which account for about one third of China's CPI.

For the full report:
Hong Kong

Between February 2007 and February 2008, food prices increased 19.5 percent. The annual statistics, as stark as they are, mask the fact that most of the price increases have taken place in recent months. Retail food prices between January and February 2008 alone rose 6.4 percent, accounting for one-third of the annual increase. Despite this increase, the Hong Kong government has not implemented any programs to encourage local food production or to restrict food exports.

For the full report:



Two eminent experts on food security say that biotechnology can address problems related to global climate change. "Biotechnology can play a helpful role in addressing the long-term sustainability issue and climate change. It is much more relevant for developing countries, than it is for developed countries. This is because of the emerging consequences of climate change, and because of the existing problems on food scarcity and food quality", said Joachim von Braun, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington DC, USA.

Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, an agricultural scientist known as 'The Father of the Green Revolution ' in India, adds that "Biotechnology can offer new ways to address climate change. Drought tolerance can be built into crops, for instance rice, by transferring genes." Opportunities abound by combining traditional and modern technologies like genetic modification and marker assisted selection, Swaminathan explained.

The full interviews with both experts are available at and

A new study of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that women in the rural areas may be marginalized because of limited access to the large-scale production of liquid biofuels like bioethanol and biodiesel in developing countries. The study entitled "Gender and Equity Issues in Liquid Biofuels Production-Minimizing the Risks to Maximize the Opportunities", noted that though the biofuel plantations create employment for around 40 percent of female agricultural workers (in Latin America and the Caribbean), they are most likely to experience low wages, poor working conditions and benefits, and exposure to safety and health risks.

Read the full article at To view the complete study, visit
Herbicide-tolerant crops can improve water quality
American Society of Agronomy (press release), Apr. 22, 2008

The residual herbicides commonly used in the production of corn and soybean are frequently detected in rivers, streams, and reservoirs at concentrations that exceed drinking water standards in areas where these crops are extensively grown. Additionally, these herbicides can have negative effects on aquatic ecosystems at concentrations well below their drinking water standards.

By 2004 almost 90% of the soybean grown in the US was genetically modified for tolerance to the contact herbicide glyphosate (Roundup), which is currently the most widely used herbicide in the world.

In a four-year study, researchers at the USDA-ARS's North Appalachian Experimental Watershed near Coshocton, OH compared relative losses of both herbicide types when applied at normal rates to seven small watersheds planted with Liberty-Linked corn or Roundup Ready soybean. In their report, published in the March-April issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality, soil scientists Martin Shipitalo and Lloyd Owens, and agricultural engineer Rob Malone, noted that losses of contact herbicides in surface runoff were usually much less than those for the residual herbicides, as a percentage of the amount of herbicide applied. Averaged for all soybean crop years, glyphosate loss was about one-seventh that of metribuzin and one half that of alachlor, residual herbicides it can replace. Similarly, average loss of the contact herbicide glufosinate (Liberty) was one-fourth that of atrazine, a residual corn herbicide it can replace. More importantly, according to project leader Martin Shipitalo, "The concentrations of the contact herbicides in the runoff never exceeded their established or proposed drinking water standards while the residual herbicides frequently exceeded their standards, particularly in the first few runoff events after application". Concentrations of atrazine in runoff were up to 240 times greater than its drinking water standard while alachlor concentrations were up to 700 times greater than its standard. Conversely, the maximum glyphosate concentration noted was nearly four times less than its standard. Glufosinate currently has no established standard, but was only detected at low concentrations and was below its detection limit 80 days after application. The abstract of the paper published by the Journal of Environmental Quality is available Read more at
Global Agro-Industries Forum in New Delhi
9 April 2008, New Delhi

The New Delhi Forum is jointly organized by FAO, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), in close collaboration with the Government of India.

Urgent measures required to reduce impact of high food prices on the poor.

UN agency chiefs highlight role of agro-industries. – Urgent measures are needed to ensure that short-term adverse effects of higher food prices do not impact even more alarmingly on the very poor, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said today. Addressing the first, along with the heads of UNIDO and IFAD, Dr Diouf highlighted the important role that agro-industry had to play in overcoming these problems. “World food prices have risen 45 percent in the last nine months and there are serious shortages of rice, wheat and maize,” Dr Diouf said.

UNIDO’s Director-General, Kandeh K. Yumkella, said: “Climate change will impose great stresses on the world’s ability to feed ever growing populations. This challenge brings new threats to arable land areas, livestock rearing and fisheries through droughts, water shortages and pollution of land, air and sea. It is, after all, agricultural and livestock production that provide the raw materials that are basic to human existence – especially food.”

The New Delhi Forum is jointly organized by FAO, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), in close collaboration with the Government of India.
The U.N.'s latest study has told us to starve the poor
Douglas Southgate, Critical Opinion, Apr. 19, 2008

At a time when food prices are beyond what many can afford, it is unconscionable to consider policies that would make food scarcer and drive prices even higher. Yet that is exactly what is advocated in a U.N.-backed report published this week. The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) published its confused and inconsistent recommendations for more sustainable agriculture on April 15. Repeated throughout the report is the message that, despite increases in food production, the benefits of modern agriculture "have come at an increasingly intolerable price, paid by small-scale farmers, workers, rural communities and the environment." But the average inflation-adjusted price of agricultural products, indexed to wages, fell by about 75 percent between 1950 and 1990, benefiting the poorest the most.

What policies "to alleviate poverty and improve food security" does it recommend instead? Agro-ecological approaches and organic farming. But phasing out chemical fertilizers would massively decrease yields, driving up prices still further. It would also increase the amount of land needed to support the world's food demands, resulting in a huge loss of forest and other pristine land.

The President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva confirms his presence in the High-Level Conference on World Food Security with the theme "The Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy" on June 3 to 5, 2008 at the Food and Agriculture (FAO) Headquarters in Rome. This is in response to the invitation from FAO Director-General Dr. Jacques Diouf.

Moreover, President Lula emphasized the need for scientific foundations so that people can discuss solutions to the crisis. "The debate must take place in a rational manner, without being clouded by emotions or left or right-wing ideologies" he commented.

Read more about this news at For more information on the High-level Conference on World Food Security, see

Europe - EU

The EU Commission has just published a new Eurobarometer survey about “Attitudes of European citizens towards the environment”

This latest Eurobarometer survey gives the following figures related to GMOs: 20% of Europeans (from previous 24%) are worried about GMO (most worried are Austrians). 26% consider that there is a lack of information relating to use of GM in farming (down from 40% in 2004 - Finland is the country which most lacks information on this). 58% of Europeans declare they are opposed to GM, while 21% support their use. 9% say they have never heard of it. GMOs are classified as “Issue of great lack of information and medium level of concern”. These issues are "scientific” by nature which makes them hard to understand for the general public and, consequently, Europeans feel they especially lack information about these topics. However, when it comes to levels of concern, these two “scientific” issues are overcome by the broader global environmental dangers such as climate change.

Europeans in general tend to feel that they lack information about GMOs but at the same time they express relatively low levels of concern when this issue is discussed in the context of other current environmental problems. Consequently, it is likely that the feeling of not being informed contributes to the widespread opposition to the use of GMOs. In other words, even if the link between the lack of information and being opposed to the use of GMOs appears to be stronger here it only partly explains the relatively high levels of objection of the use of GMOs.

When asked to rank the 5 out of 15 main environmental issues they are most worried about:

Climate change is the first main issue the Europeans are most worried (increased from 47% to 57%).

Water pollution comes on second rank (down from 47% to 42%), then

Air pollution (down to 40% from 45%)

…….GMOs come at place 7 out of 15 (as mentioned above down 20% of Europeans are concerned about the use of GMOs in farming).

Another survey „Europeans, Agriculture and the Common agricultural Policy“ can be downloded at

Press release on the final results of the Public Consultation on the Green Paper "The European Research Area: New Perspectives"
ACTIVE promotes knowledge across Europe

Europe has set itself the goal of becoming the world’s leading knowledge-based economy by 2010. This means that businesses must bolster the productivity of their knowledge workers to boost their competitiveness. The problem is that existing information systems do not provide companies with enough support, so information exchange can be time-consuming or even unavailable. The solution, according to the EU-funded project ACTIVE, is to increase productivity in a pro-active, yet simple way.


Project supported by the EU delivers recommendations for the development of agri-food research in the Western Balkan Countries.

After two years of activity, the European Project BALKAN AGRO FOOD NETWORK (BAFN) published its final reports on the 17 April 2008. Since the beginning of the project in May 2006 the thirteen organisations involved in the BAFN projects have implemented a number of activities in order to improve cooperation between agri-food scientists from the EU and from the Western Balkan Countries. A directory with 335 research groups and 480 companies from the agricultural and food sector has been set up at More than 180 research groups participated to a survey on the situation of agricultural and food research in the Western Balkan Countries. Four meetings with experts from Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia and FYROM have been organised to identify future priorities for agri-food research in the region. Several consultations of stakeholders have also been organised.

EU-funded stem cell projects

New version of the FP6 Stem Cell Project Catalogue

European Commission nominates high-level advisory group on research and science

The European Commission announced today the names of 22 personalities who will make up the European Research Area Board (ERAB). These persons come from the fields of science, academia and business and will provide independent and authoritative advice to the European Commission on European research and science policy, whose objective is to realise a European Research Area.

Intellectual property and technology transfer

Commission Recommendation on the management of intellectual property in knowledge transfer activities and Code of Practice for universities and other public research organisations, adopted on 10 April 2008

Energy from plants fuels debate

The search is on to find a clean and sustainable alternative to oil. This is mainly as a result of rising oil prices and concerns over greenhouse gas emissions. One of the solutions cited is biofuels, which are manufactured from plants. Humans have used plant material for cooking and heating since the discovery of fire, but now it will help run our modern economies and way of life
(March 12, 2008) Genetically modified potatoes will not be cultivated commercially in the European Union this season. Voting members of the EU Commission have delayed approval of the "Amflora" variety. Effectively, this results in the prohibition of its planting in 2008.

Intended for industrial uses, e.g., the manufacture of paper and adhesives, the Amflora potato has been genetically modified to produce amylopectin starch exclusively.

The Amflora potato was developed by BASF and an application for its approval for cultivation was submitted in 2003. Subsequently, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) conducted a scientific safety assessment. Upon the conclusion of tests in 2005, the EFSA declared the Amflora line to be identical to conventional potatoes with regard to its effect on the environment.

On the basis of this declaration, the EU Commission recommended the approval of Amflora for cultivation within the Union. However, this recommendation was unable in 2007 to find support from a qualified majority of ministerial representatives of Member States in the European Council. As foreseen by EU law, ultimate responsibility for approval then was conferred to the Commission. This decision now has been delayed.

Spokespeople for BASF had expressed hope for cultivation in 2008. However, due to various factors which include yearly planning of crops and the early registration of the intention to plant genetically modified lines, approval would have been needed in February at the latest.
BASF threatens EU over potato
Constant Brand, Associated Press via BusinessWeek, Apr. 17, 2008

BRUSSELS, Belgium - For nine months, the European Commission has been considering whether to approve cultivation of a genetically engineered potato. On Thursday, the company involved said it would take the EU executive to court if it doesn't decide soon.

"Enough is enough," Stefan Marcinowski, a director at BASF AG, told reporters. "We are prepared to take all kinds of options, which includes legal action against the Commission." Marcinowski said talks Tuesday with EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas made no progress as the Commissioner keep the position of environmentalists that the gene nptII represent risk to human health. However, On 2 April 2004, the GMO Panel, a committee of experts under the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), submitted a report on antibiotic resistance marker genes. According to the experts, a general ban on the use of antibiotic resistance marker genes is not justified. Nonetheless, EFSA suggests a careful approach to their use on an individual basis: some should be not be used at all, and others should be used on a limited basis. The nptII marker gene, which is used in most GM plants and imparts resistance to kanamycin, may continue being used without restriction. Thereforre Stefan Marcinowski said “EU officials were making a mockery of their own approval system.
European hypocrisy over GMOs
William Surman, Farmers Guardian, Apr. 17, 2008

BRITISH pig and poultry industries are being destroyed by EU hypocrisy over genetically modified feed, industry experts have warned. Europe's zero tolerance stance on GMOs prohibit any feed exports to the EU that contain traces of unauthorised GMO but pigs and poultry that have been fed on the same unauthorised feed can freely enter the European food market for consumption.

European debate is also raging over the elongated authorisation system for new GMOs. The approval process in the EU can take anything from 3 to 10 years and is often dragged out by member states (such as Italy and Greece) that want to maintain 100 per cent GMO free.

British poultry farmers would pay £12 per ton less on feed if GM soya was available to the industry, said NFU poultry board chairman, Charles Bourns.

"If we want to keep producing poultry in the EU then we need to use GM soya. Otherwise the paradox is that we will import more chicken that has been fed on GM soya" he said. Next week Mr Parish will ask the European Commission to replace zero tolerance on unauthorised GMO traces with a lower limit and to speed up the GMO approval process or risk the destruction of EU pig and poultry industries.
EU Meat Hormone Law Violates Trade WTO Rules
Matthew Dalton, Wall St. Journal, Mar. 31, 2008

BRUSSELS -- The European Union's ban on meat treated with hormones violates international trade rules, a panel of the World Trade Organization said. The ruling allows the U.S. and Canada to keep tariffs worth $125 million each year on EU products such as meat, Roquefort cheese, onions, chocolates and truffles. The U.S. and Canada established the tariffs after the WTO ruled in 1998 that an earlier version of the EU ban violated trade rules.

"The findings confirm the principle that measures imposed for health reasons must be based on science," said Susan Schwab, the U.S. trade representative, in a statement. "It is high time for the EU to come into compliance with its obligations on this matter." The European Union says meat treated with one hormone, oestradiol, is clearly a health risk. Five other hormones are potential health risks and should be banned out of precaution until their health impacts are better understood, according to the EU.
Industry cooperation needed for applying rice tests
Laura Crowley,, Mar. 28, 2008

The food industry is being asked to work with the European Commission to implement testing measures for rice imports from China to prevent unauthorised GM material entering the European food system. The new strict methods will come into force on April 15th, following the identification of rice contaminated with the GMO Bt63 in imports from China. Bt63 is not authorised in either China or the EU. Although the Agency says it is unaware of any health implications for consumers who eat rice products containing Bt63, European regulation 1829/2003 states that GM food and feed should not be placed on the EU market unless it is covered by an authorisation.

Bayer's LL Rice 601, deisgned to tolerate the herbicide glufosinate ammonium, was discovered in batches of American long grain rice in the EU in August 2006. At that time the rice variety was not approved for human consumption. It has since been approved in the US, but no GM rice is allowed in the EU. The two incidents have had a large impact on the rice industry, and brought into question the efficiency of the food alert system.


Willy De Greef appointed New Secretary General of EuropaBio
Brussels, 15 April 2008:

Following the retirement of Dr. Johan Vanhemelrijck on July 1st 2008, Willy De Greef (53) will become the new Secretary General of EuropaBio. Willy De Greef brings to EuropaBio a unique combination of biotechnology experience, European and international policy understanding and managerial skills.

Willy was involved in setting up biotechnology policies and regulations both at the European and International levels, and has represented private and public sector organisations. During his career Willy has been involved not only in the developed world, but also has in-the-field experience in the developing world. His career has given him insights into the effects of policies on regions throughout the globe.

After four and half years at the helm of EuropaBio, Johan Vanhemelrijck has decided to retire as Secretary General. His tenure oversaw a major boost in EuropaBio activities, and a doubling of its membership base as well as an increased awareness and acceptance of life science solutions among the public and policy makers. Biotechnology now generates almost 2% of EU gross value added, and the innovations based on the new knowledge of life sciences are improving the sustainability of society, quality of life and longevity.

According to Willy De Greef: "One of the major challenges for real innovation is to overcome society's fear of change and convince decision makers to welcome innovative improvements. If we can be successful in building more confidence in the benefits of biotechnology solutions to solve old problems, Europe will again play its leadership role in improving the lives of its citizens."
Germany approves GM sugar beet and potato field trials
Michael Hogan, Reuters, Apr. 2, 2008

HAMBURG - Germany's state food safety agency said on Wednesday it approved field trials of genetically modified sugar beet and potatoes. The company Planta has been given permission to sow 12,000 square metres of GM sugar beet resistant to glyphosat at two locations between 2008 and 2011.

BASF Plant Science has been given approval to plant GMO potatoes on 30,000 square metres divided among three locations between 2008 and 2012.

German farmers have registered intentions with the BVL to plant 4,413 hectares of GM maize commercial production in the 2008 crop, up from 2,753 ha harvested in 2007, the agency said in March.
GM crops must become part of cereals sector tool kit
Farming UK, Apr. 7, 2008

The National Beef Association has called for all resistance to GM crops, at both UK and EU level, to be abandoned immediately in response to seismic shifts in world demand for food, the growing danger of global food shortages, and the prospect of declining domestic animal production.

It says the UK and EU agriculture industries cannot allow themselves to be held back by backward and protectionist attitudes to GM technology now that food is no longer either cheap, or abundant, and wants to see all available agricultural tools being used to allow production to keep pace with the soaring consumer demand.

"Full use of modern technology is essential if more farmers are to be able to grow more food crops on the increasingly limited area of agricultural land that is available," explained NBA chairman, Duff Burrell.

"Rapid food price inflation is already alarming government and consumers, and the production of both cereals and meat will reduce at the same time as shop prices reach toe curling levels unless GM aids become part of UK and EU farming's routine tool kit."

"The European Commission must accept that opposition to GM technology lacks logic and agree that the GM import issue needs an urgent solution because a massive rise in EU and UK livestock feed prices, and a corresponding reduction in livestock population, can only be avoided by quickly clearing the backlog of GM importation approvals."

"And the Association has noted that the UK's former chief scientist, Professor Sir David King, has estimated that the cost of the UK's failure to embrace GM crops has already cost its cereal sector ?4 billion in lost output," Mr Burrell added.
Scots farmers 'need to produce GM foods'
Dan Buglass, The Scotsman, Apr. 11, 2008

SCOTLAND'S farmers are being hampered by the "madness" of EU regulation, and must be allowed to produce genetically modified food to help them compete with other farmers on a global scale. That is the message that Struan Stevenson MEP will deliver later today when he addresses a meeting of the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association in Inverurie. Stevenson said yesterday: "We must relax the rules on biotechnology and ignore the 'Frankenstein Foods' headlines. The reality is that GM foods are harmless and point the way to overcoming global food shortages in the future. Food security in Europe means looking after our home production and not always handing a commercial advantage to our non-EU competitors." There are rumours that at least one major retailer intends to put some GM products on its shelves to test public opinion. A recent survey showed that consumer reaction to GM is far less negative than just a few years ago. Professor John Hillman, formerly of the Scottish Crop Research Institute in Dundee, claimed that the UK has lost a generation of agricultural scientists while the attitude of the government to science was "absolutely disgraceful".

Three leading potato starch producers see amylopectin starch from genetically enhanced potatoes as a commercial opportunity and see no reason to withhold Amflora approval
AVEBE, Emsland and Lyckeby (press release) via SeedQuest, April 9, 2008
bulletLeading European starch producers confirm their interest in pure amylopectin starch gained from genetically enhanced potatoes such as Amflora to BASF Plant Science
bulletAmylopectin starch has the potential to create added value for European potato farmers and the starch industry
bulletStarch producers confirm advantages of pure amylopectin starch in technical applications
bulletPlant biotechnology is an efficient way of developing pure amylopectin starch potatoes with competitive yields
EU pesticides regulation could put further pressure on food prices
Elaine Watson, Food, Apr. 7, 2008

If new rules restricting pesticide use in the EU are approved, food prices in Europe could rise sharply as crop yields fall, according to the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA).

Its warning came as Italian research institute Nomisma predicted that a proposed new EU Regulation on pesticide use could cause yields of wheat, potatoes and cereals to plummet by 29%, 33% and 20% respectively by 2020.

This would drive up prices at a time when commodity prices were already at record highs, owing to rising demand from China and India and more crops being diverted into biofuel production, warned the ECPA.
It could also prove counterproductive by forcing EU manufacturers to source more raw materials from outside the EU (where the rules do not apply), which would also increase food miles, said a spokesman. "This is one of a number of areas where a seemingly 'green' initiative might have unexpected and counterproductive consequences."

Swiss 'dignity' law is threat to plant biology
Government ethics-committee guidelines could halt techniques such as hybridization of roses.
Alison Abbott, Nature News (doi:10.1038/452919a), Apr. 23, 2008.

Although most people might be bewildered that a discussion on how to define 'plant dignity' should be taking place at all, the stakes for Swiss plant scientists are high. The Gene Technology Law, which came into effect in 2004, stipulates that 'the dignity of creatures' should be considered in any research. The phrase has been widely criticized for its general woolliness, but it indisputably includes plants.

All plant biotechnology grant applications must now include a paragraph explaining the extent to which plant dignity is considered. "But scientists don't know what it means," says Beat Keller of the Institute of Plant Biology at the University of Zurich who is running the first field trial  -  of disease-resistant corn (maize)  -  to be approved under the new legislation.

The constitution says that the 'dignity of creatures' must be taken into account in the gene-technology arena, which is why the term has been adopted into the regulations. The government called on the advice of its ethics committee two years ago to help develop a definition for plants. "My first reaction was  -  what the heck are we doing considering the dignity of plants," says Schefer. "But this very broad provision exists, and we have to help to prevent a legal mire."



Egypt's Minister of Agriculture has recently approved the decisions made by the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) and Seed Registration Committee allowing the commercialization of a Bt corn variety. This marks the first genetically modified (GM) crop approved for domestic planting in the country. The approval is highlighted in a recent Global Agriculture Information Network (GAIN) report by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).

During last year's growing season, field trials were conducted and assessed. A local seed company, acting as an agent of a multi-national life science company, plans to import GM seeds for propagation and production from South Africa. The GM corn will be planted in 10 governates throughout Egypt.

The report is available at
The Fight to Feed Africa
How Liberal Charities are Keeping Millions Hungry
Robert Paarlberg, New York Post, Apr. 6, 2008

[Robert Paarlberg is a professor of political science at Wellesley College and author of "Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa" (Harvard University Press)]

Why are so many Africans desperately poor? The answer lies in the kind of work they do - more than 60 percent plant agricultural crops and graze animals - and in the fact that their farming lacks the productivity provided by modern science.

But the other, more tragic, answer is that Western charities are helping to keep them that way.

Most small farmers in Africa do not plant any scientifically improved seeds, do not use chemical fertilizers, do not have access to veterinary medicine, do not have any electrical power and do not have any irrigation. Lacking any of these improvements, their labor in farming (80 percent of which comes from women and children) earns them only about $1 a day. One-third are malnourished.
Minister Wants African Leaders to Promote Modified Crops
Leadership (Abuja, Nigeria) via, Apr. 21, 2008

Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Grace Ekpiwhre has called on African leaders to promote Genetically Modified (GM) crops to tame hunger on the continent. Ekpiwhre told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) yesterday in Abuja that the continent's par capita food production had gradually declined over the last two decades. "Yields of staple crops fell by an average of 8 per cent on the continent compared to an increase of 27 per cent in Asia and 12 per cent in Latin America," she said.

She said that the consistent decline in food production had made it imperative for the continent to seek effective ways of fast-tracking food production processes.

She disclosed that the ministry wanted to introduce genetically modified crops into Nigeria to support government's food security programme. Ekpiwhre stressed that the development of capabilities to generate and acquire technology for genetic modification of crops required the cooperation of stakeholders.
Tanzanian government plans to enter into a 10-year public-private partnership on drought-tolerant maize varieties for small-scale farmers.

The partnership, which seeks to develop drought-tolerant maize varieties for Africa, was recently launched in Kampala in response to a growing call by African farmers, leaders and scientists to address devastating effects of drought on small-scale farmers and their families.

Agriculture and Technology researcher in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Dr Alais Kullaya, is quoted in a  local daily saying the initiative is aimed at reducing food shortage and alleviating hunger and poverty.

Kullaya said that new drought-tolerance technologies have already been licensed without charge and can be developed, tested, and eventually distributed to African seed companies without royalty and made available to smallholder farmers.

He said that the transgenic drought-tolerant maize hybrids would be available in about ten years. Risk of crop failure from drought is one of the primary reasons that made small-scale farmers in Africa not adopt improved farming practices.
New Drought Resistant And High Yield Crops to Come
Ephraim Kasozi, The Monitor (Kampala) via, Apr. 9, 2008

Although more than 75 percent of Uganda's workforce is engaged in agriculture, low yields leading to low income among farmers and malnutrition in children remain a challenge.

Alliance for a Green Revolution Africa (Agra) has laid a five year strategy to answer the extended drought seasons and unpredictable rains challenges to enable farmers increase their harvest. Agra is a partnership-based organization that works across Africa to help millions of small scale farmers and their families end poverty and hunger. It develops practical solutions to significantly boost farm productivity and incomes for the poor while also safeguarding the environment.

The programme estimated to cost US$150 million, supports the use of traditional means of improving crops for different situations like drought, test and pest-resistance crops.

Agra supports conventional breeding (the use of traditional means of improving crop yields against genetically modified crops).
Uganda gives go-ahead to biotechnology policy
Peter Wamboga-Mugirya,, Apr. 11, 2008

KAMPALA - Uganda's cabinet has approved its first National Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy, after eight years of deliberation.

Arab states

Arab leaders approve ten-year higher education strategy
Wagdy Sawahel
4 April 2008 | EN

Arab leaders have approved a ten-year strategy (2008–2018) for higher education.

The strategy was presented at a summit of the 22 member nations of the Arab League in Damascus, Syria, last week (29–30 March) and builds on an earlier plan signed in 2007 It calls for an increase in the ratio of students enrolled in science and technology  at undergraduate level from 30–45 per cent and encourages more women to pursue scientific careers.

The strategy also seeks to increase the number of Arab postgraduate research centres. Eighty per cent of Arab postgraduate students currently carry out their study abroad, which is contributing to Arab brain drain. To implement the strategy via grants and loans, the plan encourages the establishment of a special fund to be located at the Tunisia-based Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO).
Arab states have demonstrated the most improvement in technology-readiness of any other region in the world, according to a new report.

The seventh annual Global Information Technology Report, by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF) and French management school INSEAD, was released last week (9 April).

The report assesses 127 nations on factors ranging from the cost of mobile phone calls and available Internet bandwidth to the quality of higher education, to determine which countries are best positioned to compete in the information-intensive twenty-first century economy.

The report shows that Arab states have risen significantly in the rankings. Egypt, at position 63 in the study, climbed 17 places from the 2006–2007 report — the biggest jump in the sample. Bahrain, Jordan and Qatar leapt six, four and 11 places respectively.

Oman and Saudi Arabia, new to the report, entered at positions 53 and 48 respectively.

The report presents Qatar as a flag-bearer of technology-driven excellence in the region. In just four years, Qatar has risen to position 32 in the rankings


China to launch billion-dollar GM programme
Source: Chemistry World
3 April 2008 | EN | 中文

China is set to launch a five-year, 10 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion) research programme into genetically modified (GM) crops, according to the country's top agricultural biotechnology experts.

The first generation of GM crops focused on insect resistance. This new programme will emphasise yield, quality, nutrition improvement and drought resistance, according to Huang Dafang, former director of the Institute of Biotechnologies of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS).

Funding for GM safety and ecology monitoring and surveillance will be included, to reduce risks such as undesired gene flow into conventional crops.

Scientists say the programme was originally part of the nation's 2006–2010 plan for science and technology development, but funding was delayed due to the sensitivity of the area.

Chinese policymakers' attitudes to GM crops are now more receptive, according to Huang.

The injection of funding could lead to quicker commercialisation of GM crops in China, say scientists.

But Liu Xuehua, an associate professor of environment planning at Tsinghua University, says that any commercialisation policy should involve stakeholders and must not be based purely on government funding.


Major Japanese Wet Miller To Buy Biotech Corn For Food Production

According to an article in a Japanese trade paper, "Daily Feed News" dated March 27, a major Japanese wet miller, Kato Kagaku Co., Ltd. (also known as Kato Chemical) will start accepting non-segregated commodity corn to use for production. The company buys corn for production of starch, sweeteners supplied to beer breweries, soft drink manufacturers and various processed foods used in industry sectors. Since 2000, Kato Chemical has been buying non-genetically modified corn via an identity preserved (IP) handling system. According to Hiroko Sakashita, associate director of USGC's Tokyo office, several factors influenced the company's decision to purchase genetically modified (GM) corn.

"The decision came as a result of high crude oil prices and the rapid growth of corn-derived alternative fuels," she said. "Such circumstances have invited higher corn prices and a partial shift of IP corn growers to higher-yield GM corn," she added.

A recent survey on the "Emerging Markets for GM Foods: An Indian Perspective on Consumer Understanding and Willingness to Pay" conducted by the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad in collaboration with the Ohio State University revealed that a remarkable 70% of India's middle class is ready to consume genetically modified food (GMF). The study addresses the issues of consumer awareness, opinion, acceptance and willingness to pay for GM foods in the Indian market.

An e-copy of the report  is available at:

The Ministry of Agriculture in India announced a record estimated production of wheat, rice, coarse grains, pulses, oilseeds and cotton in 2007-08. It is estimated that the food grain production in 2007-08 touches an all time high record of 227.31 million tonnes as compared to 217.28 million tonnes in 2006-07. In 2007-08, the country will produce at best estimate, 95.68 million tonnes of rice, 76.78 million tonnes of wheat, 39.67 million tonnes of coarse cereals and 15.19 million tonnes of pulses. Oilseed production during 2007-08 is estimated at 28.21 million tonnes with groundnut estimated at 8.87 million tonnes, soybean at 9.43 million tonnes and rapeseed and mustard at 6.43 million tonnes. Production of cotton is estimated at 23.19 million bales of 170 kg each. As compared to 2006-07, rice production is estimated to increase by about 2 million tonnes, wheat by about 1 million tonne, coarse cereals by about 6 million tonnes (mainly contributed by maize) and pulses by about 1 million tonne during 2007-08. The oilseeds production is estimated to increase by about 4 million tonnes (mainly contributed by groundnut) and cotton by about 0.6 million bales during 2007-08 over 2006-07.

For more information on food production in India visit Contact for biotech developments in India.



"GM crops in emerging economies: Impacts on Australian agriculture" , a report prepared by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) for the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in Canberra can be downloaded at or

'The uptake of GM oilseeds and wheat could lead to a gain of $912 million in the Australian economy by 2018 relative to what would otherwise be the case,' Phillip Glyde, ABARE Executive Director, said on releasing the report. The economic benefit of GM crops is estimated under the assumptions that imports of GM crops are not restricted in foreign markets and the emerging economies of Argentina, Brazil, India and China will fully adopt these GM crops by 2018.

News in Science


Australia's Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) has received an application from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries for the limited and controlled release of up to 50 wheat lines genetically modified (GM) for enhanced drought tolerance. The GM plants express one of the 15 genes isolated from Arabidopsis, maize, moss and yeast. They also contain the antibiotic marker gene bla and the herbicide tolerance gene bar. For more information visit

Huge virulence gene superfamily responsible for devastating plant diseases
Virginia Tech via EurekAlert, Apr. 2, 2008

Blacksburg, Va. - A research team from the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech has identified an enormous superfamily of pathogen genes involved in the infection of plants. The Avh superfamily comprises genes found in the plant pathogens Phytophthora ramorum and Phytophthora sojae. The pathogen genes produce effector proteins that manipulate how plant cells work in such a way as to make the plant hosts more susceptible to infection. The results suggest that a single gene from a common ancestor of the both pathogen species has spawned hundreds of very different, fast-evolving genes that encode for these highly damaging effector proteins.

P. sojae (causes severe devastation in soybean crops), P. ramorum (causes sudden oak death) encode large numbers of effector proteins (374 from P. ramorum and 396 from P. sojae) that likely facilitate the infection of their host plants. Given that there are more than 80 species of Phytophthora pathogens, these findings imply that there are more than 30 000 members of this superfamily within the genus Phytophthora.

Proteins arising from the Avh superfamily have very different amino acid sequences but share two common motifs at one end of the protein (N-terminus) that are required for entry of the proteins into plant host cells. Similar motifs are also found in the effector proteins produced by the malarial parasite Plasmodium as it invades red blood cells. The team also detected some conserved amino acid motifs (W, Y and L) at the other end (C terminus) of some of the proteins that have been selected over years of evolution. These C-terminal motifs are usually arranged as a module that can be repeated up to eight times. The functions of these C-terminal motifs are being investigated further. The Avh gene superfamily is one of the most rapidly evolving parts of the genome. Duplications of genes are common and presumably responsible for the rapid expansion of the family.

The research appears in the March 25 issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (vol. 105, no. 12, pp. 4874-4879, 2008) in the article "RXLR effector reservoir in two Phytophthora species is dominated by a single rapidly evolving superfamily with more than 700 members."
Allele Frequency of Resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ab Corn in Louisiana Populations of Sugarcane Borer (Lepidoptera: Crambidae)
Fangneng Huang et. al., Journal of Economic Entomology (Vol. 101, No. 2, pp. 492-498), April 2008

The sugarcane borer, Diatraea saccharalis (F.) (Lepidoptera: Crambidae), has become a dominant cornstalk boring species in some areas, especially in Louisiana. This study screened 280 two-parent family-lines of sugarcane borer during 2005 by using novel F2 screening procedures to determine Bt resistance allele frequency. No major Bt resistance alleles were detected in these four populations. The estimated frequency of major Bt resistance alleles was <0.0027, with a 95% probability and a detection power of 94%. The estimated minor resistance allele frequency was 0.0063, with a 95% CI of 0.0025-0.0117. During a previous study, a major Bt resistance allele was detected in one individual from 213 family-lines of another Louisiana population of sugarcane borer. Combining these data with the current screen, the frequency of major Bt resistance alleles across the five populations was 0.001, with a 95% credibility interval of 0.0001-0.0028 and a detection power of 95%. Major Bt resistance allele frequencies in Louisiana sugarcane borer populations seem to be low, and they should support the rare resistance allele requirement of the high dose/refuge strategy.

Effects of Refuge Contamination by Transgenes on Bt Resistance in Pink Bollworm (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae)
Shannon Heuberger, Journal of Economic Entomology (Vol. 101, No. 2, pp. 504-514), Apr. 2008

Refuges of non-Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton, Gossypium hirsutum L., are used to delay Bt resistance in pink bollworm, Pectinophora gossypiella (Saunders) (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae), a pest that eats cotton seeds. Contamination of refuges by Bt transgenes could reduce the efficacy of this strategy. Previously, three types of contamination were identified in refuges: 1) homozygous Bt cotton plants, with 100% of their seeds producing the Bt toxin Cry1Ac; 2) hemizygous Bt plants with 70-80% of their seeds producing Cry1Ac; and 3) non-Bt plants that outcrossed with Bt plants, resulting in bolls with Cry1Ac in 12-17% of their seeds. Here, we used laboratory bioassays to examine the effects of Bt contamination on feeding behaviour and survival of pink bollworm that were resistant (rr), susceptible (ss), or heterozygous for resistance (rs) to Cry1Ac. In a simulation model, levels of refuge contamination observed in the field had negligible effects on resistance evolution in pink bollworm. However, in hypothetical simulations where contamination conferred a selective advantage to rs over ss individuals in refuges, resistance evolution was accelerated.

Germs in Soil Find Antibiotics Tasty
Associated Press via, Apr. 3, 2008

A team led by Harvard Medical School geneticist George Churých found that many bacteria didn't just survive but flourished when fed 18 different antibiotics, natural and manmade ones - including such staples as gentamicin, vancomycin and Cipro - that represent the major classes used in treating people and animals. More disturbing, a number of bacteria could withstand levels of antibiotics that were 50 to 100 times higher than would be given to a patient. Then the question becomes whether that genetic mechanism is something soil bacteria might be able to transfer to human pathogens, thus making them more drug-resistant. Wisconsin's Handelsman says gene pathways involved in metabolism are far larger and more complex than the type of single-gene resistance often seen in human pathogens.


Scientists from University of Rostock and Humboldt University in Germany have developed transgenic tobacco producing cyanophycin, an amino acid polymer that is the only known non-protein nitrogen storage polymer in cyanobacteria. The transgenic plants produced as much as 6.8 percent (dry weight) of cyanophycin, with minor or no stress symptoms. This is more than five-fold higher than the previously published value. Although all lines tested were fertile, the transgenic lines produced fewer seeds compared to control plants.

The paper published by the Plant Biotechnology Journal is available at

The proteins produced after translation are packaged in the cell's endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi apparatus. Polysaccharide chains are attached to target proteins through a process called glycosylation. "Coating" proteins with sugar serves several functions. Some proteins do not fold correctly unless they are first glycosylated. Glycosylation also confers stability to proteins. The N-glycosylation pathway in the endoplasmic reticulum has been shown to regulate protein quality control and cell wall synthesis in plants. An international team of scientists now reports that maturation of N-glycosylated proteins in the Golgi apparatus is required for salt tolerance in the model plant Arabidopsis. The abstract of the paper published by PNAS is available at


Recent discoveries have shown that there is more to genetics than the sequences of the nucleotide bases that make up genes. For instance, addition of a methyl group (-CH3) to the DNA backbone without alteration of the base sequence can change how genes interact with the cell's protein-making machineries. Methylation, usually of cytosine bases in the nuclear DNA, is involved in numerous processes like tumorigenesis and embryo development in animals and silencing of jumping genes and gene expression in plants. DNA methylation pattern in a cell is perpetuated and established by DNA methyltransferase enzymes. Read the summary of the paper published by the journal Cell at

For more information visit and

Genetic modification of plants via chloroplast transformation has recently become an established technology for crop improvement. Introduction of foreign genes in the cytoplasm offers several advantages over nuclear transformation. Proteins from plastid transgenes are expressed at very high levels, as there are multiple copies of the chloroplast genome in a plant cell. Likewise, since chloroplast genes are maternally inherited, plastid transformation offers a way of containing transgenes. A group of scientists from Taiwan has successfully transferred the Cry1Ab gene into the cabbage chloroplast genome. Expression of the Bt protein was detected in the range of 5 to 11 percent of the total soluble protein in leaves of the transgenic lines. The transformed lines exhibited increased resistance to diamond back moth larvae. The establishment of a plastid transformation system in cabbage offers new possibilities for genetic improvement and biological control in brassica crops. The abstract of the paper published by the journal Theoretical and Applied Genetics is available at



Publication Date: 01.04.2008
Assignee: Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. (Johnston, IA)
Patent Number: 7,351,878;
Published by: United States Patent Office
Abstract: Methods for protecting a plant from a plant pathogenic fungus are provided. A method for enhancing fungal pathogen resistance in a plant using the nucleotide sequences disclosed herein is further provided.

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