News in May 2008
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The fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (COP/MOP 4), opened last Monday in Bonn, Germany. The main aim is to expand the scope of the protocol to include binding rules on liability and redress.

Ursula Heinen, Parliamentary State Secretary at the German Ministry of Consumer Protection, presided as the chairman of the conference. Heinen said that biotechnology is opening up new possibilities for better food. Like all new technologies, however, it also holds risks for biodiversity. She further stressed that the issue of liability is of central importance for public acceptance of agbiotech.

Executive Secretary to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Ahmed Djoghlaf, believes that rules on liability and redress will be agreed upon when the conference ends on Friday. In 2004, parties to the Cartagena Protocol had set for themselves the objective of reaching an agreement by MOP 4.

For more information visit and

Books & Articles

CropLife International offers online Biotech Benefits Database
CropLife International (press release) via SeedQuest, May 13, 2008

Brussels, Beligum - CropLife International announced today that its Biotech Benefits Database now contains over 80 published papers and reviews that demonstrate the benefits associated with the use of agricultural biotechnology products. The Biotech Benefits Database is an online, searchable collection of papers that CropLife International has also shared through the Biosafety Information Resource Center of the Biosafety Clearing-House (BCH), an information exchange mechanism established by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to assist Parties with the implementation of the treaty's provisions to facilitate sharing of information on, and experiences with biotechnology. The Biotech Benefits Database can be accessed through CropLife’s Web site at or

People and Biodiversity Policies: Impacts, Issues and Strategies for Policy Action

This book is designed to help policy makers put together strategies for anticipating distributive impacts of biodiversity policy across different groups; and for selecting processes and instruments that manage distributive impacts without compromising...

Now available from the OECD Online Bookshop
The World Bank's World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development - the first of the annual reports to focus on agriculture for a quarter of a century, the bank noted with self-reproach - cites 700 published estimates of rates of return on investment in agricultural research, development and extension services in developing countries. It reports an average annual return of 43%.

Agricultural Support, Farm Land Values and Sectoral Adjustment: The Implications for Policy Reform

Focuses on the capitalisation of government support into land rents and prices, assessing the consequences of inflated asset values, and suggesting lessons for future policy making.

Now available from the OECD Online Bookshop
Multifunctionality in Agriculture: Evaluating the degree of jointness, policy implications

Proceedings that examine the nature and strength of jointness between agricultural commodity production and non-commodity outputs from the perspective of three areas important to the agricultural sector: rural development, environmental externalities and ...

Now available from the Online Bookshop
Business for Development 2008: Promoting Commercial Agriculture in Africa

Business for Development 2008 offers a fresh look at African agriculture and seeks ways for it to become a profitable industry. The changing pattern of international agricultural trade has profound implications for Africa. The book’s authors discuss ...

Now available from the Online Bookshop
OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2008-2017

This edition covers the outlook for commodity markets during the 2008 to 2017 period, and brings together the commodity, policy and country expertise of both Organisations. The report analyses world market trends for the main agricultural products, as well as biofuels. It provides an assessment of agricultural market prospects for production, consumption, trade, stocks and prices of the included commodities.

The highlights of “Agricultural Outlook 2008-2017” are now available in PDF format at

The forthcoming complete report can be purchased from the OECD Online Bookshop
Genetic Engineering and the World Trade System: World Trade Forum
Daniel Wüger and Thomas Cottier, eds., University Press, June 30, 2008 (pre-order status)

Product Description: While the WTO agreements do not regulate the use of biotechnology per se, their rules can have a profound impact on the use of the technology for both commercial and non-commercial purposes. This book seeks to identify the challenges to international trade regulation that arise from biotechnology.

Preliminary studies raise hopes: Golden Rice works well!

GMO Compass: Mr Potrykus, what are the main results of the pre-studies conducted at the Tufts University in Boston?

Ingo Potrykus: The tests have shown the efficacy of Golden Rice as a means to prevent vitamin A deficiency. A diet of just 200 to 300 grams of Golden Rice per day, which is the average consumption of rice in many South-East-Asian countries, is most probably enough to avoid the life-threatening consequences of a lack of beta-carotene in food.
Tough Lessons From Golden Rice
Martin Enserink, Science, April 25, 2008
(See also: Interactive Multimedia presentation on GM crops at

It was supposed to prevent blindness and death from vitamin A deficiency in millions of children. But almost a decade after its invention, golden rice is still stuck in the lab. Almost a decade later, golden rice is still just that: a promise. Well-organized opposition and a thicket of regulations on transgenic crops have prevented the plant from appearing on Asian farms within 2 to 3 years, as Potrykus and his colleagues once predicted. In fact, the first field trial of golden rice in Asia started only this month. Its potential to prevent the ravages of vitamin A deficiency has yet to be tested, and even by the most optimistic projections, no farmer will plant the rice before 2011.

The delays have made Potrykus, who lives in Magden, a small village in an idyllic valley near Basel, a frustrated man.

There's more at stake than golden rice and personal vindication, he says. In his view, 2 decades of fear-mongering by organizations such as Greenpeace, his prime nemesis, have created a regulatory climate so burdensome that only big companies with deep pockets can afford to get any genetically modified (GM) product approved. As a result, it has become virtually impossible to use the technology in the service of the poor, Potrykus says.

Genetically modified Bt crops have no negative effect on the survival of non-target organisms, according to a new study published by the online journal PlosOne. The meta-analysis, conducted by scientists from the University of Nebraska, Iowa state University and US Department of Agriculture, made use of 47 independent studies that focused on the effects of BT cotton, maize and potato on non-target arthropods.

The researchers noted that parasites of target pests were found to be less abundant in Bt cotton and maize fields compared to unsprayed non-Bt controls. There was no significant reduction in number of other parasitoids. Predator-to-prey ratios were unchanged by either Bt crops or the use of insecticides; ratios were found to be higher in Bt maize relative to the sprayed non-Bt control. The scientists hope that the results of the study will provide other researchers with information to design more robust experiments and inform the decisions of diverse stakeholders regarding the safety of transgenic insecticidal crops.

Read the article at;jsessionid=23519FFF8F5A71DAB92DD15E096F53BA
Navigating the genetic engineering maze
AlphaGalileo, May 8, 2008

In the decade since genetically modified strains of maize resistant to insects have been grown in the European Union, crop yields have gone up, farmers' reliance on insecticides has fallen significantly and the quality of maize has improved. That's the message from research published this month in the International Journal of Biotechnology from Inderscience Publishers.

Agricultural economist Graham Brookes of PG Economics Ltd, based in Dorchester, UK, has reviewed the specific economic impacts on yield and farm income as well as the environmental impact with respect to a lower reliance on insecticide usage since the introduction of GM maize in the EU in 1998.

Brookes' analysis reveals that profits have risen by more than a fifth for some farmers who previously used synthetic insecticides to control these pests. He points out that GM technology has reduced insecticide spraying markedly, which also has associated environmental benefits. He also points out that the quality of the maize produced is higher because the GM crop is less susceptible than non-GM maize to infestation with fungi that produce mycotoxins, hazardous to human health.
Media Articles on Plant Biotechnology available on EuropaBio website

Media Articles on Plant Biotechnology are available on EuropaBio’s website. To get updates on topics including “the French media and the current debate on GMOs in France”, “GM technology and food prices” as well as country updates get to

GrainGenes Website Speeds Gene Discovery
Marcia Wood, USDA Agricultural Research Service, May 20, 2008

Even though there's much about wheat that's familiar and ordinary, one feature of this ancient crop - its genetic makeup - remains relatively unknown. In fact, the everyday wheat plant doesn't just have one genome; it has several. In all, wheat's genetic makeup is gargantuan and complex. And it isn't yielding easily to scientists' probing.

To help accelerate discovery of this familiar crop's mostly unfamiliar genes, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Albany, Calif., and Ithaca, N.Y., developed GrainGenes. This specialized website provides some of the newest and best research information for a range of viewers interested in wheat, barley, oats, rye and triticale.

Research magazine:

Visit GrainGenes:


2009 World Congress - World Agricultural Forum
"Africa Meets the World: Creating Prosperity By Investing in Agriculture."
Kampala, Uganda February 24-27, 2009

ST. LOUIS (April 14, 2008) -  For the first time in history, the World Agricultural Forum's (WAF) 2009 World Congress will take place outside of the United States and will be hosted by the Republic of Uganda.
Download the complete announcement at:

OECD Forum 2008 to be held June 3-4.

The OECD Forum is OECD's annual multi-stakeholder summit alongside the OECD's annual ministerial meeting. This year's theme is Climate Change, Growth and Stability.,3407,en_21571361_39644413_1_1_1_1_1,00.html

OECD Ministers to Discuss Climate Change, Trade and Global Economy at Annual Meeting, Paris, 4-5 June 2008,3343,en_2649_201185_40481671_1_1_1_1,00.html
Ministers Discuss Environment and Global Competitiveness:,3343,en_2649_201185_40541853_1_1_1_1,00.html
Official Visit of the Secretary-General to the Czech Republic (Prague, 24 - 25 April 2008):

Speach on release OECD Economic survey,3343,en_2649_34487_40516187_1_1_1_1,00.html

Speach at Charles university,3343,en_2649_34487_40528149_1_1_1_1,00.html

Speach at the Czech Nationa Bank,3343,en_2649_34487_40534521_1_1_1_1,00.html
Agricultural Biotechnology International Konference
University College Cork, Ireland, Aug. 24 to 27

ABIC 2008 will be hosted in University College Cork, Ireland from August 24th to 27th. The primary sponsor for the 2008 conference is Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority. Teagasc provides integrated research, advisory and training services for the agri-food industry in Ireland and employs over 1,500 staff across over 100 locations throughout Ireland.

Program and speakers:

Registration (rates rise after June 27):
2nd World Botanic Garden Scientific Congress

Challenges in Botanical Research and Climate Change

Botanic Gardens Conservation International, Delft, The Netherlands, 29 June - 4 July 2008
4-5 June; Biofuels International Expo & Conference; Rotterdam
17-20 June: BIO 2008; San Diego, California
For more information, visit:
22-26 June: 4th EPSO Conference: ‘Plants for Life’, Toulon, France
For more information, visit:


FAO Conference in Rome

World food security and the challenges of climate change and bioenergy will be the main issues to be tackled during a high level international conference to be sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome this June. Heads of State and government ministers are expected to discuss ways to assist countries and the international community to find sustainable solutions to these current concerns. Read more on the conference at

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf called the attention of the international community to the threats and opportunities brought about by high agricultural commodity prices in an opinion article published in the FAO website entitled, "Soaring food prices- threat or opportunity?". Read the complete article at To view the full statement, visit

Agribusiness company Syngenta will build a new biotech research and technology center at the Zhongguancun Life Science Park in Beijing, China. The facilities will enable research on early stage evaluation of GM and native traits for key crops such as corn and soybean. Crop traits to be studied include yield improvement, drought resistance, disease control and biomass conversion for biofuels. Initial operations start this summer although the facilities will be completed in 2010.

Syngenta had earlier completed the share transaction with the Chinese corn seeds company Sanbei Seed Co. Ltd in Hebei province. It  also entered into a five-year research collaboration with the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology (IGDB) in Beijing on the development of novel agronomic traits for key crops such as corn, soybean, wheat, sugar beet and sugarcane.

See Syngenta's press release at
The EAGLES project

Life scientists from developing countries have made an impassioned plea for Europe to support life sciences research designed to address the global food crisis.

The scientists were speaking at a symposium held in Alexandria, Egypt, which was organised by the EU-funded EAGLES ('European action on global life sciences' ) project, supported by the European Commission and is a collaboration between EFB and scientific partners in Europe, China, Egypt, Ghana, South Africa and the Philippines. In a statement issued after the conference, the scientists describe themselves as 'dismayed and even horrified at the persistent failure of Europe to deploy its life sciences effectively in the fight against hunger'.

The EAGLES project is funded under the 'Food quality and safety' Thematic Area of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). Its aim is to bring together life scientists from Europe and the developing world to tackle hunger and disease and ensure that European skills and resources in the life sciences are used for the good of all people.

Full information will be found at

Europe - EU

Plant protection regulation

In Europe, tougher regulations on the registration of plant protection products and the protection of water resources are coming into force and a thematic strategy is being developed to fill the legislative gap regarding the use-phase of pesticides. This Directive will establish the framework for Community action to achieve a sustainable use of pesticides.

To support these changes, more diversified crop protection strategies based on new technologies, new approaches and a broader range of tactics need to be developed. Stakeholders, especially policy makers, need independent science-based advice to help them implement the new regulations.
Is it time for the EU to end their GM isolation?
Robert Forster, Farmers Guardian, May 2, 2008

Soaring global hunger for food, and equally stratospheric commodity price rises, demand that the EU's policies on GM food are reappraised. UK cereal farmers are among those keen to use new varieties to help them harvest bigger crops, off less land, with reduced impact on soil and water quality - and livestock farmers are equally anxious to get their hands on feedstuff that is cheaper.

Former chief scientist, Prof Sir David King, has calculated that the cost of the UK's failure to embrace GM crops has already cost up to ?4 billion. Animal feed importers, who have predicted spectacular rises in livestock feed prices and a corresponding reduction in livestock population unless the backlog of GM approvals for importation into Europe is quickly cleared, are also alarmed.

Neither the EU, nor the UK, can afford to ignore the world's emerging food crisis, especially, as after 12 years of crop growing, the most entrenched GM objectors have still to show that GM products introduce environmental complications, when unstoppable commercial GM adoption in an increasing number of countries demonstrates there are firm benefits from increased yields.
Former EU agriculture commissioner calls for positive GMO policy

New political measures are needed to ensure that global food demand is met in an environmentally sustainable way, said Franz Fischler, who argued in favour of GMO technology to help produce new food crops that meet changing climatic conditions and can be used in biofuel production. To view the article, please click.

The three dossiers consisting of two insect resistant corn varieties and the starch potato Amflora which had been positively assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) two years ago are being denied access by the European farmers.

"Today's debate at the EU Commission is yet another example of procrastination. The system is in place, and it should be allowed to function," says Bernward Garthoff, Vice Chairman of EuropaBio - the EU association for bioindustries. Biotech crops are the technologies to help alleviate poverty and hunger in the developing countries as well as mitigate the effects of climate change.  It is unacceptable that Europe's hesitation to apply its own regulatory approval process is affecting developing countries that would like to take up this technology.

For details of the press release see:
The Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI), a worldwide effort of public sector scientists involved in research and development of biotechnology for the public good, have sent an open letter to the members of the European Commission to aid them in their orientation discussion on biotechnology. PRRI expressed deep concern about the effects of the political situation in Europe affecting genetically modified (GM) foods and crops.

The initiative noted that despite clear EU rules and The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) conclusions of GMOs not having adverse effect on human and animal health or the environment, EFSA opinions continue to be ignored. As a result of this situation, detrimental impacts have been felt both inside and outside the EU, particularly in the developing countries. The practice of violating the internal rules of the EU has damaged the credibility of the EU regulatory system and the goal of achieving sustainable agricultural production in Europe, said PRRI. In addition, developing countries have been deprived of producing cash crops for export to Europe.

Email Piet van der Meer, Executive Secretary of PRRI, at for information on PRRI's open letter.
Commission procrastinates on GMOs while millions of farmers worldwide are growing them
EuropaBio (press release), May 7, 2008

Brussels - Today, the EU Commission held a debate on the biotech crop approval process in Europe and sent out a disappointing signal when it agreed to send back three cultivation dossiers which had been positively assessed. Europe is already lagging behind worldwide competition when it comes to biotech crops: more than 40 products are awaiting EU approval. Furthermore, in the light of the current bottlenecks in the supply of food and feed, it is unacceptable to keep putting off decisions by asking the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to reconsider dossiers such as the three biotech crops for cultivation which came before the Commission today: two insect resistant corn varieties and the starch potato Amflora which had been positively assessed by EFSA years ago.

Biotechnology must become plat principál
European Voice, May 8, 2008

The European Commission's breakfast review of Europe's biotechnology regulation yesterday (7 May) scarcely did justice to the subject. The EU rules on approval of biotechnology products date back nearly twenty years and despite repeated modifications and additions, the authorisation process is a mess. The Commission claims that the EU has the world's strictest system for approval of biotechnology products. Strict it may be. Efficient it definitely is not.

For years now, EU member states have failed to agree on dozens of applications for authorisation of genetically modified (GM) products. Some member states have entertained profound doubts about the safety of GM maize or soya or potatoes. Others have championed the innovations. The result has been deadlock. As the Commission drily observed after its orientation debate, "one must note that the member states in the Council [of Ministers] have persistent difficulties to reach decisions on the matter". But the system is so ineffective that these decisions come back in the end to the Commission, which has, on more than a dozen occasions over the last few years, granted authorisations. In consequence, member states that opposed the release of these products have responded by erecting their own barriers, invoking safeguard clauses and other devices to prevent the products reaching their market.

The recent spike in world food prices and intensifying food scarcity have added a further dimension to the dispute.


Setback for Sarkozy as parliament throws out GM bill
Agence France Presse via Terra Daily, May 13, 2008

PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy's government suffered a setback on Tuesday as lawmakers unexpectedly threw out a controversial bill on genetically-modified (GM) crops. Although Sarkozy's ruling right holds an absolute majority in the National Assembly, one third of his UMP party rebelled and joined left-wing lawmakers to vote out the text on technical grounds, by a whisker-thin 136 votes to 135.

Cheers broke out outside the parliament building where anti-GM campaigners had gathered in protest as the bill, which aimed to bring France into line with a 2001 European Union law, was rejected. Anti-globalisation activist Jose Bove, who has been jailed several times for ripping up GM crops, called it a "historic victory". Left-wing critics attacked the legislation, drawn up following a national conference on the environment last October, as lacking strong enough safeguards to protect conventional crops from possible contamination from GMOs. They also attacked its plans to make ripping up GM crops, a tactic of choice for French anti-GM activists, a criminal offence punishable by up to two years in jail.

Opposition among members of Sarkozy's UMP party was for different reasons: many argued the text gave too much ground to environmentalists by making it compulsory to publicly disclose any GM field under cultivation. Green party deputy Noel Mamere said the National Assembly vote was "a fine lesson for the government and for Nicolas Sarkozy", while Greenpeace said it was "happy" the text had been voted out.
French lawmakers pass bill on GM crops
Emile Picy, Reuters, May 21, 2008

PARIS - French legislators passed a bill on genetically modified crops on Tuesday, after blocking the same text by a single vote last week in what had been an embarrassment for President Nicolas Sarkozy. The bill, which will regulate the cultivation of GM crops in France, passed by 289 to 221 after the ruling right wing UMP party achieved an almost unified front along with centrists.

Opposition Socialists, left-wing parties, and environmental campaigners oppose the bill, which they say is too favourable to the interests of biotech companies such as U.S. giant Monsanto. Environmentalists say it blurs the line between natural and GM foods to the detriment of farmers and consumers, while advocates of GM crops say it does not go far enough in protecting biotech companies from sabotage.

Opinion polls show a vast majority of French people are opposed to GM crops because they have not seen enough proof that such crops pose no risk to consumers and the environment.

A survey, published by the journal Nature Biotechnology, reports that farmers adopting Bt maize experienced higher average yields than conventional corn growers in certain regions in the country. The survey was conducted by researchers from the European Commission Joint Research Center and the University of Córdoba.

The survey covered 195 farmers who grow Bt maize and 184 conventional maize growers. They were asked to provide information about yields, seed costs, maize prices obtained and use and costs of insecticides from 2002 to 2004. Significantly higher yield was recorded in the province of Zaragoza. The higher yield translates to higher incomes, since the farmers obtain the same price for fodder maize regardless of whether it is transgenic or not. Gross margin increase was as high as 122 euros (US $189) per hectare per year in Zaragoza. In other regions, however, profits were only marginal. The authors suggest that this might be due to the fact that Bt crops produce variable yield gains, depending mainly on local pest pressure and damage.

The article is available at For more information read
Genetically Altered Trout Approved for Release in U.K.
James Owen, National Geographic News, Apr. 30, 2008

Plans to pour tankfuls of genetically altered fish into wild lakes and rivers have been given the go-ahead in the United Kingdom after conservation scientists backed the project. According to a recent study, releasing the modified fish for anglers to catch is a better option than traditional trout farming and may even benefit native trout populations. That's because the fish have been engineered to be sterile, so they won't breed with vulnerable wild strains. These so-called triploid trout have three sets of chromosomes in their cells instead of the two sets normally found in diploid animals.

University given go-ahead for open field trial of GM potato crop
Chris Benfield, Yorkshire Post, May 10, 2008

LEEDS University has been given the go-ahead to grow genetically modified potatoes in an open field.

The potatoes have had their genes tweaked by Professor Howard Atkinson to give them resistance to a parasite. Now seedlings are on standby in glasshouses on the university's experimental farm in Tadcaster and 400 will be moved outdoors later this month. Development of the GM business in this country has been held back by fear of vandalism by opponents.
German universities bow to public pressure over GM crops Plug is pulled on maize research.
Quirin Schiermeier, Nature, May 14, 2008

Last month, the university announced that it would stop its planned cultivation of insect-resistant GM maize in nearby Gross-Gerau after activists occupied the 1,500-square-metre field. Another local field trial of GM maize, in Rauischholzhausen, was also stopped because of massive protests from the public and local politicians. Both trials had been approved by the national consumer protection and food safety body (BVL) and were to be conducted on behalf of Germany's authority for agriculture variety and seed affairs.

"I am not happy at all with this decision," says Stefan Hormuth, president of the Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Hesse. "Unfortunately, we were no longer able to deal with the massive opposition from politicians and the general public. The university has a reputation in the region that we cannot risk losing."

Earlier in April, the rector and external advisory board of Nürtingen-Geislingen University in Baden-Württemberg "urgently recommended" that a faculty member stop his field trials on insect-resistant and fungal-resistant GM maize. The experiments, which were also approved by the BVL, had been going on since 1996. "We have always been very critical of this kind of research," says economist Werner Ziegler, the university's rector. "Lately things got out of control. There were e-mail attacks, vandalism, intimidation and personal threats. People started calling us 'Monsanto University'."

"If it is indeed true that universities in Germany hinder faculty members from doing field research on GM crops for fear of being vandalized by anti-GM activists, then this is disgraceful," says Vivian Moses, a visiting professor of biotechnology at King's College London.
Germany: Discussion Paper of German Ag-Industry about EU Biotech Policy Implications
US Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service, May 12, 2008

A group of German food and feed industry associations released a discussion paper expressing the industries' concerns about the negative implications of the EU biotech policy. The industry is highly concerned that the EU policy on biotechnology will cause significant supply problems for Germany. View/Download the MS Word version:

Cabinet calls for GMO-free agriculture
Swissinfo, May 14, 2008

The government has come out in favour of extending a ban on genetically modified organisms (GMO) in agriculture until 2013.

Denmark and the EU should open for genetically modified foods

“Denmark’s Minister for Food, Eva Kjer Hansen (V), wants Denmark and the EU open for genetically modified foods. Initially it will concern feed – for example corn and soy. The Minister’s selling point is that introducing GMO-feed will strengthen the competitive position of Danish farmers when competing with e.g. USA. – We will be facing grave financial problems if we do not accept a larger import of feed for agri-industry, says the Minister to Břrsen.”
Farmers threaten protests should Romanian authorities forbid GM corn, May 12, 2008

Romania's Agriculture Producers Association (LAPAR) threatens to launch a series of protests in Romania and Brussels if Bucharest authorities forbid genetically modified corn crops in the country, Romanian monitoring agency Rador reads, quoting BBC. A decision on the issue was supposed to be taken by an Environment ministry commission on Friday but was postponed.

Aresa has achieved to get permission from the Serbian authorities to plant transgenic tobacco for the detection of explosives
Aresa A/S (press release), May 16, 2008

Copenhagen - Aresa has achieved to get permission from the Serbian authorities to plant transgenic tobacco for the detection of explosives


Egypt approves commercialisation of first GM
Wagdy Sawahel,. 13 May 2008

Egypt has approved the cultivation and commercialisation of a Bt maize variety, marking the first legal introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops into the country.

A report last month (16 April) from the US Department of Agriculture, noted that the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture had "approved decisions made by the National Biosafety Committee and Seed Registration Committee to allow for commercialisation of a genetically modified Bt corn variety". The endorsement was based on a series of field trials conducted between 2002 and 2007 for the variety MON 810.

Amr Farouk Abdelkhalik, an Egyptian biotechnologist and regional coordinator of the Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa, says the new variety "points to the potential agronomic and environmental benefits of Bt maize in Egyptian cropping systems and accordingly the reduction of the massive use of pesticides". "We should develop our own GM plants using our genes and technology to protect small-scale farmers," he added.

Egypt currently has no official biosafety legislation, though a regulatory framework exists. Hisham El-Shishtawy from the National Biosafety Committee secretariat told SciDev.Net that the existing framework follows the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and encompasses ministerial decrees regulating the registration of GM seeds.
Mutant wheat aiding Kenya food security
Source: International Atomic Energy Agency
20 May 2008 | EN

A high-yielding, drought-resistant wheat variety is contributing to Kenya's food security and economic and social needs.

In collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kenya's Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) produced their first mutant strain of wheat, Njoro-BW1, in 2001.

Researchers used 'mutation plant breeding', a process that alters the traits and characteristics of crops using radiation to induce mutations


GMO May Be A Solution To Cut Brazil's Ag Costs
Juliana Hoyl, Cattle Network, May 26, 2008

SAO PAULO--Climbing fertilizer costs are bringing genetically modified soy and grains into the spotlight in Brazil, according to attendees at a Bunge agribusiness conference in Sao Paulo Monday.

Brazil only permits transgenic soy in its sprawling farmlands. Last year, the country's biosafety council, CTNBio, said it was acceptable to plant transgenic corn from Bayer CropScience Ltd. (506285.BY) and Monsanto Co. (MON). According to farm consultancy Celeres, Mato Grosso, the country's leading soy-producing state, is expected to see soy farming costs rise by 41% to 1,584 Brazilian reals ($954.21) per hectare of transgenic soybeans in the upcoming 2008-09 crop. But compared to the BRL1,615-a-hectare cost for traditional soybeans, which require more agrochemical sprays to kill weeds, transgenic soy is the economical winner. In Parana, the No. 2 soy producer, overhead costs for transgenic soy per hectare are expected to rise to BRL1,398, from BRL1,050 in the 2007-08 crop. Then again, conventional soy costs in the state should hit an average of BRL1,421, up from around BRL1,100 in 2007-08. Author and well-known U.S. futurist, Alvin Toffler, said Brazil will soon join the U.S. in transgenic grain production. "Banning GMO is irresponsible," Toffler said.

Over half of Brazil's 2007-08 crop was transgenic soy. Given the production costs computed by Celeres Monday, genetically modified soy will, at the very least, remain as popular this season as it was last. Only Monsanto's Roundup Ready soy is commercially approved in Brazil at this time.



The proposed strategy to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS)  includes: 1. Map biotech plantings in countries, states, or counties according to the appropriate scale to permit analyses that would indicate trade-offs in using biotechnology and at the same time, preserve privacy;  2. Make available to environmental scientists records regarding the specific transgenic varieties planted, whether single, stacked, etc. per area to discern whether a particular transgenic variety and its traits are associated with various environmental and biotic patterns; and 3.  Link maps of agricultural practices with existing monitoring of birds, fish, and amphibians to examine associations between agricultural practices and trends in species abundances across both space and time. See article details at



Considering the food scarcity in the country and its future impact, the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture will not only increase  yields but also reduce the need for more farmlands, irrigation facilities, and pesticide use.This statement was made by the Federal Environment Minister Hameed Ullah Jan Afridi, to participants of a seminar on "Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) - Applications and Implications", organized by the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) and the National Biosafety Centre (NBC) in Islamabad. The Federal Environment Minister added that while these benefits could boost the economy and provide food security, there are perceived fears like health and environmental implications, which need to be looked at. Proper risk assessment procedures should therefore be made.

Read the full article at,%202008%20Call%20to%20use%20genetically.html or
Potential impacts of Bt eggplant on economic surplus and farmers' health in India
Vijesh V. Krishna and Matin Qaim, Agricultural Economics, March 2008 (vol. 38(2), pp. 167-180)

Several proprietary Bt hybrids are likely to be commercialized in the near future. Based on field trial data, it is shown that the technology can significantly reduce insecticide applications and increase effective yields. Comprehensive farm-survey data are used to project farm-level effects and future adoption rates. Simulations show that the aggregate economic surplus gains of Bt hybrids could be around US$108 million per year. Consumers will capture a large share of these gains, but farmers and the innovating company will benefit too.

Furthermore, the potential benefits for farmers' health resulting from reduced insecticide applications are examined, using an econometric model and a cost-of-illness approach. These benefits are worth an additional $3-4 million per year, yet they constitute only a small fraction of the technology's environmental and health externalities.

The country's biosafety authorities reaffirmed its science-based regulations in a recently held public consultation at the Department of Agriculture (DA) headquarters. The Departments of Agriculture, Science and Technology, Environment and Natural Resources, Health and the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines jointly prepared the First Philippine Cartagena Report, in consultation with stakeholders, to support the national policy of promoting the safe and responsible use of modern biotechnology. Though a new player, the Philippines has already put in place legal, administrative and other measures that are compliant with the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB). For details see inquiries at: or contact Sonny P. Tababa, Network Administrator, SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center at

Rice Shortage Could Be Eased by Plants That Resist Uptake of Arsenic
Bob Ewing, Digital Journal, May 3, 2008

The press release says that the deep tube wells that are installed to provide drinking water in Bangladesh and other countries are producing water with naturally occurring levels of arsenic that greatly exceed safe limits in drinking water. When the groundwater is used to irrigate rice paddies it causes a buildup of arsenic in topsoils that is toxic to the rice plants, thus, reducing the amount of rice that can be produced in a given area.

Arsenic builds up in all parts of the plant, including the rice grains used for food, creating health problems in hundreds of thousands of people, including several forms of cancer. Arsenic is also present in the rice straw used as animal fodder, causing arsenic to enter the food chain in dairy products and meat, and affecting the health of animals.

"Already on the Indian subcontinent, particularly in Bangladesh and West Bengal, there are more than 300,000 people who have developed cancer from arsenic poisoning by drinking contaminated water and eating contaminated food," says Parkash.

Om Parkash of the University of Massachusetts Amherst leads a research team that uses genetic engineering to produce rice plants that block the uptake of arsenic, which could increase production of this valuable crop and provide safer food supplies for millions. "Basically, the companies will use our gene constructs in new or existing rice lines, producing hybrid rice that will go through the cultivation and seed production stage," says Parkash. "Then the new strains of rice will be commercialized and brought to market."



A report released by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) says that genetically modified crops can provide significant economic benefits to Australia's regional economy. "Delaying GM uptake means we are forgoing significant economic benefits for regional Australia," said Philip Glyde, ABARE Executive Director.

GM seed in high demand for farmers
ABC Rural (Australia), May 2, 2008

Supplies of genetically modified canola seed have been stretched across New South Wales and Victoria, following last weekend's rainfall.


Queensland University of Technology has submitted an application for the limited and controlled release of disease-resistant, genetically modified bananas to Australia's Office of the Gene Regulator (OGTR). If approved, the release will take place in Cassowary Coast, Queensland, on a total area of up to 1.4 hectares between 2008 and 2010. The GM lines contain the ced-9 gene from the nematode C. elegans that is expected to provide the plants protection from pathogenic microorganisms. The gene encodes a protein that prevents plant cells from undergoing programmed cell death (apoptosis) in response to pathogen attack. The gene may also affect growth and development of the GM plants and confer enhanced tolerance to a range of abiotic stresses. The banana lines contain the antibiotic selectable marker gene nptII. OGTR has prepared a Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plan which concludes that the release poses negligible risks to people and the environment.

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GM crops 'would net $8.5b for farmers'
The West Australian, May 12, 2008

Open-slather planting of genetically modified (GM) crops would net Australia $8.5 billion during the next decade, government researchers estimate. According to a report by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE), GM crops would boost yields, cut costs, help the environment and boost biodiversity.

News in Science

From studies of the succulent Kalanchoe plant, scientists from the USDA Agricultural Research Service Autar Matoo and Renu Deswal of the Botany Department University of Delhi have discovered that nitric oxide is important in regulating processes involved in seed germination and cell development. The research published in the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS) Journal website also details the involvement of nitric oxide in many important processes such as photosynthesis, sugar metabolism, disease tolerance and stress tolerance in plants. For details,  see the article at:

Researchers from the University of California Davis have identified the genes responsible for the wide range of freezing temperatures that can be tolerated by different wheat varieties. Results of the study, reported in the current issue of the journal Plant Molecular Biology, provide insights for the understanding of winter injury, a major economic risk factor in producing wheat.
Read the press release at

Scientists back the use of maize as an efficient 'factory' for protein-based pharmaceutical products
, May 23, 2008

Scientists from the Universidad de Lleida (University of Lleida) have published a study confirming that maize seeds are an effective and sure platform within molecular agriculture to alleviate diseases. Over the next few years AIDS could be one of the first diseases to benefit from these results, although regulations for this technology are being developed at the same time as research is being undertaken.

Last March, transgenic maize became the first plant to be developed commercially for medical use. The PNAS review published the following findings: a maize seed with genes from the 2G12 antibody (already known for its capacity to neutralise infection from the virus) could produce antibodies against the transmission of HIV. Researchers from the Departamento de Producción Vegetal y Ciencia Forestal [Department of Plant Production and Forest Science] at the Universidad de Lleida, were those who actually designed this drug during an international project known as Pharma-Planta (made up of 39 European and South African teams), and headed by the British man Paul Christou.

Currently, the same team of scientists from the Universidad de Lleida who took part in this research have put forward in the review Plant Science "a more practical and productive approach to evaluate the ecological and toxicological risks, in which a scientific problem refers to a significant, final evaluation, and the hypotheses of risk predict effects in which the final evaluation is not a transformed plant, but the product resulting from that plant", Paul Christou explains to SINC.

The risks of the open farming of plants for the production of molecules for pharmaceutical use relate to their impact on the environment through the gene flow, and their impact on the health of animals and humans through inadvertently consuming these. The research team has decided that the regulation processes "should be applied in proportion to the risks of each individual case", as some plants farmed for the production of pharmaceutical drugs are harmless and others vary in their toxicity. In every case a level of risk acceptance has to be established in order to avoid the consequences of any possible exposure.

China experts identify gene for yield, height in rice
Tan Ee Lyn, Reuters via Forbes, May 4, 2008

China - KABUL - Scientists in China have identified a single gene that appears to control rice yield, as well as its height and flowering time, taking what may be a crucial step in global efforts to increase crop productivity.

In an article published in Nature Genetics, the researchers said they were able to pinpoint a single gene, Ghd7, which appears to determine all three traits.

The most highly active versions were present in warmer regions, allowing rice plants to fully exploit light and temperature by delaying flowering and increasing yield. Less active or inactive versions were found in cooler regions, enabling rice to be cultivated in areas where the growing season is shorter


Australian scientists from the Crop Biofactories Initiative (CBI) achieved a major advance by developing Arabidopsis plants accumulating up to 30 percent of an unusual fatty acid (UFA). UFAs are source of petrochemicals that are used in production of  plastics, paints and cosmetics.

To view complete article, see h

Production of polyhydroxybutyrate in switchgrass, a value-added co-product in an important lignocellulosic biomass crop
Maria N. Somleva, Kristi D. Snell, et. al., Plant Biotechnology Journal, May 21, 2008

Summary Polyhydroxyalkanoate bio-based plastics made from renewable resources can reduce petroleum consumption and decrease plastic waste disposal issues as they are inherently biodegradable in soil, compost and marine environments. In this paper, the successful engineering of the biomass crop switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) for the synthesis of polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) is reported.

Thermostable ß-amylase

A group of researchers from Taiwan has developed transgenic potato lines expressing thermostable b-amylase. The scientists targeted the expression of four chimeric gene, isolated from thermophilic bacteria, in the cytoplasm, amylopast (starch-storing organelle) and vacuole. Twenty three transgenic potato lines accumulated high levels of ß-amylase. In field trials however, discernible adverse effects on tuber development and formation were observed in these lines, which may be caused by alternation of metabolite composition. The researchers are currently looking for ways to minimize the effects of transgene insertion in tuber qualities. Read the paper published by the journal Plant Science at

Zeaxanthin is bioavailable from genetically modified zeaxanthin-rich potatoes.
A. Bub, J. Möseneder et. al., European Journal of Nutrition, Mar. 2008

The carotenoid zeaxanthin accumulates in the human macula lutea and protects retinal cells from blue light damage. However, zeaxanthin intake from food sources is low. Increasing zeaxanthin in common foods such as potatoes by traditional plant breeding or by genetic engineering could contribute to an increased intake of this carotenoid and, consequently, to a decreased risk of age-related macular degeneration. Genetically modified Solanum tuberosum L. var. Baltica GM47/18 contains 3 mg zeaxanthin the wild-type control potatoes (Solanum tuberosum L. var. Baltica only 0.14 mg zeaxanthin. Consumption of zeaxanthin-rich potatoes significantly increases chylomicron zeaxanthin concentrations suggesting that potentially such potatoes could be used as an important dietary source of zeaxanthin.

Genetic Pesticide for Termites Developed in Florida
Environmental News Service, May 28, 2008

GAINESVILLE, Florida - A pesticide that attacks termites through their genes has been developed in a lab at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

In a paper published online this week in the journal "Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology," Scharf describes the effects of a mixture that, when consumed by termites, causes them to be cripplingly deformed after molting.

The active agent in this "genetic pesticide" is ribonucleic acid, or RNA.

Scharf and his team analyzed part of the termite genome and picked a gene that would disrupt the insect's life cycle and is found only in that type of termite. They then crafted an RNA structure that would interfere with that specific gene's RNA, thus silencing the gene's activity.

Tiny Gene Discovered Hiding in a Major Family of Plant Viruses
Iowa State University (press release), May 27, 2008

AMES, Iowa - In an international collaboration, researchers in Allen Miller's lab in the Department of Plant Pathology at Iowa State University have shown that a tiny gene exists in all members of the largest family of plant viruses. Without this gene, the virus is harmless. The discovery was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Italy and France Successfully Map Grapevine Geonome
SDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Apr. 29, 2008

Italy and France successfully map the grapevine genome. The six-millon Euro joint research program produced the first analysis of a grapevine's genome These results can be utilized to develop new, disease-resistant grapevines, reducing the need to use chemical pesticides.

Icelandic biotechnology company launches unique Orfeus protein production system in barely
ORF Genetics (press release) via SeedQuest, May 14, 2008

Reykjavik, Iceland - ORF Genetics, an Icelandic biotechnology company, announced yesterday the opening of new and revolutionary 22,000 ft2 (2043m2) cultivation facilities in Grindavik, Iceland. Utilizing its unique Orfeus protein production system in barley, ORF Genetics produces and markets biorisk-free ISOkine human growth factors for use in medical research, drug discovery and cosmetics.

The state-of-the-art Green Factory uses geothermal energy for safe, indoor cultivation of genetically engineered barley. The barley is cultivated in a soil-less hydroponic system on specially designed conveyor belts, allowing for the production of up to 90 different proteins at a time. Currently ORF has more than 100 different growth factors in its pipeline and 10 ISOkine growth factors already on the market.

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