News in October 2008
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GM Crops Deserve More Reasoned Debate
Albert Weale, October 16, 2008  
Professor Albert Weale is chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and professor of government at the University of Essex, United Kingdom.

Debates around the potential benefits of GM crops for developing countries must be reasoned and evidence-based.

Since 1999, my organisation, the UK-based Nuffield Council on Bioethics, has twice examined the ethical issues raised by GM crops. In a 2003 report, the Council specifically focused on developing countries. Two of the conclusions are still particularly relevant today.

Ethical obligation

First, the council concluded that there is an ethical obligation to explore whether GM crops could reduce poverty, and improve food security and profitable agriculture in developing countries. In coming to this conclusion, the council considered differing perceptions of risk. When people have enough food, as in developed countries, consumers and producers will feel free to avoid risk - even if that risk is theoretical rather than real. But developing nations, struggling with widespread poverty, poor health, limited pest control and poor agricultural sustainability, have a different risk-benefit calculation. This is perhaps why the acreage of GM crops has tripled in developing countries over the past five years, compared to just doubling worldwide.

This does not belittle other factors needed for poverty reduction and food security - such as stable political environments, appropriate infrastructures, fair international and national agricultural policies, and access to land and water. GM crops are just one part of a large and complex picture. But we will not know how important a part until we explore their potential.

Case by case consideration

The Nuffield Council's second key conclusion was that the wide range of GM crops and situations must be considered individually. Those who oppose or support GM crops per se make an unhelpful generalisation.

The role of research

Scientific and other evidence must be central in the debate, and over the past few years evidence about GM crops has grown. In the United Kingdom, the government has committed ?150 million (US$263 million) over the next five years to research aimed at making agriculture more resilient to the pests and diseases affecting poor farmers, and increasing smallholders' agricultural productivity.

Striking a balance

Many people worry about possible environmental risks from GM crops, such as gene flow to other plants, and this is something that scientific research must clarify. But alarm-raising without evidence is as helpful as calling 'fire' in a crowded theatre. Similarly, demanding evidence of zero risk before allowing a new technology is fundamentally at odds with any practical strategy for investigating new technologies. Mobile phones or aeroplanes might never have seen the light of day if such stringent demands had been placed on them.

In the case of GM technology it is clearly crucial to ask what the risks of adopting GM crops are. But it is also important to ask what the risks of not doing so are. Realistic cost-benefit analyses that consider local social and environmental conditions and development goals are needed on a country-by-country basis.

Food crisis

The World Bank recently estimated that a doubling of food prices over the last three years could push 100 million people in low-income countries deeper into poverty. And the future does not look brighter. Food prices, although likely to fall from their current peaks, are predicted to remain high over the next decade.

Heated debate about the food crisis must not detract from an evidence-based assessment of biotechnology's potential for improving agricultural productivity in developing countries. The benefits of GM crops must not be overstated. But neither can poor arguments be allowed to obscure strong arguments for a good cause.

General - Global


The Food and Agriculture Organization's annual publication "The State of Food and Agriculture" stresses the need to urgently review biofuel policies and subsidies to "preserve the goal of world food security, protect poor farmers, promote broad-based rural development and ensure environmental sustainability". "Biofuels present both opportunities and risks. The outcome would depend on the specific context of the country and the policies adopted," said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. "The challenge is to reduce or manage the risks while sharing the opportunities more widely."

Diouf added that "There seems to be a case for directing expenditures on biofuels more towards research and development, especially on second-generation technologies." If well designed and implemented, this could have a greater potential in reducing greenhouse gas emissions with less pressure on the natural resource base".

View the FAO press release at


Access to information on germplasm stored in genebanks in various parts of the world - this is the goal of the Global Information on Germplasm Accessions (GIGA). Researchers particularly in resource-poor countries will benefit from consolidated information about agricultural diversity. "Bioversity and its partners are contributing to the development of a global system of information and exchange for agricultural biodiversity. This will facilitate the wider use of biodiversity, which in turn is the key to agricultural development in a time of increasing food and fuel prices, climate change and water scarcity," said Emile Frison, Director-General of Bioversity International.

Rockefeller Foundation to Fund Golden Rice's Regulatory Approval Effort

Judith Rodin (President, Rockefeller Foundation) announced a grant to IRRI that will support the biosafety testing and regulatory cost of shepherding the Golden Rice through the regulatory maze on the path to commercialization.

Full text of Rodin speech at

Golden Rice, Red Tape
Henry Miller, The Guardian (UK), October 17, 2008

Bio-fortified rice could save hundreds of thousands of lives a year, but opposition to GM crops is still preventing its approval.

Last month, the Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry bestowed the prestigious Bertebos prize on Swiss plant biologist Ingo Potrykus, the co-inventor of "golden rice".

But one aspect of this shining story is tarnished. Intransigent opposition by anti-science, anti-technology activists - primarily Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and a few other groups - has spurred already risk-averse regulators to adopt an overly precautionary approach that has stalled approvals.

There is nothing about golden rice that should require endless case-by-case reviews and delays. As the British scientific journal Nature editorialised in 1992, a broad scientific consensus holds that "the same physical and biological laws govern the response of organisms modified by modern molecular and cellular methods and those produced by classical methods--. [Therefore] no conceptual distinction exists between genetic modification of plants and microorganisms by classical methods or by molecular techniques that modify DNA and transfer genes."

By contrast, plants constructed with less precise techniques such as hybridisation or mutagenesis are subject to no government scrutiny or requirements (or opposition from activists) at all. And that applies even to the numerous new plant varieties that have resulted from "wide crosses", hybridisations that move genes from one species or genus to another - across what used to be thought of as natural breeding boundaries.

Books & Articles

Seeds of a Perfect Storm: Genetically Modified Crops and the Global Food Security Cisis
Nina Fedoroff,  Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State and to the Administrator of USAID
Inaugural Lecture in the Jefferson Fellows Distinguished Lecture Series; Washington, DC; October 17, 2008. Full lecture at


I'll start by telling you how we got here, how we planted the seeds of the stormy food security crisis of 2008. Then I'll tell you how we've learned to improve food crops over the eons, then over the past century. And I will tell you how many countries have gotten themselves into the paradoxical position of rejecting the most promising and environmentally conservative means of ensuring global food security ever to have been developed. The developed world seems to have declared the battle for food security won and moved on to other concerns. Investment in agricultural research has steadily declined over the past three decades, even as the human population has continued to grow.

OECD Science, Technology and Industry Outlook

Reviews key trends in science, technology and innovation in OECD countries and a number of major non-member economies including Brazil, Chile, China, Israel, Russia and South Africa. Now available from the Online Bookshop

Publish or Patent? Knowledge Dissemination in Agricultural Biotechnology by An Michiels and Bonwoo Koo. a discussion paper published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, notes a significant shift from fundamental to applied research in developing countries such as China and India. In addition, a trend from journal publications to patents as a means of knowledge dissemination during the past few decades has also been noticed.

Go to for a copy of the discussion paper.

Future of Plant Sciences Explored In New Primer
Jennifer Walsh, National Academy of Sciences

The National Academies have released a new primer on the achievements and promise of plant genome sciences. Based on an expert consensus report from the National Research Council, the booklet explores the potential of the National Plant Genome Initiative

"Biosafety regulations of Asia-Pacific countries", An online version of by K. Gupta, J.L. Karihaloo and R.K. Khetarpal, is now available. Published by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Asia-Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology (APCoAB) and the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), the document details the regulatory instruments related to biosafety of products of biotechnology for agriculture and food existing in 39 countries of Asia and the Pacific. It contains additional chapters providing an introduction to recent developments in agricultural biotechnology in the region, issues on biosafety, and international regulatory instruments on biosafety.

Download the document at or contact for more information. For other FAO publications and events visit

The Role of Agricultural Biotechnology in Sustainable Food Production
The International Food Information Council, October 23, 2008

The IFIC has released the results of its latest "Food Biotechnology" survey which notes that "-- more and more people are thinking about the concept of sustainable food production and its role in feeding the world--awareness of sustainable food production jumped 11 percent from 2007 to 2008 (from 30 to 41 percent). Consumers rated 'growing more food to help feed the growing global population' as the most important factor for growing crops in a sustainable manner ---reducing the amount of pesticides needed to produce food [came] in second. 84 percent of consumers [reported] favourable or neutral impressions of using biotechnology with plants---"

Responding to the Global Food Crisis: Three Perspectives
Joachim von Braun, Josette Sheeran, and Namanga Ngongi IFPRI 2007-2008 Annual Report Essays, September 2008.

Download at

The Politics of Hunger: How Illusion and Greed Fan the Food Cisis
Paul Collier, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2008; Council On Foreign Relations PAUL COLLIER is Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University and the author of The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It.
Full piece at

Politicians have it in their power to solve the food crisis, but they must be willing to end the biases against big commercial farms and genetically modified crops and do away with farm subsidies. So far, their responses have been less than encouraging: beggar-thy-neighbor restrictions, pressure for yet larger farm subsidies, and a retreat into romanticism. In the first case, neighbors have been beggared by the imposition of export restrictions by the governments of food-exporting countries. This has had the immaculately dysfunctional consequence of further elevating world prices while reducing the incentives for the key producers to invest in the agricultural sector. In the second case, the subsidy hunters have, unsurprisingly, turned the crisis into an opportunity; for example, Michel Barnier, the French agricultural minister, took it as a chance to urge the European Commission to reverse its incipient subsidy-slashing reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy. And finally, the romantics have portrayed the food crisis as demonstrating the failure of scientific commercial agriculture, which they have long found distasteful. In its place they advocate the return to organic small-scale farming -- counting on abandoned technologies to feed a prospective world population of nine billion.

Feeding the world will involve three politically challenging steps.

bulletFirst, contrary to the romantics, the world needs more commercial agriculture, not less. The Brazilian model of high-productivity large farms could readily be extended to areas where land is underused. With the near-total urbanization of these classes in both the United States and Europe, rural simplicity has acquired a strange allure. Peasant life is prized as organic in both its literal and its metaphoric sense. In its literal sense, organic agricultural production is now a premium product, a luxury brand. Peasants, like pandas, are to be preserved.
bulletSecond, and again contrary to the romantics, the world needs more science: the European ban and the consequential African ban on genetically modified (GM) crops are slowing the pace of agricultural productivity growth in the face of accelerating growth in demand. The second giant of romantic populism is the European fear of scientific agriculture. Robert Paarlberg, of Wellesley College, brilliantly anatomizes the politics of the ban in his new book, Starved for Science. After their creation, GM foods, already so disastrously named, were described as "Frankenfoods" -- sounding like a scientific experiment on consumers. Just as problematic was the fact that genetic modification had grown out of research conducted by American corporations and so provoked predictable and deep-seated hostility from the European left. The GM-crop ban has had three adverse effects. Most obviously, it has retarded productivity growth in European agriculture. Prior to 1996, grain yields in Europe tracked those in the United States. Since 1996, they have fallen behind by 1-2 percent a year. European grain production could be increased by around 15 percent were the ban lifted. Europe is a major cereal producer, so this is a large loss. More subtly, because Europe is out of the market for GM-crop technology, the pace of research has slowed. However, the worst consequence of the European GM-crop ban is that it has terrified African governments into themselves banning GM crops, the only exception being South Africa. They fear that if they chose to grow GM crops, they would be permanently shut out of European markets. Now, because most of Africa has banned GM crops, there has been no market for discoveries pertinent to the crops that Africa grows, and so little research -- which in turn has led to the critique that GM crops are irrelevant for Africa.
bulletEnding such restrictions could be part of a deal, a mutual de-escalation of folly, that would achieve the third step: in return for Europe's lifting its self-damaging ban on GM products, the United States should lift its self-damaging subsidies supporting domestic biofuel. The final giant of romantic populism is the American fantasy that the United States can escape dependence on Arab oil by growing its own fuel -- making ethanol or other biofuels, largely from corn. There is a good case for growing fuel. But there is not a good case for generating it from American grain: the conversion of grain into ethanol uses almost as much energy as it produces. This has not stopped the American agricultural lobby from gouging out grotesquely inefficient subsidies from the government; as a result, around a third of American grain has rapidly been diverted into energy. This switch demonstrates both the superb responsiveness of the market to price signals and the shameful power of subsidy-hunting lobbying groups. If the United States wants to run off of agrofuel instead of oil, then Brazilian sugar cane is the answer; it is a far more efficient source of energy than American grain.

It has become commonplace to say that Africa needs a green revolution. Unfortunately, the reality is that the green revolution in the twentieth century was based on chemical fertilizers, and even when fertilizer was cheap, Africa did not adopt it. With the rise in fertilizer costs, as a byproduct of high-energy prices, any African green revolution will perforce not be chemical. To counter the effects of Africa's rising population and deteriorating climate, African agriculture needs a biological revolution. This is what GM crops offer, if only sufficient money is put into research. There has as yet been little work on the crops of key importance to the region, such as cassava and yams.

The following publications can be ordered by sending an e-mail to the
Virology and the Honey Bee
ISBN nr: 92-79-00586-3
Nr of pages: A4/457 pp.
Published: 2008
Sustainable Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry- Research results 1998-2006
ISBN nr: 92-79-02243-1
Nr of pages: A4/654 pp.
Published: 2006
Renewable biological materials for non-food useThe impact of EU Research (1998-2004)
Eur nr: 21446
ISBN nr: 92-894-8977-4
Nr of pages: A4/43 pp
Published : 2005
The Rise and Fall of the Estonian Genome Project
Rainer Kattel
, Tallinn University of Technology
Margit Suurna, Tallinn University of Technology


This paper presents the case study of the Estonian Genome Project (EGP) during its initial phase from 2001 to 2007. In these years, the EGP was an independent foundation established by the Estonian government and almost fully financed by foreign and local private venture capital. In essence, it was a public-private partnership in science, research and development. At the end of 2004, this governance structure broke down and private funding was pulled from the project. The paper discusses what went wrong with the EGP and what the main policy lessons are, namely that particularly developing and transition countries like Estonia with low administrative and policy implementation capacity should approach public-private partnerships in high-tech research and development with high caution as conflicts of interests and loss of accountability seem likely; this is particularly the case in biotechnology because of the high scientific and business uncertainty characteristic of the field.

Recommended Citation… Kattel, Rainer and Suurna, Margit (2008) "The Rise and Fall of the Estonian Genome Project," Studies in Ethics, Law, and Technology: Vol. 2 : Iss. 2, Article 4. Available at:

GM Reporting Should Rely On Real Expertise
Robert Wager,, October 16, 2008

When it comes to evaluating the safety of genetically modified (GM) crops and food the world should rely on experts with good credentials. The media can, of course, add words of caution from critics. But it must be clear which opinions come from detailed knowledge and training, and which may be driven by other agendas.


Diversifying Crop Protection
12-15 October 2008, La Grande Motte, France

Participatory science and scientific participation: The role of Civil Society Organization in decision-making about novel developments in biotechnology. 13rd November 2008 – Bruxelles


Over 400 scientists, policy makers, media experts, farmers, researchers, development partners, regulators and entrepreneurs from all over the world met in Nairobi, Kenya on September 22-26, 2008 to discuss the future of biotechnology in Africa. An insight was that despite Africa’s need to apply modern biotechnology to boost agricultural productivity, it has been affected primarily by prolonged delays in enacting requisite biosafety laws and fear of jeopardizing trade with the European Union. The heightened anti-biotechnology activities in Africa have not helped matters too.

In his keynote address, Dr. Clive James, chair of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), stressed that "there is no silver bullet to the food insecurity in Africa and the rest of the developing world, but biotechnology must be looked at as one of the most important tools that will contribute to increased food production and thus, poverty reduction." He suggested combining the best of conventional technology with biotechnology to increase food production.

Kenya’s Agriculture Minister William Ruto told the Congress of his desire for all African countries to adopt enabling biotechnology policies to “fast-track the integration of Africa into the global bio-economy". In a final communiqué, the congress participants resolved to support responsible application of modern agricultural biotechnology.

For more information, contact Daniel Otunge of ISAAA AfriCenter at

Europe - EU


The European Commission will transmit to the European Council a proposal to authorize Monsanto’s RoundupReady2 GM soybean for import and processing and food and feed uses after Member States did not endorse it during a meeting of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH).

The press release is available at

For more information, visit

France Hopes to Break GMO Deadlock by December
EurActiv, October 21, 2008

EU envrionment ministers continued to disagree on whether member states should be allowed to establish GMO-free zones for sensitive areas, although they did concur on the need for better long-term environmental risk assessment of GMOs.

The French EU Presidency has created an ad-hoc working group and tabled a series of proposals to overcome these problems.

Following a number of informal discussions earlier this summer, the EU-27 environment ministers debated the bloc's GMO authorisation procedure in a Council meeting on 20 October.

According to the French Presidency, the ministers agreed on the need for better long-term environmental risk assessment. Several delegations also said the European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) guiding principles should be revised. Its safety assessments would always take account of the latest research findings as scientific knowledge evolves.

As for including socio-economic considerations in the GMO authorisation process (such as cost-benefit analysis of the possible consequences of GMO seeds entry into the overall agricultural system), ministers described this as both an "important" and a "complex" issue. They underlined that if such criteria were to be considered, they would need to respect EU's obligations vis-?-vis the World Trade Organisation. Furthermore, some member states underlined that such measures would never replace scientific evaluation as the main authorisation criteria. The ministers also underlined that there was no exact definition of socio-economic criteria linked to GMOs. Therefore, an EU-level methodology framework could be elaborated to identify and evaluate such criteria.

EFSA consults on draft opinion on nanotechnologies and food and feed safety

The European Commission (EC) has asked for this opinion as a first step because consideration needs to be given as to whether existing risk assessment approaches can be appropriately applied to this new technology. Key conclusions of the draft opinion include:

bulletEstablished international approaches to risk assessment[1] currently used for non nano chemicals can also be applied to ENM
bulletIt is currently not possible to satisfactorily extrapolate scientific data on non nano chemicals and apply it to their nano-sized versions. Consequently specific case by case risk assessments should be performed when assessing their safety, based on specific data from relevant safety tests applicable to the particular application
bulletPossible risks arise because ENM have particular characteristics, due in part to their small size and high surface area. Small size increases their ability to move around in the body in ways that other substances do not, while their high surface area increases their reactivity
bulletAdditional limitations and uncertainties exist, particularly in relation to characterising, detecting and measuring ENM in food, feed or the body. There is also limited information on absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion, as well as the toxicity of ENM

Comments on the draft opinion can be submitted until 1st December 2008, via the EFSA website. EFSA will also meet with stakeholders to discuss the draft opinion and engage with EU Member States (MS) through its Advisory Forum.

Aquaculture comes of age

Each year, more than 160 million tonnes of fish are consumed by the world’s population. Almost half of this volume is produced in controlled environments, where the fish is cultured rather than harvested from the wild. The system, known as aquaculture, dates back thousands of years, and today operates as a welcome alternative to the sea’s over-exploited natural resources. A recent workshop hosted by the Reprofish and AquaBreeding projects (funded by the European Union at a total of EUR 383 014) highlighted the efforts in place to enhance industry practices and improve the quality of aquatic animals and fish reared in Europe.



A new study, funded by the British Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), looks at why there is currently little use of biological alternatives to chemical pesticides in the United Kingdom. Adoption of biocontrol agents to combat plant pests and diseases presents several advantages over the use of chemicals, the scientists say, albeit most biological pesticides have lower effectiveness and a shorter shelf life.

Read the article at for more information.


The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) announced that it will be funding a large number of biosafety research projects from 2008 to 2011. The main focus of the projects, with funding amounting to around eight million euros (US $11 million), is to prevent the spread of genetically modified plants. Researchers will be concentrating on limiting the spread of oilseed rape via volunteer rape. Rape seeds can survive for long periods in the soil, reappearing as volunteer rape in subsequent crops and leading to an unintentional spread of the plants. Researchers will also conduct further research into the environmental impacts of genetically modified Bt maize. Field trials will test whether the different Bt proteins expressed in the Bt maize plants influence or increase each other's effects, thereby leading to negative environmental impacts.

For details, visit

Italian Minister Opposes GM Ban

Citing 'the European principle of co-existence', Welfare and Health Minister Maurizio Sacconi says it is now time for Italy to lift its ban on GM crops.



The government of Kenya has launched a National Biotechnology Awareness Strategy (BioAWARE-Kenya) aimed at improving public understanding and awareness of biotechnology through dissemination of accurate, timely and balanced information to catalyze informed decision making. The six-year (2008-2013) strategy was developed through a participatory process involving public, private and voluntary organizations. In Africa, only South Africa has such a national strategy.


Ugandan Minister of State for Environment, Ms. Jessica Ariyo, said that agricultural biotechnology can be of significant assistance in protecting the environment and increasing food productivity to minimize the impact of global food crisis in the country. Speaking at the 5th Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) in Kampala, Uganda, the Minister said modern biotechnology can help save forests and wetlands in Uganda that are under agricultural threat and other economic activities. She called on agricultural scientists to continue providing information to the public on the role agricultural biotechnology can play in ensuring land use efficiency and environmental conservation. "Policy makers are looking for guidance, because information on biotechnology is often mixed with social, ethnical and political issues", the Minister said.

For more information contact Daniel Otunge of ISAAA AfriCenter at or Olive Nabukonde at

America - USA

Man charged in 1999 arson sentenced to 9 years in prison
Abby Lubbers, MSU State News (Michigan), October 21, 2008

A Detroit man was sentenced Monday to nine years in prison and more than $3.7 million in restitution for his involvement in a 1999 arson at MSU's Agriculture Hall. Frank Brian Ambrose was the first person sentenced in connection with the New Year's Eve fire that destroyed research on genetically modified crops. Ambrose and his ex-wife, Marie Jeanette Mason, set fire to the offices of the Agriculture Biotechnology Support Project.

The Role of Agricultural Biotechnology in Sustainable Food Production
 Food Biotechnology: A Study of US Consumer Trends Survey
The International Food Information Council, October 23, 2008

The IFIC has released the results of its latest "Food Biotechnology" survey which notes that "-- more and more people are thinking about the concept of sustainable food production and its role in feeding the world--awareness of sustainable food production jumped 11 percent from 2007 to 2008 (from 30 to 41 percent). This year marks the 13th annual IFIC Food Biotechnology survey and the second year it included questions about "sustainability." When asked to rank 5 factors related to growing crops in a sustainable way, the factor ranked number one was "increasing the production of food staples in the world, thereby reducing world hunger," with "reducing the amount of pesticides needed to produce food" coming in second.

Plant Biotechnology Overall favorable impression of plant biotechnology remained little changed from past years, with 84 percent of consumers having favorable or neutral impressions of using biotechnology with plants. The majority of Americans would be likely to purchase foods from plants produced through biotechnology for specific benefits. Approximately three-fourths of consumers would be very or somewhat likely to buy a food product made with oils that had been modified by biotechnology to avoid trans fats or to provide more healthful fats, such as Omega-3 fatty acids.

Animal Biotechnology Following last year's announcement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that meat and milk from cloned animals are safe, nearly half of Americans (48 percent) said they were "somewhat" or "very" likely to buy these products-similar to the result of 46 percent in 2007. When asked how likely they would be to buy meat and milk from genetically engineered animals if the FDA determined they were safe, 65 percent said they would be likely to purchase these products, with the percentage of those "very likely" having increased significantly from 2006 (12 percent) to 2008 (17 percent). The survey was carried out prior to FDA's release last month of proposed guidelines on how to regulate genetically engineered animals.

Potential positive impacts of animal biotechnology continue to correlate with increased support among consumers. Almost two-thirds of consumers (62 percent) said they had a positive impression of animal biotechnology when informed that "animal biotechnology can improve the quality and safety of food." More than half (52 percent) reacted positively to the statement "animal biotechnology can reduce the environmental impact of animal waste."


Summary from the Asian Food Biotechnology Consumer Attitudes Survey
by the Asian Food Information Centre

A consumer survey conducted by AFIC in five Asian countries shows that consumers are ready to accept benefits from biotechnology-derived foods. Genetically modified foods will most likely become an increasing feature of the Asian diet in light of the region's growing demand for high volumes of quality food, says a survey commissioned by the Asian Food Information Centre (AFIC).


> Food Biotechnology Benefits

Consumers were positive about the broad range of potential benefits that biotechnology-derived foods can offer, expressed by a high likelihood of buying such products.

The most popular benefits are country-dependant and can be linked to the dietary habits and the food sensitivities in each country. Chinese consumers favour nutritionally enhanced soy products (82% are likely to buy such products), followed by reduced pesticides use; Indian consumers indicated freshness and taste as the most important attribute (84% are likely to buy tastier and fresher GM tomatoes) followed by less expensive foods; in the Philippines less expensive food such as rice is popular (98% likelihood) followed by products such as healthier cooking oil (reduced in saturated and trans fats). Korean consumers favor cooking oil and foods with a healthier oil profile, respectively 66% and 65% of the consumers indicate they are likely to buy such products. In Japan, freshness and taste are the most preferred benefits.

> Food Biotechnology and Sustainability

Although most Asian consumers are not familiar with the concept of ‘sustainable food production’, once the concept is explained a majority of the consumers believe sustainable food production is important. Asian consumers also largely accept plant biotechnology if the technology contributes to a more sustainable way of producing foods.

More than 90% of the consumers surveyed in China, India and the Philippines support food production using plant biotechnology if the technology contributes to sustainable food production. In Japan and South Korea, where local agricultural production is less important and where consumers are more dependant on imported foods, at least two thirds of those surveyed accept the technology in relation to sustainability.

> Food and Biotech Labelling

The most important information consumers in Asia look for on food labels is expiry date. Presence of biotechnology-derived ingredients is not a labelling demand.

None of those interviewed in China, India, Philippines and Japan suggested the presence of biotechnology-derived ingredients as an additional item to be included on labels. In South Korea, a small number of consumers (3% of total respondents) mentioned biotechnology contents as information to be added on labels.


“The results of this survey are encouraging for the further development of food biotechnology in Asia since they indicate that consumers are willing to accept the benefits that food biotech products can bring”, says Professor Paul Teng of the National Sciences and Science Education, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. “The new generation of biotechnology crops has the potential to deliver foods with nutritional benefits and these foods should be made available to Asian consumers.”

According to Professor Paul Teng, another important outcome of the survey is the acceptance by consumers in major food producing countries like China and India of food biotechnology to increase the production of food staples and to supply sustainable food. The rapid growth in population and standard of living in many Asian countries will lead to a higher demand for quality foods and agricultural practices will have to adjust in order to secure food to all.


According to figures released by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB), Indian farmers cultivated 20 percent more area to GM cotton in 2008. MMB estimates that four million farmers planted Bollgard II and Bollgard Bt cotton on 17.2 million acres, equivalent to 76 percent of India’s total cotton acres, in Kharif 2008. Farmers in India have a choice from over 150 Bollgard II and Bollgard Bt cotton hybrid seed varieties. Business Standard reports that the area cultivated to Bt cotton in the country has steadily increased from 8.7 million acres in 2006 to 14.4 million acres in 2007.

For more information, read


The recently concluded BioMalaysia 2008, the country's annual biotechnology conference and exhibition, witnessed another strong booster given to the biotechnology industry, directly by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. The Prime Minister reaffirmed his previous commitments to see this sector become a key development driver in Malaysia. The three areas of focus - agriculture, healthcare, and industrial biotechnology will have tremendous influence in the country's growth and future direction, he said.

For more information about this development, email Mahaletchumy Arujanan of the Malaysia Biotechnology Information Centre at



China has surpassed the United States for the first time in the number of 'biotech' papers published, says Gaspar Taroncher-Oldenburg and Andrew Marshall in the latest issue of Nature Biotechnology. China is now ranked second to the European Union with close to 1,500 biotechnology related papers published last year.

Taroncher-Oldenburg and Marshall gathered the data by analyzing papers at the The National Center for Biotechnology Information's PubMed. Their results indicate that among the countries with a rapid growth in biotech publications also include India, which is ranked above Germany but trailing the United States and Japan.

To see the graphs and other results related to the survey visit

News in Science


Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology in Germany and Cambridge University in the United Kingdom explored the potential of transplastomic plants to produce HIV antigens as potential components of an AIDS vaccine. The scientists specifically expressed the HIV antigens p24, which is the major target of T-cell-mediated immune responses in HIV-positive individuals, and Nef in tobacco and tomato plastids.

Optimized p24-Nef fusion gene cassettes trigger antigen protein accumulation to up to approximately 40 percent of the leaf protein. This is a yield 100-fold higher than that obtained in previous attempts to produce p24 by conventional nuclear transformation and demonstrates the enormous potential of plastid transformation for large scale production of pharmaceutical proteins in plants.

Plant Biotechnology Journal at

Nonsubscribers can read the abstract at

Queensland Scientists Create GM Banana Plant
Jayne Margetts, ABC NEWS Oct 28, 2008

The Australian Banana Growers Council is opposed to the commercialisation of GM varieties. Scientists in Queensland have successfully grown the country's first genetically modified banana plant.  The plant is resistant to the deadly panama disease, or fusarium wilt, which is prevalent in South East Asia and has threatened plantations in the Northern Territory.

Professor Dale said.  "Fusarium wilt is one of the most devastating diseases of bananas worldwide and it's increasing in threat worldwide," he added.  "There isn't really any control for that disease except resistance. "Once the soil becomes infested with the fungus it's virtually impossible to get rid of."

Florence Wambugu from the Africa Harvest Foundation has welcomed the research.  "It is of key importance because malnutrition and lack of vitamin A and zinc is a major problem in Africa. About 5 million people under five years are nutrient deficient," she said. "So this project is very well targeted and it will have a major impact."

A field trial is expected to begin in north Queensland in December.


A team of scientists, including Hong Ma, Penn State distinguished professor of biology, has identified a gene in rice that controls the size and weight of rice grains. The gene has the potential to help breed high-yield rice. The team’s results were published in an online edition of the journal Nature Genetics.


Scientists from the Ayub Agricultural Research Institute (AARI) in Faisalabad, Pakistan have developed a new wheat variety ‘Lasani 2008’ that is resistant to stem rust ‘UG99’ type disease.

View the article at:,%2008%20AARI%20deve%20UG99.html and\09\26\story_26-9-2008_pg5_16


North Carolina State University scientists and colleagues have deciphered the complete genome sequence and genetic map of the Northern root-knot nematode Meloidogyne hapla. The parasitic worm, along with other species of root-knot nematode, causes an estimated $50 billion in crop and plant damage annually. The research could help lead to a new generation of eco-friendly tools to manage the ubiquitous worm.

With only 54 million base pairs (Mbp), M. hapla represents not only the smallest nematode genome yet completed, but also the smallest metazoan. The genome might be smaller, the researchers say, because the inside of the host plant’s root provides an isolated environment compared to the soil. The scientists also found out that the root-knot nematode encodes approximately 5,500 fewer protein-coding genes than does the free living, model worm Caenorhabditis elegans. The difference between M. hapla’s and C. elegans’ genome, according to scientists, substantiated the earlier hypothesis that horizontal gene transfer played a role in evolution of parasitism.


Researchers from the Michigan State University (MSU) in the U.S. have identified a gene that plays a linchpin role in plant heat stress response. As published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the identification of bZIP28 by Cristoph Benning and colleagues holds promising implications for the improvement of heat tolerance in crops.

For the complete article, read

Sea creature can survive climate change

Many organisms have been forced to adapt to the changes brought on by climate change. Their survival has depended on it. The zooplankton Calanus finmarchicus has not been left untouched by this phenomenon, new research shows. A main source of food for scores of fish, Calanus finmarchicus now lives in the cold North Atlantic and North Sea waters after being forced to move north some 18 000 years ago. The findings were recently published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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