News in November 2008
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Is science or politics going to win?

EFSA reaffirmed its previous conclusions on the environmental safety of maize Bt11 and 1507, expressed on 19.01.05 and 20.04.05 and 07.11.06 stating that these two products are safe and dismissed the list of 11 publications brought forward by the Commission.

dismissed the request by France to invoke a safeguard clause (under Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC) and an emergency measure (under Article 34 of Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003) as no specific scientific evidence that would justify the invocation of a safeguard clause in terms of risk to human and animal health and the environment was provided.

Conclusion from the Opinion:

The GMO Panel concludes that neither the 11 scientific publications selected and provided by the European Commission, nor recent peer-reviewed papers identified as relevant by the GMO Panel, invalidate the former risk assessments of maize Bt11 and 1507 performed by the GMO Panel.

Within the actual opinion it states:

“The GMO Panel critically notes that none of the 11 scientific studies report new data and results from maize 1507. Only 2 publications (Faria et al., 2007; Rose et al., 2007) provide new datasets derived from experiments carried out with maize Bt11. For 2 other publications (Hilbeck and Schmidt, 2006; Rosi-Marshall et al., 2007) it is unclear whether the performed experiments included at least one of the maize events Bt11 and 1507. The remaining 7 publications deal either exclusively with data derived from other genetically modified maize events (MON810: Douville et al., 2007; Prasifka et al., 2007 and Nguyen and Jehle, 2006; MON810 and Bt176: Mulder et al., 2006), with reviews on originally published literature to conclude on the risk assessment of transgenic plants in general (Andow and Zwahlen, 2006; Johnson et al., 2007), or to discuss environmental aspects of genetically modified herbicidetolerant plants (Butler et al., 2007).”
French ban on MON810 Link

Decision on MON810 ban

“Having assessed the information package provided by France in support of its safeguard clause and having considered all relevant publications on the subject, the GMO Panel concludes that, in terms of risk to human and animal health and the environment, the provided information package does not present new scientific evidence that would invalidate the previous risk assessments of maize MON810. Therefore, no specific scientific evidence, in terms of risk to human and animal health and the environment, was provided that would justify the invocation of a safeguard clause under Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC and an emergency measure under Article 34 of Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003.

On maize Bt11 and 1507

The Commission should now take the necessary steps to approve the products.

On the French “ban”

The Commission will now take the EFSA opinion under consideration and likely order France to lift its ban.

In case the Commission will ask to remove the ban, France could decide to challenge the Commission decision by: a) providing more information to justify the ban or b) appeal the decision at the European Court of Justice.



World cereal production in 2008/09 is expected to increase by 5.3 percent, reaching 2.24 billion tons, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in the latest issue of 'Food Outlook'. High prices tempted farmers to increase plantings and favorable weather means that world cereal production is expected to hit a new record high. However, the Rome-based UN agency cautioned that farmers from developing countries burdened by rising cost of agricultural inputs might be unable to keep up with the production next year.

The report says that world agriculture is facing serious long-term issues and challenges that need to be urgently addressed. These include land and water constraints, low investments in rural infrastructure and agricultural research, expensive agricultural inputs relative to farm-gate prices, and little adaptation to climate change.

Read the news release at

The Food Outlook report is available at

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf called for a World Summit in 2009 to "lay the ground for a new system of governance of world food security and an agricultural trade that offers farmers, in developed and developing countries alike, the means of earning a decent living." He made this appeal during a special session of the FAO's 191-member-nation governing conference.

"We must have the intelligence and imagination to devise agricultural development policies together with rules and mechanisms that will ensure not only free but also fair international trade," said the FAO DG. He added that the Summit should come up with $30 billion per year to build rural infrastructure and increase agricultural productivity in the developing world.

The FAO media release is at

A new virulent strain of the wheat rust disease is on a global march, wreaking havoc along its way and threatening the global wheat supply. The strain, which was first identified in Uganda in 1999 (thus the name UG99), has made its way into the Arabic Peninsula. In late 2007, UG99 was detected in Iran. UG99 now threatens the nearby wheat mega-producing countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China.

Read the news release at

A three-year immediate plan of action has been approved for implementation to enable the Food and Agriculture Organization to "reform with growth" as recommended by an Independent External Evaluation. A total of $42.6 M has been approved by its member countries for this purpose during a special conference.

The full story is available at

"The food crisis has reawakened awareness of the need to secure the food supply; this is encouraging a change in attitude and will lead to a calmer approach to green genetic engineering." This view on plant biotechnology was forwarded by Professor Stefan Tangermann, Director of the Trade and Agriculture Directorate at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in his keynote speech at Bayer CropScience's research conference in Essen, Germany.

Check out for more information about the research conference.

Books & Articles

GIPB (Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building) is pleased to launch the new version of the Knowledge Resource Center website!

Significant changes from the previous version have been made in order to make all contents more easily accessible.

GIPB released the Report of a stakeholder consultation process that defined the organizational and implementation framework for the Initiative in the period 2009-2013. For more information on the process and to access the documents with recommendations that guided the formulation of the business plan for operating GIPB in the next five years see Soon the business plan will be made available.

Improved quality control for protein databases
As bioinformatics research in Europe continues to generate more and more information scientists must be able to rely on data integrity. This can only be achieved through the implementation of proper quality control. With this aim in mind European scientists have now developed a new and efficient tool for checking public databases.

International Cooperation in Food Quality and Safety
This new fully searchable online project catalogue illustrates those FP6 projects and actions in the area of Food Quality and Safety that involve third country partners. It also cross-references to the general catalogue of Food Quality and Safety projects.

The Research site keyword index has been updated. It now contains 11400 English keywords to help you find what (or who!) you are looking for - from Arbuscular to Zoonotic and from Belgium to the Yangtze River!

It also contains more than 4700 keywords in French, over 4000 in German, nearly 3000 in Spanish, and 300-400 in Italian and Dutch.

Technology transfer and university-industry relations
The printed version of the "CREST Cross-border Collaboration Decision Guide" is now available for download.

Newsletter: EU Research for the Environment - Issue IV - November 2008
On 3 September 2008 the Work Programme 2009 was published with 49 research topics under the Environment theme. For the third time during FP7, DG Research launched a major call for researchers from all Europe, associated countries and third countries to submit original research projects in areas such as climate change, environment and health, biodiversity, environmental technologies and earth observation, among others. A budget of €193.5 million has been allocated for this call, which is open until 8 January 2009. I hope that participation and quality of proposals will be high and wish the best success to all applicants.
Farmers weekly interactive

The European livestock sector is losing €2.5bn a year thanks to EU time-wasting on authorising GM feeds and a zero-tolerance policy on new GM varieties, according to a report by agricultural trade researchers. While feed prices have been hit by poor harvests and world-wide shortages, EU import bans on GM maize have pushed up prices further, the report by organisations including the Agricultural Industries Confederation says.

An estimated 15% of losses in the sector are caused by EU delays, it adds. The researchers, who have sent their report to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barrosso, said policy needed to change before the livestock industry was "destroyed" due to lack of feeds.

See also 14 October 2008
Journal of Biotech Research

Journal  of  Biotech  Research  is  an  international  scientific  electronic  journal  which publishes  original  peer-reviewed  articles, short communications,  and  critical  review papers from all areas related to Biotechnology.

Bioengineered Crops as Tools for International Development: Opportunities and Strategic Considerations

by Dr. Peter Gregory, Cornell University is now available for download at SEARCA BIC website at

Indira Nath, Nature 456, 40; Oct 30,  2008

Developing countries have joined the front lines of the biotechnology revolution in health and agriculture. We are living through an unprecedented era of progress in biotechnology.

Yet, several hurdles stand in the way of progress, especially for developing countries. First among these are intellectual property rights (IPR). A second hurdle is the opposition of interest groups concerned about biotechnology's impact on health and the environment. Together, these hurdles can make the introduction of biotechnologies in the developing world problematic.

Another worry, shared by both the scientific community and the larger society, involves the potential misuse of biotechnology by those seeking to create weapons capable of doing great harm.

Biotechnology holds great promise for developing countries. Yet, this promise can only be fulfilled if these countries build the capacity needed to reap the benefits of this cutting-edge science and technology.

Indira Nath (TWAS Fellow 1995) is director of the LEPRA-Blue Peter Research Centre in Hyderabad, India.
The Science of Fear
Alan McHughen, Nature Biotechnology 26, 1226 (2008)

In The Science of Fear, non-scientist Daniel Gardner teases out the fear factors rampaging through the anxious public persona, illuminating popular science phobia.

Opportunistic activists make a livelihood from scaring people about biotechnology, whereas there is little such cottage trade in instilling fear of astrophysics, mathematics or theoretical chemistry. And because the scientific community does not-and cannot-guarantee absolute safety of biotechnology or its products, the public infers a lack of confidence, a warning those fearsome disasters are inevitable. True, scientists cannot prove that eating a genetically modified papaya will not harm the consumer. That disclaimer alone is sufficient to scare off many prospective consumers, who then happily eat a traditionally bred papaya similarly lacking any safety guarantee.

Gardner colloquially describes two human cognitive decision-making centers, Gut and Head. Gut, of course, from whence we get 'gut reaction' and 'gut feeling', is impulsive, emotional and subjective, whereas Head is logical, rational and objective. Gut is driven by emotions such as fear, and, if fear is a factor, the body follows Gut reaction with little rational analysis. Historically, all manner of fearmongering marketers (including anti-biotechnology activists) exploit Gut reaction, knowing they'll make more sales and converts if people don't look rationally and critically at what's on the table. As Gardner shows, Gut doesn't evaluate numbers and probabilities. A one-in-a-million chance of some personal catastrophe is a near certainty to Gut; the mere presence of a carcinogen-especially a synthetic chemical-at parts-per-billion concentration is a death sentence from cancer. Trying to hold a rational discussion with the fearful is futile, because the rational Head, overwhelmed by Gut fear, is rendered hors de combat. Most of us who deal with the public already know that a ton of fact has no chance against a milligram of fear. Alan McHughen is in the Department of Botany & Plant Sciences at the University of California, Riverside, California
The Extra WTO Precautionary Principle: One European 'Fashion' Export the United States Can Do Without
Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review, Vol.  17, Number 2, Spring 2008
Download at[1].2.pdf
A History of Plant Biotechnology: from the Cell Theory of Schleiden and Schwann to Biotech Crops
Prof. Indra K. Vasil, Plant Cell Reports; September, 2008; Vol.27, No. 9

Plant biotechnology is founded on the principles of cellular totipotency and genetic transformation, which can be traced back to the Cell Theory of Matthias Jakob Schleiden and Theodor Schwann, and the discovery of genetic transformation in bacteria by Frederick Griffith, respectively.

(Vasil is Associate Director, Genetics Institute and Graduate Research Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida). Download full commentary at
GMO authorisation procedure in the EU: The next reform?

"On paper there is a clear division between science and politics. But the reality is different."

The EU legal framework and the procedure for authorising genetically modified crops are being criticised and some member states have made various reform proposals. GMO Safety spoke to Maria Weimer, a PhD student at the European University Institute in Florence.
Handbook of Alien Species in Europe

A comprehensive overview of alien species in Europe including their impacts and consequences for the environment and society was documented by DAISIE (Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventory for Europe) provides new information on biological invasions in Europe. These alien species often cause significant loss in the economic value, biological diversity and function of invaded ecosystems. The report provides crucial information for planning measures for early detection, eradication and control methods.

For more information visit


7-8 November; 9th EMBL/EMBO Science & Society conference, Systems and Synthetic Biology - Scientific and Social Implications, Heidelberg, Germany

The 10th International Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms (ISBGMO) began on 17 November in Wellington. It is the world's leading scientific conference on biosafety research. State of the art environmental biosafety research projects will be showcased over five days and discussed by the 250 participating scientific researchers, regulators and industry representatives from 34 countries.

The harmonisation of authorisation criteria and risk assessment methods are a concern that will be addressed in this year's ISBGMO.

Please read the whole text:
"Global meeting of biosafety researchers"

Articles on can be used for journalistic purposes with acknowledgement of the source
Biotechnology Business Exchange (BBE)
Monday 8 December, 2008

BBE is FREE and is part of the International Life Science Forum including Genesis and Scrip Awards 2008 - Westminster, London


With the theme "Decoding Life for Human Health", the 2nd World Congress of Gene will be held at Foshan, China on December 5-7, 2008.

For more information, including the registration procedure, visit

The 5th International Conference on Biopesticides: Stakeholders' Perspective (ICOB-V 2009) will be held on 26-30 April 2009 at the Indian Habitat Center (IHC) Lodhi Road, New Delhi, India. Conference on Biopesticides at

For registration, visit the conference website at
The European Federation of Biotechnology is pleased to invite you to the EULAFF International Workshop on New Opportunities for Functional Food, Wellness & Healthcare Products in Gent, Belgium on 8 & 9 December.

Please see the full brochure at

Find further information on the website at

REGISTER online at

The International Conference on Climate Change and Global Warming (CCGW 2009) will be held on 23-25 September, 2009 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The conference will be organized by the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology. This event aims to bring together researchers, scientists, engineers, and scholar students to exchange and share their experiences, new ideas, and research results about all aspects of climate change and global warming, and discuss the practical challenges encountered and the solutions adopted.

For more information, visit
Microbial Stress: from Molecules to Systems
May 7th – May 10th 2009 Semmering, Austria,

Co-Extra, an EU research program on the coexistence and traceability of genetically modified organisms, will be conducting an international conference on June 3-5, 2009 in Paris, France.

Visit for more information

The 6th World Conference of Science Journalists will be held on June 30-July 2, 2009 in Westminster London, England. This event will bring established and aspiring reporters, writers and science communicators from around the world to debate, network, develop their professional skills and report on the latest advances science and technology.

More information is available at

Europe - EU

EU Council of Ministers: Second generation of GM soybeans close to authorisation

(23 November 2008) The EU Council of Agricultural Ministers was not able to come to a decision on the authorisation of the GM RoundupReady2 soybean (89788). Now it is expected that the EU Commission will give the green light for the import of this new soybean.

Voting in the Council of Ministers mirrored voting in the Standing Committee: there was no qualified majority of Member States either for or against authorisation of the RoundupReady2 soybean. Germany abstained, as did France and Italy. Voting for the authorisation were Great Britain, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland. As per EU regulations, it is now up to the EU Commission to decide. It had already announced that it would approve the import of the new GM soybean as well as food and feed products derived from it. This decision was based on the risk evaluation carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The second-generation herbicide-resistant soybean, developed by Monsanto, is due for large-scale cultivation in the US from 2009. A quick market penetration is expected since the new variety gives significantly higher yields than the RoundupReady soybean, which has been in use since 1996. It is estimated that some 2.5 million hectares of RoundupReady2 soybeans will be cultivated in 2010. Future soy imports from the US will thus contain a certain proportion of the new GM soybean.

The pending import authorisation will also allow up to 0.9 percent of accidental, technically unavoidable admixtures of RoundupReady2 soybeans in food and feed in the EU without labelling.
EFSA recommends lower MRLs for several active substances used in pesticides

EFSA has recommended lower Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs)[1] for several active substances used in pesticides which the European Commission considered could have possible safety concerns for human health. The risk assessment conducted by EFSA on these substances will support risk managers in reassessing these MRLs in order to protect human health. EFSA proposed to lower MRLs where safety concerns were identified and also for substances where data available were not sufficient to substantiate the safety of the current MRL. In addition, for active substances not authorised in the European Union but which may be found as residues, for instance on or in imported food and feed, EFSA recommended that MRLs be set at the lowest level which can be measured through routine monitoring in line with usual Community practice.

The European Commission asked EFSA to assess the safety of existing MRLs for 15 active substances used in pesticides and, taking into account EFSA’s scientific advice, may propose to amend or remove the relevant MRL.

“EFSA is co-ordinating the review of MRLs for more than 300 active substances. We began this work in 2008 and aim to complete it by the end of 2010,” Hubert Deluyker, EFSA’s Director of Scientific Cooperation and Assistance, said. “In addition, from 2009, EFSA will also provide on an annual basis a report of actual consumer exposure to pesticides.”

EFSA’s Pesticides Unit, which is responsible for the review of MRLs for pesticides, proposes MRLs for each active substance through a comprehensive assessment of consumer exposure and potential health effects resulting from all intended uses in food and animal feed. EFSA’s approach is based on internationally recognised methodology and takes into account different food consumption patterns and products available across the EU. EFSA verifies that exposure levels are safe for all consumer groups including potential vulnerable groups such as young children, the elderly and vegetarians. The actual exposure of consumers to pesticides will be evaluated in EFSA’s Annual Report on Pesticide Residues. The full responsibility for risk assessment of pesticide MRLs was transferred to EFSA on 1 September 2008. EFSA is not only responsible for the risk assessment of new MRLs, but also for the periodic review of existing MRLs.

In 2007, EFSA issued an opinion on temporary MRLs, as one of the first steps in the full EU harmonisation. See EFSA’s evaluation of the proposed temporary EU Maximum Residue Levels.

"Strengthening the links between knowledge and agricultural innovation in Europe"
Workshop organised by the French EU-Presidency for the Standing Committee for Agricultural Research (SCAR)
Angers: 6-7th October 2008


Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) publishes report on consumer perceptions towards GMOs in the UK

Among other findings the report concludes that a high proportion of consumers (52%) neither support nor oppose GM or have yet to form an opinion about GM. This compares with 15% who are strongly opposed and 3% strongly in favour.



The National Assembly of Mali, a country in West Africa, approved its biosafety law on November 13, 2008. A total of 108 'yes' votes were cast for its approval while 20 were "no" votes.

For more information about this latest development, email Dr. Mohamed N'diaye, molecular microbiology specialist, Institut d'Economie Rurale, Bamako, Mali at

Following years of massive crop losses caused by a devastating virus, farmers from Africa's Great Lakes Region are once again harvesting healthy cassava, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Cassava is one of Africa's most important staples, with each person in the region consuming 80 kilograms of the crop per year. So when a virulent strain of the cassava mosaic disease (CMD) decimated harvests in countries such as Burundi, DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, consequences were disastrous. In Uganda alone, the disease destroyed 150 000 hectares of cassava.

FAO, in collaboration with the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO), has spearheaded the distribution of virus-free planting materials to some 330,000 smallholders in countries struck by the virus. The UN agency estimates that the improved crop now benefits a total of some 1.65 million people.

Read the complete article at

Scientists led by Tom Areke, director of the National Semi Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI) in Soroti, Uganda, have begun to do research on genetically modified cotton to help revive cotton production. The research team has already prepared an acre of land for the field trial. for more details.



Scientists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) have detected transgenes from genetically modified maize in traditional Mexican landrace varieties, says a news article published by the journal Nature. The study echoes a similar, controversial work published by the prestigious journal in 2001.

The article was recommended for publication to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) but was rejected. The study will be published in the journal Molecular Ecology.

The news article published by Nature is available at


Pharming in Crop Commodities
C Neal Stewart, Jr. , Nature Biotechnology 26, 1222 - 1223 (2008) (University of Tennessee, Knoxville)

On October 6th, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed new rules governing the regulations and oversight of genetically engineered crops1. Although some of the changes represent steps in the right direction by making regulatory oversight more coherent, the new biotech regulations would allow the outdoor cultivation of pharma food crops, in stark contrast to the editorial stance of your journal, which calls for food plants to no longer be used for producing drugs2. Indeed, Jane Rissler, senior scientist & deputy director, Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (Washington, DC) has denounced the proposed USDA changes, saying, "If these proposals are enacted into law, American consumers must accept the possibility of drugs in their breakfast cereal or other common foods. Moreover, these rules likely will lead to contamination scares, which will hurt the food industry."

There are two absolute conditions to assure biosafety when pharming crop commodities (not counting Murphy's Law). The first requirement is extraordinary physical isolation and dedicated equipment. Still, there are limited numbers of suitably isolated sites that are available and conducive for rice production in the United States. Second, the pharma products must be safe for accidental consumption in bulk by wildlife and humans. For the latter, accidental bulk ingestion should be part of the standard regulatory package.



Bayer CropScience has entered into a strategic partnership with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) for the development and global marketing of agricultural products. Bayer said that the products will be developed using the latest technologies in the areas of plant breeding, genetics, genomics and seed production. Zhai Huqu, president of the CAAS, and Michiel van Lookeren Capagne, head of research at BioScience, signed a memorandum of understanding in Ghent, Belgium earlier this week.

Read the press release at

Pakistan and China signed two agreements to cooperate in agriculture. The agreements were signed in the presence of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Representatives of China's Biotechnology Research Institute and the Punjab Seed Corporation signed the first agreement. The developer of Bt cotton in China, Professor Guo Sandui will visit Pakistan and start work on pest resistant crops. The second agreement was signed between Agro Group of Companies and a Wuhan-based institution to study pesticides in Pakistan.

The Punjab government, led by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, is encouraging the use of modern research in the agriculture sector to make the country self-sufficient in food requirements.

News about this collaboration is available at\11\18\story_18-11-2008_pg7_49, and



Emirates News Agency, WAM, (Wakalat Anba'a al-Emarat), the government information arm, reported that Minister of Environment and Water Rashid Ahmed Bin Fahd and the Representative of UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the United Arab Emirates Kayan Jaff signed an agreement for technical cooperation to set up a regional system aimed at enhancing capability to ensure food safety. Laboratories will be enhanced to enable them to test genetically modified food products.

In addition, the agreement will assist national programs in their biotechnology activities by filling the gap between the academic and research sectors and the industry.

See the Emirates News Agency release at



A 10 percent increase in corn production as a result of the adoption of transgenic corn in Indonesia can result in 145 thousand tons and 226 thousand tons more for feed and food, respectively. This is result of a study conducted by the Centre for Alternative Dispute Resolutions, Regulations and Policy Analysis, and Community Empowerment (CARE IPB).

For further details, visit or


Indian Farmer Suicides Not GM Related, Says Study
James Randerson, The Guardian (UK), Nov. 5, 2008

'New finding runs counter to arguments cited by NGOs; Report also finds increased cotton yields in GM crops'

Suicides among Indian farmers have not increased as a result of the introduction of GM crops, according to a large scientific study.

The finding runs counter to arguments often cited by NGOs in the country such as Gene Campaign that oppose GM crops. They say that the supposed hike in suicides is a tragic social consequence of farmers being forced into debt as a result of growing the crops.

Farmer suicides were recently cited by Prince Charles in a lecture via video link to the New Delhi based NGO Navdanya as one of the ills of GM technology. He spoke of "the truly appalling and tragic rate of small farmer suicides in India, stemming in part from the failure of many GM crop varieties."

But the new analysis suggests that if anything, suicides among farmers have been decreasing since the introduction of GM cotton by Monsanto in 2002. "It is not only inaccurate, but simply wrong to blame the use of Bt cotton as the primary cause of farmer suicides in India," said the report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington DC. "Despite the recent media hype around farmer suicides," it added, "fuelled by civil society organisations and reaching the highest political spheres in India and elsewhere, there is no evidence in available data of a 'resurgence' of farmer suicide in India in the last five years." Cotton is an important crop in India. Statistics show that, over the decade from 1997 to 2006, the country accounted for over a quarter of the total cotton growing area in the world: 8.65 million hectares out of a 35 mha total. But yields have been pitifully low: 263 kg/ha compared with 626 in Pakistan, 1087 in China and as high as 1655 kg/ha in Australia. Despite having a quarter of the world's growing area, India accounted for only 11% of total production. Yields in India were growing slowly, but were constrained by lack of irrigation (thus relying on the monsoon rains) and high pest pressure.

Since the first introduction of Bt (pest-resistant) varieties in 2002, average yields have now more than doubled, and India has become the world's second largest producer of cotton. In 2006, 3.8 mha of Bt cotton were grown, nearly half of this in Maharashtra state. Since some 60 million people are directly or indirectly dependent on cotton for their livelihood, this is surely a positive development.

But this good news must be tempered by some more negative aspects. One important factor is that distribution of illegal, low-quality seeds was facilitated by the relatively high price of the new Bt seed (about five times the price of conventional hybrids) and confusion about which varieties had been approved. This was compounded by a lack of support to farmers in choosing the right seed or reducing their high level of pesticide spraying. Taken together, this meant that a certain proportion of farmers had disappointing results or even crop failure.

Overall, taking all the published studies into account, the IFPRI report concluded that the use of Bt cotton increased average yields by at least a third and (despite higher seed costs) increased returns to farmers by more than 50%. Instances of crop failure were due primarily to drought conditions, not the GM technology. Results in Maharashtra, while not the best, were certainly very positive, in stark contrast to the "GM genocide" message promoted by activists. In this state, as in virtually all others studied, the general slow upward trend in suicides actually declined as the area under Bt cotton grew rapidly. Only in Andhra Pradesh, which had the most negative experience with GM cotton, was the trend of suicides ambiguous.

The facts, carefully analysed, do not show any link between GM cotton and the rate of farmer suicides. However, the Mail on Sunday article is a typical example (admittedly rather extreme) of irresponsible reporting, promoting a negative view of crop biotechnology. No wonder so many Europeans are wary of the GM crops. But prosperous EU citizens have the luxury of choice. Poor Indian farmers, on the other hand, need the choice of the best available technologies if they are to feed their families and lift themselves out of poverty. Hard evidence, not knee-jerk ideology, is needed.
Indian Cotton Farmers Pip US Counterparts In Farm Income
The Hindu, Nov. 20, 2008

Indian cotton farmers have earned more income per hectare than their US counterparts, thanks to the adoption of genetically modified technology developed by companies like Monsanto, says a UK-based agri-economist.

"Farmers in developing countries like India are having better farm income benefits compared to the US, Australia and Argentina," agri-economist Graham Brookes told PTI. After paying for GM technology, cotton farmers in India have earned an additional average income of 225 dollars (Rs 9,956) per hectare between 2002 and 2006 against 94 dollars per hectare in the US and 133 dollars per hectare in Argentina, he said.

However, the earnings of Indian cotton farmers are lower than that of Chinese farmers, whose income per hectare is about 294 dollars, Brookes, who is the director of PG Economics, which provides advisory and consultancy services on plant bio-technology and agricultural markets and policy in the UK, noted. "India has made tremendous growth in GM cotton. Farmers have earned total 1,294 million dollars additional income since the launch of the GM cotton in 2002," he said.

Australia & New Zealand

GM Foods Safe: Agriculture Ministr
Sabra Lane,  ABC TV (Australia), TONY EASTLEY Nov. 20, 2008

The Federal Agriculture Minister, Tony Burke says it's time the nation got over its superstition about genetically modified crops. Mr Burke told a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization meeting in Rome overnight GM crops could provide part of the solution to the global food shortage and climate change.

Tony Burke, Federal Agriculture Minister;
The Land (Australia) Nov. 20, 2008

There is something worse than having one GFC. That's having two. Amid the international response to the global financial crisis (GFC), many people have stopped talking about the other GFC: the global food crisis.

Those causes are not well understood. The view that it is simply because biofuels use food for fuel is wrong.

Biofuels policies may have made us reach the crisis more quickly but the long-term trends have shown that food demand has been catching up with supply over many years. The reasons include the growing world population and lower average harvests affected by climate change. The good news story that much of the developing world are becoming wealthier has also brought new challenges. This is the world's challenge: to produce more food, while combating climate change, dealing with increasing water scarcity and coping with the financial crisis. This will be front-of-mind when the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) gathers this week in Rome.

By sending agricultural experts to nations such as East Timor and Vietnam, Australia is helping the poorest nations to come closer to feeding their own populations.

The hardest part of the response is to produce more food. Much of our nation remains in its longest and deepest drought, and farm costs such as chemical, fertiliser and fuel have soared. We need to do more to get our research and development from the lab to the farm, and find synergies between the pressures of climate change and increasing productivity.

Given the challenges the world faces, we cannot ignore the potential of genetically modified (GM) organisms. It has always been a sensitive issue and, as with all food technology, food-safety issues are paramount.

The state government of Western Australia (WA) announced that it will lift the ban on the commercial production of genetically modified (GM) cotton in the East Kimberley region's Ord River Irrigation Area. Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman said that the decision was made following more than 10 years of GM cotton trials in the region. The GM cotton trials were supervised by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR), Department of Agriculture and Food and the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO). The trial crops have been very successful, yielding almost 11.5 bales per hectare, Redman noted. The agriculture minister further said the trials have shown that there are no agronomic problems, including the control of insects, in growing GM cotton in the Ord. Importantly, there have been no environmental concerns with the crops.

Read the complete press statement at

Genetically modified (GM) crops can provide improved insect pest and weed control, resulting in agronomic and economic benefits for Australian growers. In addition they have environmental benefits through reduced use of insecticides and herbicides, increased adoption of no-tilling farming, and decreased fuel use. This was the conclusion of a report "Genetically modified crops: tools for insect pest and weed control in cotton and canola" published by the Australian Government Bureau of Rural Sciences.

Authors Ruth Holtzapffel and colleagues note that if GM herbicide-tolerant canola varieties were widely introduced to Australia, the primary benefit would be increased yield. Other likely benefits are increased options for in-crop weed control, increased yield in subsequent crops, and reduced environmental impact from herbicides.

Download a copy of the report at

The Grains Council of Australia is supportive of the efforts to develop genetically modified crops. Read the press release at


Tasmania's ban on the commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops has been extended for another five years to November 2014. Primary Industries and Water Minister David Llewellyn said that extending the ban would make Tasmania's primary produce even "more desirable". Llewellyn further said that the decision by some other Australian States to relax their GM bans has increased the value of Tasmania's GMO-free status and that creates opportunities for even better access to prime markets across the globe. New South Wales, Victoria, and most recently Western Australia, have all lifted their moratoria on GM crops.
Tasmania however does not prohibit import of non-viable materials derived from GMOs such as feed containing GM soybean meal.

The press release is available at A copy of Tasmania's GMO Statement can be downloaded at$FILE/Policy%20Statement%20Gene%20Technology.pdf

New Zealand's Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) has approved the Crop and Food Research's application to field test genetically modified (GM) vegetables of the allium family. The 10 -year trial would involve early stage research to breed and evaluate the agronomic performance and environmental impact of GM onions, spring onions, garlic and leeks. A feature of the trial is that some of the onions are allowed to flower and produce seed. Crop and Food Research is bound to follow several restrictions such as ensuring that pollen does not spread to non-GM onions.

The press release is available at

News in Science


A new cassava variety, TMS92/0067, developed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria has been found to be well adapted to the dry or drought-prone areas in the semi-arid zones of sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, farmers are expected to enjoy 6-10 times better yields.

Read IITA's press release at

Scientists from the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) will soon release advanced soybean breeding lines that carry slow-wilting traits. Field trials have demonstrated that the new soybean varieties perform well under drought conditions, and also show good yield when rainfall is plentiful. The slow-wilting lines yield 4 to 8 bushels more than conventional varieties under drought conditions, depending on the region and environment.

Read the full article at

Results of a study conducted by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), University of Nebraska and Iowa State University revealed that non-target insects are more likely to be affected by common insecticides than by crops that express Bt proteins. The scientists compared the effect of the toxins Cry1Ab and Cry3Bb in maize, Cry3A in potato, Cry1Ac and Cry1Ab in cotton and numerous insecticides on a group of non-target insects.

The researchers observed considerable variability in the effects of Bt cotton and maize crops on non-target insects. However, the data within the groups were fairly consistent. The most influential factor was the insecticide applied. Insecticides such as pyrethroids, organophosphates, carbamates and neonicotinoids had larger negative impacts on non-target insects than did the Bt crops. The scientists also observed that insecticides affect insect populations uniformly, regardless of whether they're in Bt or non-Bt crop fields.

Read the complete article at

 US $4 million, five-year study that could help increase crop yield, stress tolerance and disease resistance is underway at Purdue University. The scientists are using a new technique called "mutant-assisted gene identification and characterization" or MAGIC to identify potentially useful gene combination in crops. MAGIC uses Mendelian mutants or other genetic variants in a trait of interest as reporters to identify novel genes and variants for that trait. The technique is akin to enhancer-suppressor screens commonly used in laboratories. But instead of relying on 'artificial variations', the technique reveals variation created over million years of evolution.

The open access paper published PLoS ONE is available at

A genetically modified carrot that provides more calcium has been developed by scientists at the Children's Nutrition Research Center in Houston, Texas. Kendal Hirschi and colleagues boosted calcium levels by inducing carrots to express increased levels of sCAX1, a gene from the model plant Arabidopsis that encodes a calcium transporter. Most plant-derived foods are not good providers of calcium, which is a key component for healthy bones. Inadequate dietary calcium is a global problem, particularly in regions that don't have access to dairy products or where large segments of the population are lactose intolerant. Insufficient intake of calcium may lead to osteoporosis.


The government of Alberta, Canada, has launched the 1,000 Plants Initiative, an unprecedented, international project focused on "finding new genomic information that could lead to new medicines and a range of value-added plant products." The US $2 million project, which will be led by Gane Ka-Shu Wong, aims to map DNA of 1000 plant species.


An international team of researchers hopes that flood-tolerant rice plants will be available to smallholder farmers in flood-prone areas within the next two years. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is leading this initiative through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Tests in farmers' fields in Bangladesh and India have shown that "waterproof" versions of popular varieties of rice can withstand two weeks of complete submergence. The varieties are identical to their susceptible counterparts, but recover after severe flooding to produce abundant yields of high-quality grain.

University of California Riverside's Julia Bailey-Serres, a professor of genetics, is leading the work to determine how Sub1A, a gene in a low-yielding traditional Indian rice variety, confers flood tolerance in the new varieties of rice. "Sub1A effectively makes the plant dormant during submergence, allowing it to conserve energy until the floodwaters recede," said Bailey-Serres of the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences and the Center for Plant Cell Biology.

Read UC's media release at

David Garvin and his colleagues at the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) developed a special population of plants of the wild grass Brachypodium distachyon which could help speed up scientists' search for genes that could protect cereal crops from diseases. The ARS scientists developed the first recombinant inbred line (RILs) population of Brachypodium. RILs can serve as powerful tools for mapping out genes.

An RIL is formed by crossing two inbred strains followed by selfing or sibling mating to create a new line whose genome is a mosaic of the parental genome. This means that offspring of each line in the population will retain the same genetic identity in perpetuity. Scientists need to genotype a strain only once. Since all the offspring of each line will always have the same gene, they can also repeat experiments as often as they desire. Garvin noted that the ability to work with large numbers of plants with the same genetic makeup gives scientists the opportunity to obtain highly accurate information on the number of genes that control a trait.

The scientists will use the Brachypodium RIL population to identify genes that will provide resistance against the UG99 strain of the wheat rust disease.

Read the complete article at

Australians could soon be consuming a high protein, semi-domesticated grain eaten by the Incas a thousand years ago. Researchers at the University of Western Australia's (UWA) Center for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA) and the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) are turning their attention to pearl lupin (Lupinus mutabilis), a nitrogen-fixing legume very high in oil and originally from the Andes in South America.


Researchers at the University of Delaware, in collaboration with scientists from the South Dakota State University and University of Arizona identified a novel gene silencing mechanism in corn that helps protect the crop from mutation-causing viruses and jumping genes. The discovery was made by comparing the impact of inactivating a gene that occurs in both corn and in the model Arabidopsis. The research was led by Blake Meyers, associate professor of plant and soil sciences, and Pamela Green, Crawford H. Greenewalt Chair and professor of plant and soil sciences and marine bioscience, and their laboratory groups at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, a major center for biotechnology and life sciences research at the University of Delaware. Collaborating with the University of Delaware team were Vicki Chandler, the Carl E. and Patricia Weiler Endowed Chair for Excellence in Agriculture and Life Sciences Regents' Professor at the University of Arizona, and Yang Yen, a professor at South Dakota State University.

The results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

An important key to the process is short sequences of ribonucleic acids known as “small RNAs” which act like biochemical switches that shut off genes. Previously, the Meyers and Green labs had studied Arabidopsis plants with non-functional versions of a gene known as RNA-dependent RNA polymerase 2 (RDR2). Without an active copy of this gene, the plants were unable to produce a major class of small RNAs, which act to stabilize and protect genes on the chromosomes. Independently of the UD groups, Chandler and her team at the University of Arizona had identified from corn an orthologous gene--a gene that has the same function in different organisms. In corn, this gene, which the Chandler lab found, is called the mediator of paramutation (MOP1). Its equivalent in Arabidopsis is the RDR2 gene.

The researchers found that there are lots more RNAs of an unusual class known as “small interfering RNAs” in corn than there are in Arabidopsis. “This class of RNAs mainly functions to repress repetitive sequences, including mobile DNA elements called transposons,” Meyers said. “Thus, small interfering RNAs act to protect the genome,” he noted.

Read the full article at
Noncoding Transcription by RNA Polymerase Pol IVb/Pol V Mediates Transcriptional Silencing of Overlapping and Adjacent Genes.
Cell , Volume 135 , Issue 4 , Pages 635 - 648 A . Wierzbicki , J . Haag , C . Pikaard

Researchers at the University of Washington in St. Louis have made a major discovery explaining a mechanism by which plant cells silence potentially harmful genes. Craig Pikaard and his colleagues focused their attention on a type of RNA polymerase (Pol) exclusive to plants. RNA polymerases, the enzymes responsible for making RNA from DNA templates, are key players in determining which genes get switched on and which get left off. In 2005, Pikaard and his team discovered two RNA polymerases found only in plants: Pol IV and V. Since the discovery, the scientists have been on a hunt to figure out what these enzymes are making.

Using the plant model Arabidopsis, the scientists discovered that Pol V transcribes non-coding or "junk DNA" sequences. Biologists have long been baffled by this alleged "junk DNA". They don't code for any protein, yet they are continuously being transcribed.

Pol V was found to make non-coding RNAs that the scientists think bind with the small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) generated by Pol IV, acting as a scaffold for these gene silencers. What were previously thought of as junk DNA prove to be functional regions of the genome, since transcription of these regions is necessary to keep potentially harmful genes turned off. The scientists noted that the functions of Pol IV and V provide a solution to a paradox of epigenetic control: the need for transcription in order to transcriptionally silence the same region.

Read more at The abstract of the paper published by Cell is available at

Scientists from University of Alberta, Canada have found a group of genes in rice that they say enables a yield of up to 100 percent more in severe drought conditions. Jerome Bernier, in collaboration with scientists at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and Central Rainfed Upland Rice Research Station in India, measured the effect of a previously reported, large-effect quantitative trait locus (QTL) on grain yield and associated traits in 21 field trials. QTLs are regions in the DNA that are associated with particular phenotypic traits. The team found that the relative effect of the QTL on grain yield increased with increasing intensity of drought stress, "from having no effect under well-watered conditions to having an additive effect of more than 40 percent of the trial mean in the most severe stress treatments."

Read the full article at The paper published by the journal Euphytica is available at

A 30 -page report on the "Gene Flow in Alfalfa: Biology, Mitigation and Potential Impact on Production," recently published by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, and co-authored by University of California plant scientists led by Allen Van Deynze would shed light on the co-existence of conventional, organic and genetically-engineered alfalfa. "We now have enough scientific data to design strategies for preventing gene flow from genetically engineered to conventional or organic alfalfa hay and seed operations," said Van Deynze.

For more information, see press release at:
Researchers discover link between gene and cause of blindness

Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of blindness in people over the age of 60 and a trans-Atlantic study may have found the culprit behind this problem. Researchers from the University of Southampton in the UK and the University of Iowa in the US believe the Serping 1 gene is responsible for age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

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