News in September 2010
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General - Global

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) estimate the number of people who will suffer chronic hunger in 2010 at 925 million. This is 98 million less than the 1.023 billion in 2009. The figure is discussed in The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) report to be jointly published by FAO and WFP in October. See the FAO release at
Who Needs a Greener Revolution?
Valent Rull, EMBO reports, vol. 11, No 9, 2010; European Molecular Biology Organization. Download full commentary at

How do we feed the nine billion people who are projected to inhabit the Earth by 2050? The issue is one of serious concern (Ash etall., 2010; Butler, 2010), as an increase in food production of up to 40% will be needed to cope with the growing population. response, many scientists, politicians and economists have proposed a second green revolution. Their call references the first green revolution of the mid-twentieth century, which allowed many developing countries to drastically increase their food production.

Genetically modified maize and non-target organisms - New study: Bt maize not harmful to ladybirds

Genetically modified maize has no harmful impacts on the two-spotted ladybird. This is the finding of a scientific study published in August 2010. It contradicts a similar study published in 2008, which the German minister of agriculture, Ilse Aigner, cited when justifying the German ban on cultivating MON810 Bt maize.

Laboratory toxicity studies demonstrate no adverse effects of Cry1Ab and Cry3Bb1 to larvae of Adalia bipunctata (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae): the importance of study design
Fernando Álvarez-Alfageme, Franz Bigler, Jörg Romeis; Transgenic Res. DOI 10.1007/s11248-010-9430-5.
Received: 26 April 2010 / Accepted: 10 July 2010


Scientific studies are frequently used to support policy decisions related to transgenic crops. Schmidt et al., Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 56:221–228 (2009) recently reported that Cry1Ab and Cry3Bb were toxic to larvae of Adalia bipunctata in direct feeding studies. This study was quoted, among others, to justify the ban of Bt maize (MON 810) in Germany. The study has subsequently been criticized because of methodological shortcomings that make it questionable whether the observed effects were due to direct toxicity of the two Cry proteins. We therefore conducted tritrophic studies assessing whether an effect of the two proteins on A. bipunctata could be detected under more realistic routes of exposure. Spider mites that had fed on Bt maize (events MON810 and MON88017) were used as carriers to expose young A. bipunctata larvae to high doses of biologically active Cry1Ab and Cry3Bb1. Ingestion of the two Cry proteins by A. bipunctata did not affect larval mortality, weight, or development time. These results were confirmed in a subsequent experiment in which A. bipunctata were directly fed with a sucrose solution containing dissolved purified proteins at concentrations approximately 10 times higher than measured in Bt maizefed spider mites. Hence, our study does not provide any evidence that larvae of A. bipunctata are sensitive to Cry1Ab and Cry3Bb1 or that Bt maize expressing these proteins would adversely affect this predator. The results suggest that the apparent harmful effects of Cry1Ab and Cry3Bb1 reported by Schmidt et al., Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 56:221–228 (2009) were artifacts of poor study design and procedures. It is thus important that decision-makers evaluate the quality of individual scientific studies and do not view all as equally rigorous and relevant.

Two new notes on information requirements for LMO-FFPs under the Biosafety Protocol
Two new notes from the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS) summarize results from studies on the economic implications of introducing stringent information requirements for shipments of living modified organisms for food, feed or processing (LMO-FFPs) under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety Article 18.2(a). The first (PBS Note 17) focuses on implementation challenges for Kenya, and shows that the enforcement of “does contain” strict requirements, compared with the default “may contain” option, would create additional costs and challenges in the difficult implementation of import regulations. The second note (PBS Note 18) summarizes a global economic study of the trade and price effects of introducing a strict documentation option in the case of maize. The results show that it would increase maize prices and distort international trade, with significant economic losses in Protocol member countries. The two notes are available on the IFPRI website:

Further Information:

Biotechnology for Sustainable Crop Production and Protection: Challenges and Opportunities
T. M. Manjunath Electronic Journal of Plant Breeding, 1(4): 357-359 (July 2010).
Full paper at

In 2009, transgenic crops were grown on 134 million hectares in 25 countries, including India, in six continents by about 14 million farmers, marking an 80-fold increase in the area since their first commercialization on 1.7 m ha in the USA and five other countries in 1996. The dominant transgenic traits were herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, deployed either alone or both stacked in the same plant. A recent survey of the global impact of biotech crops estimated that in 2008 alone, the total crop production gain globally for the 4 principal biotech crops - maize, soybean, cotton and canola - was 29.6 million metric tons while the net economic benefit to the biotech farmers was US$ 9.2 billion.

The cumulative benefits for the period 1996- 2008 were yield gains of 167 million tons and economic returns of US$ 51.9 billion. In India, the area planted with Bt-cotton increased significantly from year to year since its introduction in 2002 and reached 8.4 million hectares in 2009. The overall benefits from Bt-cotton included an yield increase of up to 63% due to effective control of bollworms, pesticide reduction by 50%, net profit to farmers up to Rs.10,000/hectare and turned India from an importer to a major exporter of cotton. These indicate that biotechnology has made significant contributions to higher productivity, lower costs of production and increased economic benefits and that it has enormous potential for the future with new traits, events and crops.

Over 60 countries, including India, are engaged in research on about 55 crop species to incorporate transgenes to bestow various traits such as resistance to pests, diseases or herbicides; tolerance to environmental stresses like drought, cold or salinity; enhanced crop yields, nutrition or shelf-life, etc. However, unreasonable opposition to biotechnology and undue delays in regulatory approvals are some of the major challenges that need to be addressed so as to make full use of this technology which has the potential to revolutionize agriculture.

Books & Articles

The Benefits from Agricultural Research and Development, Innovation, and Productivity Growth
Alston, J. (2010), OECD Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Working Papers,
No. 31, OECD Publishing. doi: 10.1787/5km91nfsnkwg-en
Price: $3,600.00 (€2,831.95) ($4,230.00 (€3,327.55) Including VAT at 17.5%)
Publication Date: July, 2010; Pages: 346, Publisher: RI Technologies.

This report gives an insight into the different types of biopesticides, which includes microbial pesticides, biochemical pesticides, macrobial pesticides, plant incorporated protectants (Bt Insect Resistance) and other (weedicides and termiticides) and their impact on various application areas such as cereals, fruit and vegetables, soybean, cotton and other (ornamentals, turfs, pulses, oil seeds, woody plants and forestry). The study includes estimates and projections for the total global biopesticides market. Projections and estimates are also illustrated by region, product type and by application. Detailed emphasis on the adoption of GM (especially Bt Crops) worldwide and its strong effect in the developing countries is analyzed. Projections and estimates are also illustrated by geographic regions encompassing NAFTA, Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, Africa, Japan and Middle East. Global and regional market analysis is done for 2005-2012 with 332 exhibits. Business profiles of 22 major companies are discussed in the report. The report serves as a guide to biopesticides industry, as it covers more than 200 companies that are engaged in biopesticides’ studies/screening, products and applications. Research Organizations and Universities serving biopesticides industry are also covered in the Corporate Directory section of this report. Information related to recent product releases, product developments, partnerships, collaborations, and mergers and acquisitions is also covered in the report

Challenges and Responsibilities for Public Sector Scientists
Marc Van Montagu, New Biotechnology, August 2010. Full paper at

Current agriculture faces the challenge of doubling food production to meet the food needs of a population expected to reach 9 billion by mid-century whilst maintaining soil and water quality and conserving biodiversity. These challenges are more overwhelming for the rural poor, who are the custodians of environmental resources and at the same time particularly vulnerable to environmental degradation. Solutions have to come from concerted actions by different segments of society in which public sector science plays a fundamental role.

Ethical arguments relevant to the use of GM crops
Albert Wealea,
a Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 28 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3JS, UK
Available online 17 September 2010.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics (NCOB) has published two reports (1999 and 2004) on the social and ethical issues involved in the use of genetically modified crops. This presentation summarises their core ethical arguments. Five sets of ethical concerns have been raised about GM crops: potential harm to human health; potential damage to the environment; negative impact on traditional farming practice; excessive corporate dominance; and the ‘unnaturalness’ of the technology. The NCOB examined these claims in the light of the principle of general human welfare, the maintenance of human rights and the principle of justice. It concluded in relation to the issue of ‘unnaturalness’ that GM modification did not differ to such an extent from conventional breeding that it is in itself morally objectionable. In making an assessment of possible costs, benefits and risks, it was necessary to proceed on a case-by-case basis. However, the potential to bring about significant benefits in developing countries (improved nutrition, enhanced pest resistance, increased yields and new products) meant that there was an ethical obligation to explore these potential benefits responsibly, to contribute to the reduction of poverty, and improve food security and profitable agriculture in developing countries. NCOB held that these conclusions were consistent with any practical precautionary approach. In particular, in applying a precautionary approach the risks associated with the status quo need to be considered, as well as any risks inherent in the technology. These ethical requirements have implications for the governance of the technology, in particular mechanisms for enabling small-scale farmers to express their preferences for traits selected by plant breeders and mechanisms for the diffusion of risk-based evaluations.

The Journal of Social and Economical Issues of Biotechnology

A peer-reviewed scientific journal, international in scope addresses the significant and practicable knowledge regarding the review articles and debates held about these issues suggest that more accents should be given globally to resolve such social and economical consequences.

OECD - Producer and Consumer Support Estimates Database
New Biotechnology
is the official journal of the European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB) and is published bimonthly. It covers both the science of biotechnology and its surrounding political, business and financial milieu.
Biofortified Sorghum In Africa: Using Problem Formulation to Inform Risk Assessment
Karen E Hokanson et al.,Nature Biotechnology Sept 2010 v. 28, pp900 – 903

Most of the genetically modified (GM) crops approved to date (e.g., corn, cotton and soybean improved for insect resistance or herbicide tolerance) do not have compatible wild relatives near their intended area of cultivation, and those that do are not being cultivated in the center of diversity of the species. However, many GM crops being developed to solve agronomic or nutritional problems in developing countries may be grown near centers of origin and diversity of the crop, where these plants were first domesticated and remain major crops. Furthermore, they are often being developed by publicly funded, nonprofit institutions.

It is essential, therefore, that data required for risk assessment, including those related to gene flow, are limited to information necessary to allow sound regulatory decisions. Numerous studies related to gene flow from GM crops have been conducted or proposed to address interesting research questions, including evaluations of distance and rates of gene flow, fitness of hybrids, ecosystem dynamics and other parameters. Although some of these studies are useful for decision making, many lack a clear identification of the harm and how the study relates to a causal pathway from the GM crop to that harm. This accumulation of data under the name of 'risk assessment' can lead to considerable confusion about what is necessary for a regulatory decision.

By focusing on the initial problem formulation phase of a risk assessment, it is possible for developers and regulators to gain a clear indication of the important questions to answer, and the data required to address them. By clearly identifying what are the harms, considering scenarios that might lead to them and developing testable hypothesis when necessary, risk assessments can be conducted in a manner that is open and transparent for all parties. This will allow developers and regulators, especially those with relatively limited experience in risk assessment, to move forward with confidence in their efforts to develop products and assess the risks, and to safely provide these technologies that hold such promise.

( is a premier publisher of academic, technical and scientific work, reaching around the globe to collect essential reference material and the latest advances and make them available to researchers, academics, professionals, and students in a variety of accessible formats.
ILSI Crop Composition Database

The International Life Sciences Institute is pleased to announce that on September 30, 2010, Version 4.0 of the Crop Composition Database  will be released.  Available to the public and to scientists around the globe, th e Crop Composition database provides comprehensive information on the natural variability in composition of three important crops: corn, cotton and soybean.  As in previous versions, v4.0 provides data on conventional (non-biotech) crops only.

Version 4.0 is an improvement over earlier versions and is based on user requests to create a faster, more flexible research tool. Enhancements include an intuitive graphical-user interface (GUI), significantly increased performance, added security, and additional features such as unit conversion and multiple output options.


Convention on Biological Diversity - COP-MOP 5
Nagoya, Japan, from 11 to 15 October 2010 s

The fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Protocol (COP-MOP 5) will take place in Nagoya, Japan, from 11 to 15 October 2010.

Building upon the achievements of the first fourth meetings held in February 2004 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, May/June 2005 in Montreal, Canada, March 2006 in Curitiba, Brazil and May 2008 in Bonn, Germany respectively, COP-MOP 5 is expected to arrive at decisions on a number of issues to further facilitate the implementation of the Protocol. The meeting will address a number of standing issues on the COP-MOP agenda as well as substantive issues arising from the medium-term programme of work arising and previous decisions of the COP-MOP.

Substantive Issues Arising from the Medium-term Programme of Work and Previous COP-MOP Decisions. Handling, transport, packaging and identification of LMOs : At this meeting, the Parties will consider a synthesis report on experience gained with the use of documentation to further harmonization of a documentation format to fulfil specific identification requirements, including consideration of the need for a stand-alone document.

Risk assessment and risk management: At its fourth meeting, the COP-MOP, established and mandated an Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group (AHTEG) on Risk Assessment and Risk Management to, among other things, prepare a "roadmap", e.g. a flowchart, on steps for conducting a risk assessment in accordance with Annex III to the Protocol with examples of existing guidance documents for each of step. The COP-MOP 5 is expected to consider a report from the expert group and to take appropriate action.

Public awareness and participation: Under this meeting, it is expected that Parties will adopt a comprehensive programme of work on public awareness, education and participation concerning the safe transfer, handling and use of LMOs.

Knowledge Based Bio-Economy towards 2020
The KBBE towards 2020 conference (13 & 14 September 2010, Square Meeting Centre, Brussels) was a success! More than 500 participants, representing different stakeholders and countries, actively discussed and reflected on past achievements and the creation of a new vision for the bio-economy. Thank you all for your presence and for sharing your interesting ideas and views. The organisation is convinced that this conference has provided you all with enough food for thought and action. Now it is time to move forward, towards a true bio-economy.

Full report

BioPartnering Europe™ (BPE)
Leading European life science partnering for 18 years. BPE offers excellent partnering opportunities for the best and brightest in the life science industry. 10-12 October 2010, QEII Conference Centre, London, UK
Opportunities and Challenges in Industrial Scale Biomanufacturing
18-19 October 2010Edinburgh, UK
Recombinant Pharmaceutical Manufacturing from Plants - the Future of Molecular Farming
Friday, October 15, 2010 - Friday, October 15, 2010

Further Information:

III International Congress of Public Health - "Equalize the differences in health. Warsaw Declaration"
will take place in Warsaw at Sofitel Warsaw Victoria Hotel, on October 21-22, 2010.

For details visit the official Congress website:

The15th European Congress on Biotechnology (ECB)
is one of the most relevant events of Biotechnology in Europe. It will be held in Istanbul - Turkey from the 23th to 26th September 2012, hosted by the Turkish Biotechnology Association. We invite you to visit the official website More information will be available soon.
AusBiotech 2010 national conference
Tuesday 19 - Friday 22 October 2010
Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre, Victoria, Australia

Europe - EU

The EU Legislation on GMOs  An overview

It gives an overview of the EU regulatory framework for GMOs related to release into the environment, food and feed use, authorisation procedures, traceability and labelling, GMO detection, updated coexistence guidelines and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

Brussels plans 'bio-economy' strategy
Published: 15 September 2010 | Updated: 16 September

The European Commission is working on a new strategy to help industry tap into the so-called 'bio-economy' – a fast-growing business that already provides 22 million jobs The two trillion euro sector, which covers everything from agriculture, forestry and fisheries to food, chemicals and biofuels, is an area where Europe must invest, according to Innovation Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn.

EU divided over GM crops
Christian Spillmann, AFP, September 27, 2010

EU bid to allow member states to make their own decisions on whether or not to ban GM. Monday Italy and France dug in their heels against the move. As farm ministers gathered in Brussels there was little sign of quick assent. "Italy does not support the proposal ... Each for himself undermines the foundations of the common agricultural policy (CAP)", said Italy's farm minister Giancarlo Galan. "France wants a common decision," agreed French minister Bruno Lemaire. "Opting for national decision-making would give a wrong signal to European citizens and a wrong signal for the common agricultural policy." Britain and Spain too are opposed to Europe washing its hands by shifting responsibility for a political hot potato to individual nations. Meanwhile Austria, Hungary and Luxembourg are angry over the commission's green light in March to a GM potato developed by German group BASF, the Amflora, grown in the Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden but only for industrial uses for its starch content.

European Research Council.
Identification Committee appointed and tasked with identifying future ERC Scientific Council members. Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, has appointed this independent Committee, which mandate is twofold. Firstly, it will identify new members for the staged renewal of the Scientific Council membership due in February 2011. Secondly, it will maintain a pool of candidates for future replacements of Scientific Council members thereafter.

John Dalli on GMO
BRUSSELS | Mon Sep 20, 2010 4:47am EDT Reuters)

Europe's health and consumer chief John Dalli has pledged to continue approving genetically modified (GM) crops while EU states debate a proposal to let them decide whether to grow or ban the controversial technology.

"The process will go on, the process is going on. We are not going to wait," Dalli said in an interview. "We are putting into effect the means through which, in a much easier and more effective way, France can achieve what it tried to with its safeguard measures, so this is what I cannot sometimes comprehend," he said. "GMOs or non-GMOs don't excite me all that much -- it's a question of innovation. If Europe is going to say 'no' to anything that is new, then we are condemned to backwaters," he said.

But Dalli's mantra of "responsible innovation" was at odds with BASF's recent contamination of a field of its Amflora potatoes in Sweden with an unapproved GM potato variety known as "Amadea."

He said the company's error -- which the Commission is investigating -- had upset him, and that similar incidents would not be tolerated in future.

European Union farm ministers will discuss the plans on September 27, but France, Germany and Spain have already said the proposals would undermine the 27-nation bloc's common policy on GM crops -- an argument Dalli said he struggled to understand.

Biogas potential

Convinced that biogas can help the EU meet its commitment to produce 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, EU-funded researchers are investigating which technologies and regulatory frameworks are best suited for widespread but sustainable biogas production in Europe. EU support for the SEBE (Sustainable and Innovative European Biogas Environment) project, totalling EUR 2.6 million, came from the EU Central Programme which is financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

Protection of animals used for scientific purposes:
Draft recommendation for second reading, directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes, Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

National bans of GMO
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the freedom for Member States to decide on the cultivation of genetically modified crops (COM(2010)380,

Commission Recommendation on guidelines for the development of national co-existence measures to avoid the unintended presence of GMOs in conventional and organic crops (C(2010)4822;

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2001/18/EC as regards the possibility for the Member States to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs in their territory (COM(2010)375;

EU to check unauthorised GM potato crops in Sweden
Published: 07 September 2010

The European Commission has asked German chemical giant BASF to explain how the company's yet-to-be approved genetically modified (GM) potato, Amadea, was grown in Swedish fields.

Small quantities of the Amadea potato, a GM potato for which BASF filed a request for EU authorisation last week, were found in Amflora fields planted in northern Sweden in June.

Amflora, which is also a GM potato, was approved for planting for industrial purposes by the EU in March (EurActiv 03/03/10). Cultivation of Amflora has already begun in Sweden, the Czech Republic and Germany.

The Swedish authorities have demanded the removal of all Amadea plants from Swedish fields, but they are allowing Amflora plants to remain. A Commission spokesman said yesterday (6 September) that the EU executive had asked BASF to come to Brussels to explain the situation.

There was obviously some kind of mistake or blunder which led to the wrong potato being sent to Sweden, said EU Health Commissioner John Dalli's spokesman, Frédéric Vincent

BASF acknowledged that extremely small quantities of Amadea potatoes in Amflora fields planted in northern Sweden were identified during the course of regular in-house quality controls, and said the competent Swedish authority was informed of the matter at the end of August.

The contamination was identified because Amadea flowers are white, while Amflora only develops a few violet flowers. The cause of what BASF refers to as "co-mingling" is currently being thoroughly analysed, the company added.

According to BASF, the level of co-mingling is less than 0.01%, which translates into 47 Amadea plants among approximately 680,000 Amflora plants.

Following the incident, Amflora fields in Germany and the Czech Republic were also monitored, but no Amadea potatoes were identified in these fields, BASF stressed.


Plant Science Industry Establishes The Compact

Industry-Developed Liability and Redress Arbitration Framework Is Commitment to Responsible Technology Use

Brussels, 15 September 2010  CropLife International today announced that The Compact, a clearly defined, efficient, and fair process for countries to file and process claims related to damage to biological diversity caused by living modified organisms (LMOs), is now in force. Members of the Compact include the six major plant biotechnology providers  BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta.

The plant science industry's commitment to stewardship and the responsible development and use of living modified organisms has helped to ensure there has been no negative impact on biological diversity for over fifteen years of commercialization, said Denise Dewar, Executive Director of Plant Biotechnology at CropLife International. It is this dedication to rigorous science-based risk assessment, risk management and stewardship that has made plant biotechnology an essential tool for farmers as they work to increase crop productivity and reduce agricultures environmental footprint.

Six-month jail term for environmental activist
Red Flag News, Sept. 22, 2010

Jrg Bergstedt, an activist in the fight against the introduction of gene-corn, will this coming Thursday begin a six-month jail term in Gieen without possibility of parole. Bergstedt was accused ofproperty damage. He was recorded on camera ripping up GM corn plantsfrom a field trial, repeatedly, over a course of four years. The activist claims his sentence is an attempt at intimidation. To date, this is the harshest sentence imposed on an anti-gene-maize activist.

Original: Ein halbes Jahr Haftstrafe fr Umweltaktivist
Rote Fahne News Sept. 22, 2010

Citizens' initiative on approval of GM crops?
According to Greenpeace, over 750,000 Europeans have already signed a petition calling for a moratorium on all new GM crops in the EU until a proper safety regime has been put in place by the European Commission.

The green NGO hopes the petition will attract the one million signatures needed to launch a citizens' initiative on the matter.

The European Citizens' Initiative was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty to empower citizens to directly participate in the EU legislative process. Once an initiative has attracted one million signatures from citizens who are nationals of a significant number of EU member states, the Commission, as a college, is obliged to give serious consideration to the requests made.

Ease GM Rules or Face Food Crisis, CLA Warns
Barry Alston, August 18, 2010, Farmers Guardian (UK)

A warning that the UK is unlikely to be unable to feed itself within a generation unless there is a major rethink on the use of genetically modified crops came at yesterday's opening day of the Pembrokeshire County Show. According to Walter Simon, the county's CLA president, GMs should be considered as one of a range of technologies that could help boost food production.

He is calling on the Welsh Assembly Government to remain involved in discussions about GMOs. "This is a new technology and unless we start using it we will never know what can be achieved," he said. "When we started using medicines, it was a new technology - but now we can't live without them. Global factors had already seen the price of wheat jump from Ł90 a tonne to Ł150 in just three months. That was an indication of what could happen and GMs could bring opportunities to breed crops to survive in adverse conditions such as drought or salinity.

He also said he foresaw problems with Wales wanting to remain GM free and imposing such strict cross compliance conditions on plantings. EU proposals for individual member states to make their own decisions on GMO cultivation in their territory would be a "nightmare" in terms of trade within the EU.

Lord Sainsbury calls for new debate on GM crops

Herbicide-resistant maize can be grown using this biotechnology.

A former science minister has called for the debate on genetically modified crops to be reopened, arguing they are vital for a growing global population. Ahead of his speech at the British Science Association festival, Lord Sainsbury warned it would be foolish for the UK to rule out the technology. He said proper scientific evidence was needed about GM crops - branded "Frankenstein foods" in the past.

Currently, there is no commercial cultivation of GM crops in the UK.

Various types of GM plants have been grown for research at sites in England since 1993, but the development of GM farming in Europe has been held back by EU legislation. However, in recent months there has been a shift in Brussels with moves to hand back decision-making over the crops to individual countries. Lord Sainsbury, who served in Tony Blair's Department for Trade and Industry from 1998 to 2006, said: "It is 12 years since we had that last very fraught and, I think, not very productive debate about it.

'Big problem'

"Twelve years on, we have got 30 million acres across the world of GM crops, we have got pretty much all the cotton industry in India and China on those kinds of crops and of course people are now beginning to think seriously about what is the major problem we face in the world, which is how we feed 9 billion people in 2050. "We need now to have the debate again because in the last debate there was not proper scientific evidence put on the table.

"We need that scientific evidence because GM crops can play an important part in this big problem," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Lord Sainsbury acknowledged that many of the ambitious claims made by the companies behind the technology for the benefits of GM had yet to deliver results, but said that, in time, he expected the genetically altered crops to have as large an impact as computers in "changing the way we live". "I think to rule out GM, which is this major new biotechnology, would be very foolish," he said.

Approval is One Thing, But Will the Public Swallow GM Foods?
Martin Hickman, Independent (UK), Sept. 22,  2010

Genetic modification isn't something that particularly vexes the public - at least for now. Research shows that public "concern" about the issue has fallen from 43 per cent in 2001 to 27 per cent in 2008. Only 6 per cent of people spontaneously mention GM as a concern compared with 20 per cent at the peak of the "Frankenstein Foods" row in 2003. This drop-off is probably because people think GM has been "dealt with", according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which did the polling.

BASF Applies for Approval of Second GM Starch Potato
Teresa Rush, Farmers Guardian (UK),  September 7, 2010

Chemical business BASF has applied for approval of its second genetically modified starch potato. The European Commission approved the company's first GM potato - the Amflora potato - for commercial production of industrial starch in May this year.

The Amadea potato, like Amflora, produces pure amylopectin starch. Its agronomic properties and safety have been tested in field trials conducted over a number of years, says BASF, which is expecting to launch the product in 2013/14 after receiving a positive safety assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Amadea is initially intended to complement Amflora cultivation and will later substitute BASF's first starch potato. German Federal Minister of Economics and Technology, Rainer Brüderle, helped to harvest the first commercially produced Amflora potatoes in Zepkow in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania last week.

Together with BASF chairman Dr. Jürgen Hambrecht and Dr. Stefan Marcinowski, member of BASF's board of executive directors responsible for plant biotechnology, the Minister harvested the first tubers of the GM potatoes. Farmers and representatives of the German-based Forum Grüne Vernunft e.V (Forum for Green Common Sense) were also present at the Amflora harvest, says BASF.


Comesa Wants Biotech Policies Harmonised
Joseph Miti, Daily Monitor (Uganda), Sept.15 2010

As the desire to encompass bioengineered crops in some African counties continues to grow, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) is set to bring polices that would govern commercial planting and trade in genetically modified crop (GMO) in the region. Dr Belay Getachew, Comesa senior biotechnology policy advisor says the process of formulating the guidelines, which would also be applied for emergency food aid with GMO content that enters the region, is at a higher stage.

GM Crops Can Help to Alleviate African Food Shortage, says new Academy of Science of South Africa report
Academy of Science of South Africa, August 4, 2010

Agricultural biotechnology, specifically genetic modification (GM) technology, can be one of the most vital tools for addressing the chronic food shortages in sub-Saharan Africa maintains a new report released by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf). This report has been published as the result of a forum study in which ASSAf convened a series of expert workshops aimed at engaging African scientists in assessing the current challenges, opportunities and risks associated with the use of GMOs.

Download full report at


India: 90% of Cotton Area Under Bt
Dilip Kumar, Business Standard (India), August 31, 2010

Bt cotton has surpassed 90 per cent of cotton acreage this kharif season with farmers continuing to gain from the high-yielding seed since its commercialisation in 2002.

Preparing Agriculture for Climate Change
Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, India; February 6-9, 2011

The world, especially the southern hemisphere, could see a significant drop in agricultural productivity as a consequence of climate change.

Agricultural losses related to climate change are expected to hit developing countries hard, as agriculture employs a substantial number of people and contributes greatly to economic growth. Further, poverty in developing world is largely rural with a significant proportion of the population still dependent on agriculture. Continuous population growth and increased wealth in developing economies will also translate into increased demands for food, necessitating a further productivity gains .The required productivity increases, will however, have to be build on increasing our resources' efficiency while safeguarding the agriculture from the consequences climate change.

To develop a consensus global view on this, we are organizing this international conference on the following themes: 1) Agriculture: abettor and sufferer 2) Mitigation strategies - Policy and Management interventions 3) Adaptation strategies: Genetic options/interventions 4) Climate change and biodiversity: Extinction and new emergence.

Six Top Science Bodies Verdict: Bt Brinjal Safe
Zia Haq, Hindustan Times, Sept. 24, 2010

Six premier Indian science academies, given the task of evaluating Bt brinjal by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, have declared it safe, but their findings also say all genetically modified (GM) items pose a risk if the science behind them is flawed. The academies, as part of their mandate, have made key recommendations, including allowing the use of GM crops to meet growing food demands. However, they said, Indias food security is too critical an area to be left entirely to the private sector. Therefore, public sector organisations should be the main facilitators of GM technologies.

Genetically Modified Rice Causing a Scandal in the Philippines
Jenara Nerenberg, Fast Company, Sept 22, 2010

Researchers at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are intent on developing a variety of rice that produces beta carotene and if they proceed, they will be the first to grow GM rice commercially. Meanwhile, the country's agriculture secretary, Proceso Alcala, is fiercely opposed to the scientists' plans and is making his opinions known--this is shaping up to be quite the domestic and potentially global controversy.

Alcala's main concerns are that the rice should first be proved safe for eating and that organic farming be given a fair chance as an alternative to GM foods. Betacarotene is converted to Vitamin A and is thus beneficial for various health outcomes, such as preventing blindness in children, which means that the golden variety of rice being proposed for genetic modification should be grown in some way, shape, or form, organic or not.


The FDA Versus Africa

Hysteria over genetically modified crops hampers solutions to diarrhea mortality.

Since May, cholera has killed nearly 800 people in Nigeria and Cameroon alone, and the World Health Organization has recorded nearly 4,000 cases in the Lake Chad Basin. Inadequate access to clean water means that waterborne diseases like cholera spread rapidly, causing extreme diarrhea and deadly dehydration if left untreated. The U.N. estimates that diarrheal diseases kill 1.8 million people every year.

So you might take it as good news that American company Ventria Bioscience says it has hit on an improvement to existing rehydration therapies, which could mean another tool in the fight against diarrhea deaths. Ventria's product consists of a genetically modified rice strain from which it cheaply extracts two proteins also found in human breast milk. After a panel of food, medicine, immunology, child nutrition and health experts had declared its product safe, Ventria in 2004 submitted it as a food supplement to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The company waited, and heard nothing. Ventria re-submitted the product with still more data on its safety and efficacy, and then waited some more. Ventria CEO Scott Deeter tells us that in March this year, "when it became clear that the final approval letter was not forthcoming," the company withdrew its submission.

At the root of Ventria's problems is the hysteria over genetically modified crops, fanned by groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Though millions of Americans have been ingesting genetically modified produce for years with no discernible harm, the World Health Organization and the European Commission continue to call for caution, citing risks such as contamination of other crops and damage to human DNA.

GM salmon.
AquaBounty Technologies via PRNewswire

AquAdvantage salmon are a possible solution to many of the environmental concerns associated with salmon production. AquaBounty has taken unprecedented steps to assure that the fish cannot interact with wild populations.  Not only are they all sterile females, as a condition of approval they will be raised in land-based contained aquaculture systems - making escape into the wild an impossibility.  Furthermore, the author of the Trojan gene hypothesis raised by the coalition has specifically said it does not apply to salmon, nor to AquAdvantage salmon in letters both to AquaBounty and to members of the coalition.

AquAdvantage salmon are, quite literally, the most studied fish in the world.  In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has spent the last fifteen years creating a robust regulatory process to ensure these fish and other transgenic animal applications are appropriately evaluated and regulated.

Don't Take the Activist Bait on Biotech Fish
Consumer Freedom, September 7, 2010

Last week the Food and Drug Administration released a preliminary report declaring that genetically modified salmon appears to be A-OK. The agency is holding hearings in the coming weeks to determine whether to approve the fish for consumer consumption. In its analysis, the FDA determined that the super-salmon aren't likely to pose any significant environmental threat, and that the fish are "as safe to eat as food from other Atlantic salmon." As if on cue, anti-technology and environmental groups are having a collective conniption fit, trotting out the same tired arguments we hear about genetically modified food crops.

Thirty-one groups led by the "Center for Food Safety" and Food & Water Watch recently put out a press release, and the gripes (in the release and elsewhere) boil down to this: The modified salmon might escape the underwater pens they're grown in, and they might out-compete wild salmon for food, and they might cause an allergic reaction in some people.

And the price of Apple stock might drop to a penny a share.

These activists don't have any evidence-just "might" language and wild theories that force scientists to prove a negative. This approach to risk assessment has a name. It's the Precautionary Principle, the idea that governments should (or even can) eliminate all risks from life, no matter how small, before allowing something to go forward. This is a favorite weapon of activist group that want to slow down technological progress with endless environmental assessments and re-assessments.

Can't be too careful, right? Better safe than sorry? Not really. The Wall Street Journal rightly calls this the "paralyzing principle" because it opens the door to an endless supply of theories and fear-mongering-and results is usually a battle of data versus fantasy. As long as Food & Water Watch can pull "risks" out of thin air, activists can tie up the regulatory process. And that's the real goal behind "precautionary" challenges, as one activist leader famously stated: "They don't get to do it. Period."

The difference between reasonable and unreasonable risk is evident in the FDA's preliminary report (emphasis added): There is a reasonably certainty of no harm from the consumption of food from this animal. As a result of all of these containment measures, the potential occurrence of any significant effects on the global commons or any foreign nations not participating in this action is considered extremely remote. In addition, no effects on stocks of wild Atlantic salmon are expected.

Let's face it: There's always a remote chance of lightning striking you. (The same goes for winning the lottery.) But most people seem to get along just fine in their daily lives. For groups on the green fringe, though, blowing risk out of proportion is business as usual.

News in Science

Rice, the staple food for billions of people around the world, which is very susceptible to salt has been improved to resist saline stress through genetic modification, says the news release from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics.

The results of this work have been published in the online peer-reviewed science journal PLoS ONE. Work is now underway to transfer the technology to wheat and barley.

PLoS ONE paper

The original news article can be viewed at

Transgenic Indian superspuds pack more protein
Debora MacKenzie, Sept. 20,  2010 New Scientist

A genetically modified (GM) potato has been created that makes up to 60 per cent more protein per gram than ordinary potatoes. But even with that help spuds don't contain much protein, so that's not the most interesting part: in a surprise result, the GM crop also yielded more potato per hectare. This is the first time that a simple genetic modification has increased yield.

Potatoes are an increasingly popular way to increase food production in India, China and other developing countries. The tubers are mainly carbohydrate, but they also contain a little protein: a medium (150-gram) spud contains 3 grams of protein, about 6 per cent of the US recommended daily allowance. The GM variety's extra 60 per cent raises that to 4.8 grams  nearly 10 per cent of the recommended amount.

Subra Chakraborty and colleagues at India's Central Potato Research Institute in Shimla created the high-protein "protato" in 2003 by giving potatoes a gene from the grain amaranth, a South American plant widely eaten across the tropics, including India. The gene codes for a "storage" protein in amaranth seeds, but in the protato it was linked to a DNA code that turns on production of the storage protein in tubers. The team has now spliced this gene into seven commercial potato varieties, and field-tested them for several seasons. This is crucial, as GM crops often behave differently in the lab and the field.

Some tubers contained almost twice as much protein as the prototype, with increases in several essential amino acids. Tests in rats and rabbits revealed no toxic or allergic effects. However, the plants also photosynthesised more, and produced 15 to 25 per cent more potatoes per hectare by weight  the only time this has ever been reported for a plant with just one extra gene.

Scientists Find that ‘Orange’ Maize is a Good Source of Vitamin A
Orange maize, a variety bred to improve nutrition, could provide increased vitamin A through the diet to millions of poor people at risk of vitamin A deficiency.
Transgenic Indian superspuds pack more protein
A genetically modified (GM) potato has been created that makes up to 60 per cent more protein per gram than ordinary potatoes. But even with that help spuds don't contain much protein, so that's not the most interesting part: in a surprise result, the GM crop also yielded more potato per hectare.
Scientists Crack the Genome of the Apple
Richard Alleyne, Daily Telegraph (UK), Aug 29, 2010

'The complete genetic code of an apple has been mapped for the first time in a development that could lead to healthier and tastier varieties.' The international team of scientists sequenced the DNA make up of the "Golden Delicious" apple and discovered why it is so different to other fruits.

The domesticated apple appeared in the Near East approximately 4,000 years ago. The sequencing has revealed that large lengths of apple chromosomes are copied in other chromosomes. This duplication would explain why the apple, and closely related pear, genomes have 17 chromosomes, while all other plants in the Rosaceae family (including peach, raspberry and strawberry) have between 7 and 9 chromosomes.

Many of the genes in these duplicated areas are related to fruit development and this larger number compared with other fruit may have enabled the distinctive features seen in apple. The findings suggest that a major step in evolution of the fruit was caused by a catastrophic environmental event, possibly the same one that killed the dinosaurs.

Evolutionary analysis tracked the event to around 60 million years ago. It is thought to be a survival response to an event that caused mass extinctions of other species, including the dinosaurs. Other well adapted plant species, such as poplar, have been shown to have undergone a similar evolutionary response at the same time. The research is published in the journal Nature Genetics.

Castor Bean Genome Published by Research Team Including Scientists from the Venter Institute
J. Craig Venter Institute, Rockville, MD; August 22, 2010

A research team co-led by scientists from the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) and the Institute for Genome Sciences (IGS), University of Maryland School of Medicine, today published the sequence and analysis of the castor bean (Ricinus communis) genome in Nature Biotechnology. Agnes P. Chan, Ph.D., JCVI, and Jonathan Crabtree, Ph.D., IGS were co-lead authors on the paper describing the 4.5X coverage of this important oilseed crop. The availability of the castor bean genome also has important biodefense implications since the plant produces the powerful toxin, ricin.

The castor bean, a tropical perennial shrub found in Africa and other tropical and subtropical regions in the world, is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family. There are approximately 6,300 species in this family that includes the cassava, rubber tree, ornamental poinsettias and jatropha. While the castor bean genome is the first to be sequenced and published from this family, the jatropha genome has been sequenced by JCVI and the company Synthetic Genomics Inc. Jatropha is also an oilseed crop. The sequencing of the castor bean genome to 4.5 X coverage was conducted at JCVI. The results of this work show that the genome is 350 Mb and has an estimated 31,237 genes. Because of the potential use of castor bean as a biofuel and its production of the potent toxin ricin, the team focused efforts on genes related to oil and ricin production. They analyzed important metabolic pathways and regulatory genes involved in the production and storage of oils in the castor bean. The analyses could be important for comparative studies with other oilseed crops, and could also allow for genetic engineering of castor bean to produce oil without ricin.

New Soybeans Bred for Oil that's More Heart-Healthy
Jan Suszkiw, USDA/ARS, September 16, 2010

Products made from soy oil stand to benefit from two new germplasm lines that produce high levels of oleic acid, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and university scientists.

In a new issue of BMC Plant Biology, Bilyeu and colleagues Anh Pham Tung, Jeong Dong Lee and J. Grover Shannon report their identification and use of a mutant pair of alleles, or gene copies, to bolster soy's oleic-acid production. Typically, soy oil is 13 percent palmitic acid, 4 percent stearic acid, 20 percent oleic acid, 55 percent linoleic acid, and 8 percent linolenic acid. But the new beans contain more than 80 percent oleic acid, reports Bilyeu, who collaborated with scientists at the University of Missouri and Kyungpook University in the Republic of Korea.

Mechanism protecting plants against freezing
Much plant damage in freezing temperatures is due to cell dehydration, in which water crystallizes and the organelle or cell membrane shrivels as liquid volume drops. Lipids in the membranes of tolerant plants are removed and converted to oil that accumulates in droplets, the researchers said, retaining membrane integrity, keeping membranes from fusing with one another and conserving the energy by storing oil droplets. With rising concern globally about water supplies and climate change, scientists see additional reasons to understand the ways hardy plants survive. The research, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science Basic Energy Sciences and the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station, also leads to speculation that freezing itself can prompt cell proteins directly to change the composition of the membrane, without activation by gradual acclimation. That has been a major focus in the plant freezing tolerance field.
Australian Group Produces GM Rice
Sydney Morning Herald, Sept. 10, 2010

A team of Australian scientists has genetically modified rice to improve its tolerance to salt, offering hope of increased global production. And work is already underway to transfer the technology to wheat and barley, other staple foods for billions of people around the world.

The scientists from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) at the University of Adelaide worked in collaboration with colleagues based in Cairo, Copenhagen and Melbourne. They used a new technique to trap salt in the root of the rice plant, reducing the amount building up in the shoots and increasing its tolerance to salinity.

Chocolate farmers could benefit from newly sequenced cacao genome

A first draft of the cacao genome is complete, a consortium of academic, governmental, and industry scientists announced today. Indiana University Bloomington scientists performed much of the sequencing work, which is described and detailed at, the official website of the Cacao Genome Database project.

British researchers unlock sugar secret
Kris Bevill, Ethanol Producer, Sept. 15, 2010

A long-term research project being funded by Britain's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council achieved a significant breakthrough recently when researchers successfully modified plant genes to more easily access the sugars locked inside lignocellulose. The finding could result in more cost-effective cellulosic ethanol conversion from plant matter such as corn stover and miscanthus, as well as woody biomass.

The research team's discovery centered around the modification of enzymes that control xylan, one of the main components of lignocellulose. Approximately one-third of a plant's sugars that could be used for ethanol production are locked away inside the xylan, according to lead researcher and University of Cambridge professor Paul Dupree. Until the discovery, it has been problematic for researchers to determine how to access those sugars. "We don't understand how that sugar is locked away and why it's difficult to release sugar that can be fermented," Dupree said. "What we have discovered is one of the ways that the plant makes it difficult for us and how to overcome that. The consequences are that when this is deployed it should be cheaper and use less energy to release the sugars from maize stover, wheat straw, wood, and that makes [ethanol production] more economically viable."

After identifying the two enzymes that appeared to control the xylan portion of lignocellulose in plants, the University of Cambridge research team, which is part of the BBSRC's sustainable bioenergy center, experimented with growing Arabidopsis plants that lacked those two enzymes. "What we didn't want to do was end up with floppy plants that can't grow properly, so it was important to find a way of making xylan easier to break down without having any major effects," Dupree said. Surprisingly, what they discovered was that the altered plants functioned just as well as the traditional plants. "If you put them side-by-side, you wouldn't be able to see any difference at all," he said. "We can detect some difference, but it's not a large difference. So one of the important discoveries is that it is possible to change the structure to make it easier to extract the sugars and you don't necessarily end up with severely weakened plants. It makes it worthwhile trying to improve the plant material."

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