Thursday, December 01, 2005

GMO Pundit Golden Oldie November 2005 Stack

This is a stack withthe oldest posts last
(See also GMO Pundit archives files 2005 11 27, 2005 11 20, 2005 11 13, 2005 11 06)
These archives are also accessible via the sidebar of Main GMO Pundit page and theseprovides full-direct links and images of the archive files)

Post Items stacked below are:
  1. Furphies are flying thick and fast at online opinion.
  2. An outside view on Australian GM wine
  3. Humble algae could be our saviour
  4. Land matters: Osvaldo E. Sala and others explain how land use is perhaps the most important biodiversity issue.
  5. Wild radish is easy to kill but super-myths keep on sprouting new shoots.RE Whether Percy Schmeiser selected GM seeds deliberately
  6. Long term feeding trials funded by WA to run in SA (at IHER)
  7. Public sector research - too often left out of discussions
  8. Oilseed technology moves to the markets in St. Louis
  9. Driven by demand for biodiesel, GM Giant Canada exports GM canola to the EU
  10. Ten years of GM crops in Australia
  11. Percy Schmeiser and the seed cleaners
  12. Bad diets worry the guts even with rats (Pusztai Lancet data)
  13. Allegations of corporate legal threats to innocent farmers in the US, Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers: Commentary on The Center for Food Safety Report
  14. Meanwhile, over at Australia's trade competition....Brazil . Agnet Nov. 27/05 New law encourages Monsanto to invest in transgenics
  15. GM crop coexistence developments in the EU by Roger Kalla
  16. The sad Zambia saga continues
  17. Existing herbicide tolerant canola varieties in Australia arn't perfect. Robert Norton's comments.
  18. Advice to Zambia from Charles Benbrook on Food-Aid.
  19. Where hybrids and hybrid vigour came from and what this means for the bottom line.
  20. Misinformation from Choice magazine and the ACA (on GM free status of food)
  21. Progress on field trials on Golden Rice
  22. Unintended Adverse Consequences of the 19 versions of the "Precautionary Principle"
  23. Bureau of Rural Sciences Report on GM Crop future benefits
  24. EU's CAP largesse goes to HRH The Queen
  25. Agreement on unintended GM presence is possible. Commission authorises Danish state aid to compensate for losses due to presence of GMOs in conventional and organic crops
  26. Aussie rice efficient water user-compared to other countries
  27. More publicity for "Green biofuel"'s surprise effects. Forests paying the price for biofuels.
  28. Chrispeels comments on the Australian CSIRO GM Pea Research
  29. Improved farmer income is much more than satisfying greed, it's saving and enriching lives (OnLine Opinion)
  30. Farming and hunger: Enhanced: Cutting World Hunger in Half
  31. GMO Rice in Iran
  32. Environmentalists (now) realise land use is an issue. Green Fuels Would Damage Environment, Critics Charge
  33. Risk to Australia in saying no to drought tolerance genes
  34. Facts on US Farm exports. One of the urban (and perhaps rural) myths in circulation is that US farmers are losing billions of dollars in export sales because they have adopted GE crops.
  35. Straw to sugar to biofuel breakthroughs. Cellulase technology advances.
  36. Mouldy maize and an outbreak of human birth defects
  37. What's Really Really Happening with GE Crops in the USA?, Genethics say GE crops a flop in the USA
  38. Penetration mutations reveal how plants defend against fungal parasites. Plants have a dual line of defence
  39. Signposts to the future of plant abiotic stress scientific research
  40. Drought tolerant seeds approaching commercialisation.
  41. Sow and grow early to waste less water (with GM)
  42. The experts on breeding crops for better water use
  43. Bt Corn Produces Healthier Crops for Humans and Animals (Fumonisin)
  44. Toxins made by fungi can be an issue in maize flours sold in Western retail markets (Fumonisin)
  45. Super sorghum (The African Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) )
  46. GM pea project discontinued during risk assessment (CSIRO Pea)
  47. Grain toxins that cause birth defects and cancer- the early history (Fumonisin)
  48. Blue Sky file: solar based nitrogen fertiliser.
  49. Soil Association's marketing with pesticide fear makes money in UK
  50. Better Management of Irrigation and Drought in the US
  51. Grafting better roots From Farmonline: Tropical research beats the rot Australia
  52. High Tech or Slow Tech for Deficiency of vitamin A
  53. The GM caravan moves on, past unwanted presence. Canola GM contamination traced to Tas trial
  54. Canadian producer experience with transgenic Canola
  55. Effect of GM cotton in reducing pollution in Namoi river
  56. Peer review - What is it and Why do we need it? (Sense about Science)
  57. GMO wine in America
  58. Organic farming uses more land and does not leach less nitrate into waters
  59. Bacteria spread in food
  60. Copper fungicide use in (organic) farms can promote dangerous bacteria – threatening hospital patients.
  61. New results verifying a major argument for GM food safety
  62. Quarantine issues raised in the EU by Diabrotica worm, Probing the European spread of a U.S. corn pest
  63. Japanese push ahead on Eucalypt breeding
  64. Give GM food a fair go, Issues magazine (Melbourne, September 2005)
  65. Dr Benbrook's unusual use of statistics about wheat
  66. Chris Prestons detective work on drought
  67. Reprogramming stress defences in barley improves yield
  68. Salt tolerant wheat tested in Western Australia 2005-2006

Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Furphies are flying thick and fast at online opinion.

Furphies are flying thick and fast at online opinion.
A whole bunch Posted by NonGMFarmer, Wednesday, 30 November 2005 12:13:54 PM (Julie Newman, NCF)
Julie started by making a statement that Pusztai foud GM potatoes made rats sick. I challenged that statement by supplying data from the actual paper and asked Julie to interpret it.
In response to direct questions about these data (Pusztai Lancet Report) Julie igonores the published data and replies with:
"There is certainly enough reason to want independent health studies. Pusztai's rats developed potentially precancerous cell growth, damaged immune systems, partial atrophy of the liver and smaller brains, livers and testicles. "
With her silence about the published data Julies concedes that the Pusztai Lancet data are inconclusive.

But the opinions about Pusztai she does voice did not pass the review process at the Lancet. If the ones that did pass are inconclusive, the ones that didn't are truly worthless.

"Preliminary Russian studies on pregnant mice where most offspring died." These are fully dealt with by Chris Preston but nothing to do with Pusztai.

"CSIRO confirmed that unexpected proteins were produced and caused allergenic reactions."

At last a valid statement about a problem with a GM plant. It won't reach consumers - as the project has been ditched. Again nothing to do with Pusztai.
Professional scientist comment is here:

An outside view on Australian GM wine
Via Agnet November 29 2005
Australian wine industry advice is 'no' to GMO November 25, 2005, South African Wine

[A lighthearted Pundit quip first: This story does remind us that a certain large Australasian brewery, after declaring there is no GM ingredients in our lagers, had to face up to a witty letter to the editor asking when they were going to eliminate alcohol from their beverage, you know, because of its known toxicological properties. As they say, be careful what you wish for.]

Genetically modified wine yeasts have, according to this story, arrived on the North American market; what does this mean for the Australian industry? An official press release received from the Australian Wine Research Institute.
Until now, the GMO debate has largely been academic for Australian grape growers and winemakers but this is likely to change: Springer Oenologie (a division of Lesaffre Yeast Corporation) has released the first GM wine yeast, known as ML01, to the North American market.
For the time being release of ML01 to the North American market should make little or no difference to what is done in Australia; this yeast has not been approved for use in this country. Before GMOs (and GMO-derived products) can be used in food production or processing in Australia they are subjected to prescribed risk assessments and there is considerable public consultation required during this process.
In addition to this, even if a GM yeast was to get through the above approvals processes, it still would not be used to make wine in Australia; at least not at this time. The Australian wine industry's position on the application of gene technology in grape and wine production is:... that no genetically modified organisms be used in the production of Australian wine. The reason for this is not that the industry is anti-GM but rather that it acknowledges the importance of safety and public acceptance before adopting any new technology in wine production. The industry takes the view that: '... there are potentially great benefits in employing gene technology... ' however '... the industry is also conscious of the need for safety, openness and quality assurance in any use of gene technology'.
In this context it is important to note that U.S. legislation does not require labeling to notify the consumer that Springer Oenologie's ML01 yeast is a GMO. Therefore it is important for Australian winemakers to be vigilant in case some ML01 does find its way here.
Whether the Australian wine industry's position on use of GMOs in winemaking is likely to change in the foreseeable future depends on the balance between risks and benefits associated with using such yeasts and whether local and overseas markets are seen to be ready to accept wines that have been made using GMOs.
What are the risks associated with using ML01? In terms of health risks there should be none. The two foreign genes incorporated into the wine yeast to make it MLF-competent come from organisms that are typically associated with foods and/or beverages. One comes from the yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe, which is found in many alcoholic beverages, and the other comes from O. oeni, which is used routinely in the wine industry for MLF. A great deal of work has been done to show that the two genes are stable in their new background and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration designated it a GRAS (generally recognised as safe) organism in their response to Lesaffre's submission to that office (although it should be pointed out that 'GRAS' is not recognised as a global standard).
It would seem from balancing some of the more obvious risks and benefits associated with the use of ML01, that having access to this yeast might be a good thing for Australian winemakers. However, even if ML01 was to be approved by Australian authorities for use in this country, public acceptance of GMOs in domestic and overseas markets remains a major hurdle, and until the industry can be assured of this it will toe a cautious line. Thus, for now it is important to adhere to the Australian Wine Industry's position that no genetically modified organisms be used in the production of Australian wine.

Another outside comment
Greenie Nonsense Holds Up Improved Wine

- John Ray, August 16, 2006

The U.S. wine industry has entered the world of genetic engineering as some vintners experiment with a strain of yeast designed to eliminate chemicals in red wine that are believed to trigger headaches, including migraines, in some people. Scientific research, much of it conducted at the University of California, Davis, has long played an important role in improving the quality of grapes and wines produced in California and around the world. But genetic modification -- in this case inserting two genes into the DNA of a yeast species -- marks a new threshold for the industry.

As a result, the new biotech yeast is getting a wary reception in a wine industry that sells itself on its artisan reputation and is anxious not to ruffle export markets touchy about genetically modified foods. Experts also say the new yeast alters the flavor of wine. "As an industry, we're definitely interested in research when it comes to genetic engineering. But I don't think we're prepared to look at genetically modified products yet," said Paul Dolan, a winemaker and chairman of the Wine Institute, the California industry's leading advocacy group.

Still, the new yeast offers a promising way around the wine-headache problem. About 13 percent of Americans suffer migraines, according to the National Headache Foundation. Migraine patients are commonly told to avoid red wine, said Marco Vespignani, a naturopathic doctor at the Institute for Restorative Health in Davis.

At least a few wines made with the so-called ML01 yeast already are reaching consumers this year, according to Jason Rodriguez, wine products specialist for American Tartaric Products Inc., the California distributor of the yeast. He declined to identify any specific brands, though, and the wines aren't required to carry a special label.

In Northern California and Europe, where genetically modified foods have sparked controversy and strict regulation, a move to the new yeast could simply be trading one headache for another. The growing of genetically modified crops has been banned by voters or county supervisors in Mendocino, Trinity, Marin and Santa Cruz counties. And in Europe, nearly all foods made with significant amounts of genetically modified ingredients must carry a label. That requirement has driven U.S. food companies to avoid the use of such ingredients in products exported to EU countries. U.S. regulations don't require labels detailing whether a food contains genetically modified ingredients.

Wary of backlash in sensitive export markets, Australia's wine industry -- a key international competitor with California -- in November took an official position against the use of the new genetically modified yeast. On Monday, the Wine Institute, which represents many, but not all, of California's wineries, did the same, issuing a statement declaring "that no genetically modified organisms be used in the production of California wine." The institute, however, does not have the authority to keep wineries from using the new yeast.

See also
GMO wine in America
GM Beer

Humble algae could be our saviour
GMO Pundit contributer Roger Kalla publishes another fine uplifting story at Online Opinion. In these interesting times we live in, David Tribe likes the Messianic overtones in the title .

Land matters: Osvaldo E. Sala and others explain how land use is perhaps the most important biodiversity issue.
Global Biodiversity Scenarios for the Year 2100

VOL 287 SCIENCE p 1770, 10 MARCH 2000

"Scenarios of changes in biodiversity for the year 2100 can now be developed based onscenarios of changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide, climate, vegetation, and land useand the known sensitivity of biodiversity to these changes...For terrestrial ecosystems,land-use change probably will have the largest effect, followed by climatechange, nitrogen deposition, biotic exchange, and elevated carbon dioxide concentration."

Wild radish is easy to kill but super-myths keep on sprouting new shoots.RE Whether Percy Schmeiser selected GM seeds deliberately

Robust debate at Online forum, which has cost the Pundit some sleep these last days, has yielded to following useful rispostes to disputed factoids that are circulating in the community, often thanks to the undisputed energy of Julie Newman [NonGMFarmer] and Network of Concerned farmers (NCF).

Thanks to Rebel and Agronomist at The Forum at

RE Whether Percy Schmeiser selected GM seeds deliberately

You need to read the court decision on Percy instead of listening to anti-GM propaganda. He both used Roundup and was clearly deliberately selecting for Roundup Ready canola, with intent. Examples below.


A few key paragraphs from the trial judge’s decision

[39] . Using his sprayer, he sprayed, with Roundup herbicide, a section of that field in a strip along the road. He made two passes with his sprayer set to spray 40 feet, the first weaving between and around the power poles, and the second beyond but adjacent to the first pass in the field, and parallel to the power poles. This was said by him to be some three to four acres in all, or "a good three acres". After some days, approximately 60% of the plants earlier sprayed had persisted and continued to grow. Mr. Schmeiser testified that these plants grew in clumps which were thickest near the road and began to thin as one moved farther into the field.

[40] Despite this result Mr. Schmeiser continued to work field 2, and, at harvest, Carlysle Moritz, on instruction from Mr. Schmeiser, swathed and combined field 2. He included swaths from the surviving canola seed along the roadside in the first load of seed in the combine which he emptied into an old Ford truck located in the field. That truck was covered with a tarp and later it was towed to one of Mr. Schmeiser's outbuildings at Bruno. In the spring of 1998 the seed from the old Ford truck was taken by Mr. Schmeiser in another truck to the Humboldt Flour Mill ("HFM") for treatment…. and then used for planting his 1998 canola crop.

That no one can prove how Percy got the seed only shows that he was trying to cover his tracks. An innocent would not have sprayed for resistance and then saved and used those seed.

The first GM food was a GM tomato paste that was labeled as such and sold out completely in the UK, before Greenpeace started its scare campaign.

“Monsanto has an end point royalty where a positive test (? as low as 0.5%) can trigger a 100% deduction of "user fees"
Yet another furphy propogated by NonGMFarmer? Monsanto could not claim an end point royalty for that level of positive test. To claim an end point royalty, they would have to demonstrate that you planted a crop of their seeds.

Re Newman Claim “Canadians have … the highest carryover stock ever”.
Yet another furphy from NonGMFarmer? A quick visit to Canadian crop statistics shows that the forecast carryover stocks for 2004/2005 are lower than for 1999/2000 ( and skip down to seed stocks). The reason is an additional 1 million tons of production.

“It is proposed (GTGC coexistence plans) that if GM crops are approved, even non-GM farmers lose our right to plant our own seed every year.”
Agronomist: I read the GTGC coexistence plans and I think this a fair stretch of their policy. The GTGC in their stewardship principles suggest the use of certified or quality assured seed for better results. They do acknowledge that farmer-saved seed will be used and suggest for best results that only one generation of farmer saved seed be used. They also provide a long list of actions a farmer can take to minimize any negative impact of using farmer-saved seed. ( In any case, it is recommended in Australia that canola seed not be saved for too long as it loses viability and quality (see

Mahogany says that Percy Schmeiser was a seed saver all his life.
Agronomist: This is merely another part of the Schmeiser myth. If you read the court transcript is says in Para 29 that he bought new seed in 1993. Schmeiser also claims to have been breeding canola for 50 years. Impossible as canola was developed by Canadian Government Scientists in 1974.

GMO Pundit hopes that NCF post these rispostes at their website to fit with Julie Newman's clearly stated policy of keeping Aussie farmers fully and accurately informed with the truth.

More on Schmeiser in 2006

Long term GM food feeding trials funded by WA to run in SA
From Farmonline
WA feeding trials to test GM food safety Australia Tuesday, 29 November 2005

The WA Government will fund an independent long-term animal feeding trial to gain data on the safety or otherwise of GM food crops.
Agriculture Minister, Kim Chance, says the Department of Agriculture will undertake an independent, long-term animal feeding trial to gain data on the safety or otherwise of GM food crops. "The State Government is mindful that many in the community hold concerns about the safety of GM foods, with much of the research in this area being conducted or funded by the companies that promote the GM product," Mr Chance said. "This trial will be an independent study of GM food crops so that the WA Government can gain its own data on GM foods."
Mr Chance said it was concerning that the adverse safety effects associated with a study on a variety of GM pea which caused inflammation of the lungs of mice had only come to light recently, despite 10 years of research and development. The inflammation resulted from an allergic response to the protein produced by the GM pea.
"There has been a concern for a long time about taking a gene out of one organism and putting it into another," he said. "The protein expressed by that gene may be different.
The current safety assessments used by Food Standards Australian and New Zealand do not measure this possibility.The WA Government is committed to protecting and enhancing WA's unique lifestyle and environment."

GMO Pundit:
Jenifer Eliot in The West Australian, November 28, 2005, reports that the study will be by South Australia's Institute of Health and Environmental Research (IHER) Email: Post: PO Box 155, Kensington Park, SA, 5068, Australia Phone: +61 8 8332 7927. The location of the institute's laboratories is not available.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Public sector research - too often left out of discussions

International negotions such as the Cartagena Protocol have tended to leave out Public Sector biotechnology. But there is much more to agbiotech than just the multinational corporations, even though high regulatory costs make it a great challenge for small organisations to bring new crops through to the open field. Excessive regulatory cost are a significant barrier to developing country agricultural biotechnology, but sadly, not the only serious barrier.

There is one important international player in this sector very worthy of attention:

The foundation for Public Research and Regulation

For the execution of this initiative, a foundation has been established in the Netherlands with the name “Public Research and Regulation”, and with the objective to involve the public research sector in regulations relevant to the development and application of biotechnology.

The extent to which modern biotechnology will be able to achieve these goals will depend to a large extent on the regulations that apply to biotechnology and on the way in which they are implemented. These national regulations in turn are strongly influenced by international agreements, such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB). This Protocol was negotiated between 1995 and 2000, adopted in January 2000, and came into force in September 2003. The first Meeting of the Parties (MOP1) took place in February 2004 in Kuala Lumpur, the second MOP was in Montreal last May-June and MOP3 is scheduled for March 2006.

A central aim of the negotiations was to involve all stakeholders. Records of the negotiations show that NGOs and the private sector were indeed well represented. However, the public research sector involved in modern biotechnology, which includes over a hundred thousand researchers in thousands governmental, academic and international research institutions in developing and developed countries, was not represented in any significant or organised way during the negotiations or during MOP1.

Joel Cohen has commented on difficulties and achievements of Public Sector work in Developing countries:

All in all, this study surveyed GM crop research conducted at 61 public research institutes in 15 developing economies. These institutes have demonstrated transformation capabilities across 45 plants, within eight categories of different transgenic phenotypes, and the ability to use such genes when transforming local genetic resources.
... Greater attention is needed, however, for specific events where resources and knowledge are lacking to complete efficacy and safety testing. Otherwise, GM crops will remain in preliminary testing. Indeed, on the basis of this study’s data, we estimate that approximately 22% of the 201 transformation events created in public research programs remain in confined testing

[Challenges include] implementing processes arising from the international level (e.g., the Cartagena Protocol for Biosafety) as well as at the regional level (e.g., special needs confronting Africa); and eight, external political barriers that either halt regulatory review (e.g., moratoriums in Thailand) or have implications or world trade (e.g., impasse over GM cropsbetween the United States and Europe).

Oilseed technology moves to the markets in St. Louis

Via Agnet
November 28, 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The story explains that this fall, contract farmers harvested the first commercial crop -- 100,000 acres of Vistive soybeans [non treansgenic GMO Pundit], bred by Monsanto to contain a reduced level of linolenic acid. This change makes the soybean oil more stable, so it doesn't need to be partially hydrogenated for longer shelf life. Partial hydrogenation creates unhealthy trans fats. The oil will be in some consumer products by Jan. 1, when a new government regulation requires trans fat content to be included on food labels, Monsanto said.
Soybeans genetically modified to contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which improve heart health and may have other benefits such as reducing swelling in arthritis. Later versions of Vistive soybeans, genetically modified for further oil profile improvements -- making the oil stable for baking uses; and adding oleic acid, a healthy monounsaturated fat that boosts good HDL cholesterol.
Fraley was further cited as saying Monsanto will begin marketing these food offerings at the same time it introduces a next generation of beneficial agronomic traits in soybeans, corn, cotton and canola, adding, "We are entering an exponential phase of research and development discovery. l'm excited because this is absolutely an unparalleled pipeline in our history."

See later Posts

Driven by demand for biodiesel, GM Giant Canada exports GM canola to the EU

From Roger Kalla:
EU now can't produce enough oilseed so it needs to import from GM Giant Canada. This puts the use of oilseed as fuel in direct competition with its food use as has been pointed out by George Monbiot in the UK Guardian in November last year.

Reuters: Oil World sees new Canadian rapeoil sales to EU, Tue Nov 8, 2005 8:35 AM EST

HAMBURG (Reuters) - There are concrete signs Canada is selling more canola oil to the European Union to meet continuing high EU demand for biofuel, Hamburg-based oilseeds analysts Oil World said. "We understand that Canada has recently sold three to four cargoes of canola oil to the EU comprising a volume of at least 75,000 tonnes," Oil World said. "The strong oil demand from the EU biodiesel industry already led to a sharp increase in Canadian canola crushings in October." Oil World previously said it believed Europe's rapeseed oil industry was currently unable to meet rising demand from biofuel. It forecasts the EU could import around 200,000 tonnes of rapeoil in 2005/06, up from only 41,000 tonnes in 2004/05 with most supplies coming from Canada.

The driver for imports is the European Union demand for 6% of the transort fuel diesel-oil they use to fuel their cars to be biodiesel by 2010 and 20% by 2020. (The European Union, 8th May 2003. Directive 2003/30/EC: On the Promotion of the Use of Biofuels or Other Renewable Fuels for Transport. Official Journal L 123, 17/05/2003 P. 0042 – 0046).

GMO Pundit: Of course, its not so easy for Australian canola growers to compete in this market with the cost penalties imposed on them by state government bans on technology. I guess there must be reasons why State Premiers in their wisdom understand these markets better than the GMO Pundit and the Canadians.

More on biofuels here and here

Ten years of GM crops in Australia
10-year anniversary of first GM crops Australia Monday, 28 November 2005

Australia’s agricultural industry came together on Friday to mark the tenth anniversary of biotech crops in Australia and around the world. Since the first planting of commercial biotech crops, over one billion acres have been grown globally. Approximately 250,000 hectares of biotech cotton were planted in the 2004-05 season in Australia alone. Since the first plantings 10 seasons ago, the global hectarage of biotech crops has grown at double-digit rates every year.

In 2004, GM crops had expanded to the extent that 8.25 million farmers in 17 countries grew them. Developing countries, in particular, are voting with their feet and planting biotech crops because they offer what they need more of: increased income for the rural poor derived from the higher productivity of food, feed and fibre crops, Friday's meeting was told.

Dr Jim Peacock, former chief of CSIRO Plant Industry, said the success of biotech cotton in Australia had been due to an effective partnership including the CSIRO, CSD, Monsanto, the CRDC, growers through the ACGRA and the regulatory bodies. “ These partnerships embrace the equation of successful agriculture - G, M and E. That stands for the three pillars - genetics, management and the environment.

"The benefits of biotechnology we have seen so far, such as a reduction in insecticide use of over 80pc are huge.

Percy Schmeiser and the seed cleaners

"So, the "honest broker" Mr Freisen tested two batches of seed taken from the same original sample. The sample that came directly from the HFM treatment facility scored 95-98% Roundup resistant, and the sample that had passed through Mr Schmeiser's hands scored 63-65% Roundup resistant.

How can this be? The test is reasonably reliable and accurate. There is no way such a divergent result could occur without dishonesty. Obviously, Monsanto could not have adulterated the batch going directly from HFM to Mr Freisen."

[Email to GMO Pundit]
...The following comes from an e-mail to Dr. Ellen Censky, Director, Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History (SNOMNH). As you will recall, about two weeks ago, I had conversations with her about the fact that the SNOMNH was showing the film, "The Future of Food." I sent her excerpts from the Schmeiser Federal Court Trial of Canada (Judge McKay's) opinion. I also sent her the below analysis of several paragraphs of that opinion.
I thank Alan McHughen who independently highlighted the same evidence to me in an e-mail. Alan understood the evidence more clearly than I did.

Drew L. Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law

Nov. 16, 2005

Dr. Censky:

The resolution we discussed last evening and you and Mr. Cawley discussed this morning is acceptable to me. I did not make clear when I sent the earlier e-mail to you this morning with information on the Schmeiser case that I was expecting only the key paragraphs to be photocopied and distributed. I do not expect the opinions to be photocopied and distributed because that is overload.

I have read these opinions several times but until this morning I had not noticed something really interesting and telling about the evidence from Mr. Schmeiser himself. The testimony showed he had taken the seed to the Humbollt Flour Mill (HFM) for cleaning. HFM is a commercial seed treatment facility owned by Saskatchewan Wheat Pool.

Farmers take their seed for cleaning and treatment prior to planting. HFM treats the seed which the farmer then collects and sows. Unbeknownst to Mr Schmeiser at the time, HFM took a sample of his batch of canola seed (HFM does this routinely to protect against the occasional unscrupulous farmer who later claims HFM returned poorer quality seed than the farmer initially provided).

During the investigation, this sample of Schmeiser's seed was subsampled by HFM (who had no direct interest in the case) and provided to the litigants and to an independent scientist (Mr. Friesen) at University of Manitoba. The first subsample went to Monsanto, the other two subsamples went, (text following from the official trial decision that I sent to you this morning):

"2) to Mr. Schmeiser in July 1999 which he

a) used in part for a grow-out test in his yard, results of which showed 63 to 65% germinating plants survived spraying with Roundup; and b) forwarded to University of Manitoba for testing by Mr. Freisen who recorded results generally similar to those of Mr. Schmeiser;

3) to Mr. Freisen directly from Saskatchewan Wheat Pool in April 2000 for grow-out test from which a very high portion, 95-98%, of germinating seed survived spraying with Roundup."

Notice Schmeiser split his sample into two: One for his own grow-out test, and the other sent to Mr Freisen for "independent testing". When Mr Schmeiser analyzed his own test, it came back 63-65% Roundup resistant. The second portion, sent by Mr Schmeiser to Mr Freisen, came back with "results generally similar" to Mt Schmeiser's own test. This consistency suggests Mr Schmeiser conducted an honest test, because the independent lab (Freisen) got a similar result.

However, this result was inconsistent with Monsanto results. When Monsanto tested the HFM sample, it came back 95-98% Roundup resistant. Someone is being dishonest, as the seeds all came from the same original batch and there's no honest explanation for the discrepancy.

The answer is provided by HFM's third subsample, which was sent directly from HFM (Saskatchewan Wheat Pool) to the same Mr Freisen at University of Manitoba. Mr Freisen now found 95-98% of the seeds were Roundup resistant.

So, the "honest broker" Mr Freisen tested two batches of seed taken from the same original sample. The sample that came directly from the HFM treatment facility scored 95-98% Roundup resistant, and the sample that had passed through Mr Schmeiser's hands scored 63-65% Roundup resistant.

How can this be? The test is reasonably reliable and accurate. There is no way such a divergent result could occur without dishonesty. Obviously, Monsanto could not have adulterated the batch going directly from HFM to Mr Freisen.

Internal to the opinion is the evidence that Mr. Schmeiser apparently tampered with the evidence on his subsample. Leaving aside that 63 to 65% Roundup Ready canola seed is too high a percentage for any of his "explanations" to be plausible, the fact that the independent
sample was 95 to 98% Roundup Ready, just as Monsanto found in the subsample provided to it by HFM, means that Schemeiser must have tampered with the evidence. I now realize that Judge MacKay assuredly realized this. Judge MacKay concluded that Schmeiser was tampering
because he was lying. I am the one who had never understood this evidence (internal to the opinion) until this morning.

What is so sad is that your audience has no way - no information, no adequate contextual sophistication - to catch on to this big lie when Schmeiser looks directly into the camera of The Future of Food and tells his fib (his story). I have read this opinion and thought about this
opinion for four years and I did not see the meaning of the evidence until this morning.

I will be happy to be a part of a forum on agricultural biotechnology next year. I am working on several major articles that are well worth while presenting at such forum. One article is almost finished. When it is accepted for publication, I will send it to you. I will also be happy to be part of the forum while speaking directly about the Schmeiser case and the sophisticated lie perpetrated by him and the filmmakers. It is a story that deserves to be told.

I express again my appreciation to you for allowing me to speak to you yesterday.

Best regards,



More explanation of 98% Agbioview Newsletter Feb 16 2006

Monsanto v. Schmeiser

- Drew L Kershen - Earl Sneed Centennail Professor of Law, University of Oklahom College of Law

As reported in AgBioView (Feb. 14, 2006 edition), Percy Schmeiser has released a video about Monsanto suing him for patent infringement. Schmeiser, of course, claims to be telling the truth.

In response, AgBioView printed Rick Roush's analysis of Schmeiser's claims. Rick does an excellent review of the inaccuracies in Schmeiser's claims. Congratulations to Rick.

I would like to add one additional point about Monsanto v. Schmeiser. I do not know whether Schmeiser's video attacks the tests and samples showing 95-98% Round-up Ready canola on his 1000+ acres. Schmeiser has done so in speeches. Many of his supporters have similarly claimed that the tests and the samples were bogus.

However, Alan McHughen and I, both independently but almost simultaneously, clearly saw several months ago that the opinion by the Canadian trail court answers the claim by Schmeiser that the tests and samples were bogus. As I do not have access to the opinion from where I am typing this e-mail, I cannot cite the precise paragraphs of the Federal Court Trial opinion. But if anyone wants to find those paragraphs, simply search the document for the words "test" or "sample" and you will quickly and easily find the paragraphs to which I am referred.

In the opinion, the uncontradicted testimony went as follows:

1. Schmeiser took his "saved seed" (the specially selected seed that Rick highlights) to have it cleaned by the Humbolt Company.

2. Unbeknownst to Schmeiser, Humbolt Co. saved a sample of Schmeiser's seed. [The opinion does not say why Humbolt Co saved a sample but those familiar with clearning seed know that companies save seed to protect themselves if a farmer later complains that the Company kept his good seed and returned poor quality seed.]

3. At trial, the litigants learned of the Humbolt saved seed and both sides demanded that it be tested because neither side trusted the other's sides sampling or testing.

4. The court order Humbolt to divide its sample into three portions -- one portion sent directly to Schmeiser for his testing; one portion sent directly to an independent court appointed expert; one portion sent directly to Monsanto Canada for its testing.

a. Schmeiser divided his portion into two portions -- one for his own testing; the second Schmeiser portion, Schmeiser sent to the same independent court appointed expert.

5. Results of the tests:

a. Schmeiser's test showed 60-65% RR canola on the portion he kept for his own testing that Humbolt had sent directly to him.

b. Monsanto Canada's test showed 95-98% RR canola on the portion sent directly to it.

c. The independent court appointed expert found the following:

i) On the portion Humbolt sent to him directly, 95-98% RR canola. The same result as that obtained by Monsanto Canada.

ii) On the portion received from Schmeiser, 60-65 RR canola. The same result as Schmeiser got on his test.


End of testimony.

Monday, November 28, 2005
Bad diets worry the guts even with rats

Over at The Full Monty I've put some the highly disputed data of Pusztai from which claims that GM foods may do harm have arisen. The bottom line is simple:

To quote the Lancet:

Ewen and Pusztai say that the significant differences between diet groups invariables such as mucosal thickness or crypt length are evidence of the biological effects of the GM foods.

Such a claim is easy to make but difficult to prove, because no consistent patterns of changes were observed in the study.

For those who want The Full Monty go there for Rats fed bad diets have lots of changes in their gut.

GMO Pundit has stared at the data for two days. They don't demonstrate anything.

Allegations of corporate legal threats to innocent farmers in the US, Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers: Commentary on The Center for Food Safety Report

- Drew L. Kershen, ISB News Report , April 2005

In January 2005, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) released a report - MONSANTO vs. U.S. FARMERS - described as "an extensive review of Monsanto's use and abuse of U.S. patent law to control the usage of staple crop seeds by U.S. farmers." As stated in the CFS's press release accompanying the report, "These law suits and settlements are nothing less than corporate extortion of American farmers. ...suing innocent farmers. We [the CFS] are committed to stopping the corporate persecution of our farmers in its tracks."

The report consists of five chapters covering fifty-six pages, four pages of endnotes, and an Appendix of seventeen pages in which CFS describes 98 lawsuits against 90 farmer-defendants. These ninety-eight lawsuits serve as the primary, but not sole, data upon which CFS bases its claim of persecution of U.S. farmers.

If one looks at CFS's own data on the ninety-eight lawsuits in the Appendix, the following results are tabulated. Against the ninety defendants, Monsanto has won seventy-three times. Farmer-Defendants and Monsanto have unresolved lawsuits in fifteen cases in January 2005-so there is, as yet, no winner in these fifteen cases. CFS's data was unable to determine the outcome of two cases, leaving it unclear whether Monsanto or the farmer-defendant triumphed in the litigation.

When Monsanto wins 73 of 73 cases (of known outcomes), with a number of legal wins coming in front of a jury, it is difficult to agree with CFS that Monsanto is persecuting farmers. Putting aside CFS's ideological dislike of Monsanto, a dispassionate reader of CFS's own data would more likely conclude that Monsanto must be pursuing cases only when convinced that it can prove and win the lawsuit. When Monsanto wins 73 of 73 cases, the more accurate description would appear to be that judges and juries concluded that Monsanto was protecting its legal rights against defendants who had factually infringed those legal rights.

CFS also claims that Monsanto is "suing innocent farmers." Monsanto's 73 wins in 73 cases seems difficult to reconcile with CFS's claim of "suing innocent farmers." Moreover, in the judicial opinions that courts have published about these 98 lawsuits, all the farmers, except one, have admitted that they intentionally acquired Monsanto patented seed without signing a license agreement or that they purposefully saved Monsanto patented seed in violation of the signed technology use agreement prohibiting the saving of seed for replanting in the following year. By deciding for Monsanto, judges and juries have obviously indicated difficulty in applying the label "innocent" to these farmer-defendants.

When one looks at CFS's data, it becomes clear that what CFS finds unacceptable is that the statutory law, the judges, and the juries favor Monsanto. In other words, while CFS vents its rhetorical wrath on Monsanto, CFS actually is complaining about the law and its effective enforcement. CFS's complaint becomes clear when one reads the report's Chapter 5 "Policy Options: Preventing the Prosecution of America's Farmers."

- Amend the Patent Act (PA) and the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA) to exclude plants from the subject matter that can be protected by intellectual property rights; - If the PA and the PVPA are not amended to exclude plants, make the PVPA the exclusive statutory means for protecting plants as intellectual property because the PVPA has an exception for farmers saving seeds for replanting on their own lands;

- Amend the PA to add a farmers' saved-seed exception and /or to exempt inadvertent possession from being an infringing act; - Legislate liability laws to put liability on seed companies (Monsanto); - Adopt existing state models for controlling the intrusive and aggressive patent infringement investigations of farmers; - Pass legislation that negates the forum selection clause in technology use agreements;

- Pass statutes or ordinances banning the growing of transgenic crops.

Of these seven policy options, bullet points 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 are calls for amendments or new laws that prevent or reduce enforcement of intellectual property rights. Bullet points 4 and 7 have nothing to do with the report's study of the "use and abuse" of US patent laws but are direct attacks on agricultural biotechnology. Indeed, the CFS report was released in January 2005 just as legislators in Vermont, Montana, North Dakota, and Hawaii introduced CFS-drafted legislation about liability that embodied the CFS policy option bullet point 4.

After reading the CFS report, the author is reminded of Sinclair Lewis' lament about the public reaction to his novel, The Jungle, "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach." The CFS report claims to aim at farmers' innocent hearts and persecuted souls but actually hits guilty farmers' in their back (wallet) pockets. Other farmers, who by the hundreds of thousands have used transgenic seeds without conflict with Monsanto, may not be impressed with CFS's aim.

Drew L. Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law

Details of the Schmeisser Case
More Schmeiser

Meanwhile, over at Australia's trade competition....Brazil . Agnet Nov. 27/05 New law encourages Monsanto to invest in transgenics
November 25, 2005 Gazeta Mercantil

SAO PAULO - Monsanto do Brasil, owner of the technology for Roundup transgenic soybeans, will, according to this story, increase its investment budget 30% during the current crop and plans to invest US$12.3 million in the period 2005/06.
The investment decision was taken before the regulation of the Bio Security Law, which was published yesterday in the official government gazette, the "Dirio Oficial da Uniäo." Ricardo Miranda, company technology development director, who already has begun conducting experiments with new varieties of genetically altered. corn, soybeans and cotton, was quoted as saying, "We are going to accelerate the requests for approval of new varieties of transgenics. 1 hope that the decree speeds the release of new transgenic varieties so that we can begin the field tests as quickly as possible." The story adds that the research investment refers not only to transgenic varieties but also to conventional ones.

GM crop coexistence developments in the EU by Roger Kalla

Roger Kalla is a valued partner in this website.

Specially for us all at GMO Pundit weblog Roger has completed a briefing paper on GM crop coexistence and GM commodity markets in the EU. As there is a lot we Australians can learn from the European experience, GMO Pundit is especially thankful for his contribution.

Roger's paper is archived at The Full Monty and starts with this Preamble:

EU lifted its ‘de facto’ moratorium on the authorisation of genetically modified (GM) crops for importation and cultivation in 2004 at the same time as Australian State Governments introduced moratoria on the cultivation and marketing of genetically modified (GM) canola. In the following I have compared different European national regulatory regimes aiming at achieving crop coexistence. They follow on from the adopted EU wide labelling standard for GM crops and foods. The alternative legislatory approaches taken by individual European member states to achieve coexistence, and the analysis of the underlying political aims of these enacted or drafted regulations, will serve to enlighten the Australian political debate on what important EU markets accept as thresholds for accidental presence of authorized GM crops in non-GM crops. Moreover they address the important issue of who should be held liable for any economic damage resulting from the accidental presence of authorized GM crops in conventionally grown crops.

The sad Zambia saga continues

AgBioView from : November 27, 2005
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotech Awareness and Education,

It makes a very sad reading that the Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa had to declare a national food disaster, appealing for immediate donor help to feed over 1.7 million people left hungry, by crop failures due to drought in 2005 (Reuters, November 22, 2005). The President seems to have acted very reluctantly, putting the onus on the Zambian Parliament, as he told the journalists that 'Now parliament is the highest law making body in the land and in view of this resolve, I hereby declare the current food shortages a disaster in Zambia and I appeal for donor assistance.'

In July 2002, the Zambian government made international headlines when they ordered the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to take back over 35,000 tones of food aid, even while three million Zambians faced hunger caused by a severe drought, as the package contained 'potentially unsafe GM maize' (Panos). The stand of the Zambian government received a standing ovation from the anti-GE groups the world over and this 'bold decision' was endlessly praised making the Zambian government the hero (see, May 17, 2005, and November 10, 2005, for the latest).

In the GM debate in Zambia, a prominent issue seems to be the fear of dominance of multinational corporations in the field of agriculture, through GE crops and reprisals by MNCs on even accidental contract violations. Pelum Association, Zambia, stated that 'Commercial GM seeds are developed and commercialized almost exclusively by multinational enterprises. The first interest of corporations is to create profit for their shareholders, not to feed hungry people or to worry about poor farmers and consumers who don't have the money to buy patented GM products.' This is not a scientific concern and the government can make suitable laws to protect the poor farmers and the consumers from the MNCs.

Panos identified three broadly categorized powerful anti-GE lobbies in Zambia that pressurize the government into an anti-GE stand:
a) The agricultural exporters, such as the Tobacco Association of Zambia, the Zambia Export Growers Association and the Zambia Coffee Growers' Association, who are mainly concerned about the potential loss of the European market if their farms were contaminated by GE crops. The recent approval of several GE crops by the EU should reasonably allay these fears. Then Zambia's main exports to Europe are only cotton and tobacco. For some time, food exports have been out of the question and will be so for a long time to come. No responsible government can permit food exports when millions of its own people are starving to death.

b) The Organic Producers and Processors Association of Zambia, which was worried about the effects of GE crops on sustainable agriculture. This group blissfully ignores a very large number of articles, which reiterated that the co-existence of conventional, organic and GE crops is a fairly reasonable possibility.

c) The small-scale farmers, who constitute over three-quarters of all Zambian farmers. They are afraid that GE crops could contaminate seeds grown by them, as the so-called 'informal seed sub-sector' supplies 80 per cent of all planting seeds in Zambia. This fear is in ignorance of all research on gene flow issues related to the currently commercialized GE crops.

Unfortunately, as in most developing countries, the media remained largely a passive recipient of information. As the journalists had very little knowledge of the issue, they could be easily manipulated in either direction, but at this particular point of time, the government's view prevailed. There does not seem to be any debate on biosecurity of GE crops. Any pro-GE viewpoint quickly gets branded as standing up to the US, as observed by Anthony Mwikita, a radio presenter (Panos).

The Zambian government went a stage ahead in its anti-GE policy by building a modern molecular biology lab to detect GE component in food entering Zambia. The project that began at the National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research, received a donation of US$ 330,000, from the Norwegian government (SciDev.Net, May 13, 2005) and is expected to be operational soon,

What WFP had to offer contained a portion of GE maize and this was construed as an attempt to get rid off an allegedly dangerous US produce, which the US citizens themselves have been consuming for a long time with no reported adverse effects.

The question now is not whether Zambian government is justified in having an anti-GE policy, which is an entirely different issue from accepting GE mixed food aid in a food disaster situation. The current crisis in Zambia justifies making at least a one-time exception to the policy to accept whatever aid is forthcoming.

One of the major concerns is that the seed from the GE component of food aid would escape and produce GE plants causing the so-called contamination of the native seed sources. Ground seed cannot cause such a contamination; the Zambian government can arrange to supply ground seed, eliminating the chance of seed escape.

Poor people who are starving to death need food from whatever sources and not exercises in counting the teeth of the gift horse.The Zambian government should not stand on a misconceived notion of prestige at this moment of crisis.

Even if the Zambian government relents on GE food imports, the issue is not that simple, as WFP now requires an additional US$ 35 million to purchase food for 800,000 people (Reuters, November 22, 2005).

See also earlier GMO Pundit posts on Zambia, Charles Benbrook

Existing herbicide tolerant canola varieties in Australia arn't perfect.

Robert Norton has reviewed conventional canola and herbide practices in 2003. Some limitations to these existing options mentioned in Robert's comments have been highlighted by GMO Pundit. The point of highlighting conventional variety limitations is to show that alternative herbicide tolerant GM canola varieties, such as glyphosate tolerant canola, offer croppers some additional options for improving their financial bottom line.

Herbicide Traits in Conventional Canola (pages 4-5, Norton 2003)
Perhaps the major weakness in conventional canola production systems is the limited opportunity for broadleaf weed control. Prior to 1993, there were no postemergence herbicides for the control of weeds such as wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum), muskweed (Myagrum perfoliatum) and charlock (Sinapis arvensis) in canola crops (Sutherland 1999). There are several group
A herbicides registered for grass weed control, and a group I herbicide (clopryralid) for control of various Asteraceous weeds. In addition, robust weed control has been routinely provided to canola and other crops by the pre-emergence use of the group D herbicide, trifluralin.
Despite these control options, the pressure of particular weeds and need for lower costs have led to the inclusion of various herbicide tolerance traits into canola and varieties with these traits have been widely adopted in Australia (Preston 2003). Conventional canola varieties are susceptible to particular triazine (group C), sulfonyl urea and imidazolinone (group B) and most other broadleaf herbicides used in grain production. The presence of residues of herbicides is now a major factor determining the position of crops within a rotation. For example, the plant-backs from the prior crop can vary from nine months (simazine) to 34 months (imazethapyr), which restricts crop selection following the use of these herbicides. As well, there is widespread weed resistance to group A and group B herbicides through grain producing areas (Heap 2002).
Appendix 1 describes commonly used canola herbicides and their resistances management groups.

TT Canola
Triazine-tolerant (TT) canola varieties were the first herbicide tolerant (HT) crops in Australia with the release of the cultivar Siren in 1993 (Colton and Potter 1999). Triazine herbicides are widely used in pulse crops and for winter cleaning of pastures prior to the cropping phase
(Gill and Holmes 1997). The adoption of the TT canola variety Karoo contributed to much of the production increase in Western Australia, where area sown went from 95,000 hectares to 950,000 hectares between 1996 and 1999. By 1999, Karoo comprised about 90% of the area
sown in Western Australia (Carmody et al. 2001). TT cultivars make up less than one per cent of the area grown in North America but about 55% of the area sown in Australia (Figure 4).
TT canola cultivars are able to tolerate high dose rates of triazine (group C) type herbicides. This tolerance is inherited in the cell cytoplasm, which means the genes for resistance are not carried in pollen, but remain in the maternal parent. TT varieties suffer from an inefficient photosynthetic system, which leads to lower vigour, reduced growth, yield and seed oil content (Arntzen et al. 1982). Robertson et al. (2002) used a simulation modelling approach which
identified a 26% lower seed yield for TT canola compared to conventional canola types in weed free situations. Despite this penalty, TT cultivars have enabled growers to use robust in-crop herbicides to control weeds that were intractable in conventional varieties. This technology has been reliable and relatively cheap, which has contributed to its widespread adoption in Australia.
IT Canola
In 2000, canola varieties (Clearfield®) with tolerance to imidiazolinone (group B) herbicides were released in Australia. This trait was induced by using mutagenisis, a traditional plant breeding technique and the varieties do not carry the inherent yield penalty of TT canola. The herbicide used with IT canola (On-Duty®, imazapic/imazapyr) has good activity on a wide spectrum of weeds although it does have residual action which mayrestrict crop selection. For example, while peas, beans and chickpeas can beplanted in the year after IT canola, conventional canolacannot be sown for 34 months after using On-Duty®.In Canada, IT canola varieties comprise about 17% of the area sown (Buzza 2001), whereas, it is less than five per cent in Australia. Resistance to group B herbicides has been identified in 15 Australian weed species, including populations of wild radish and annual ryegrass (Lolium rigidum) (Heap 2002). This pre-existing resistance would be likely to restrict the widespread use of IT canola in Australia. Carmody and Hashem (2001) found that the best IT lines produced higher gross margins than the best TT lines in Western Australia, although they recognised that appropriate herbicide rotation was integral to ensuring the technology remained useful to growers.

Useful discussions of the general topic can be found in Herbicide-resistant Crops and Pastures, Ed G. D. McClean and G. Evans, Bureau of Resource Sciences, Canberra, 1995.

Advice to Zambia from Charles Benbrook

The Zambian food-aid issue has been discussed widely, for example here and here. Blockages to food aid to Africa remain an ongoing concern:

Zambian maize imports slowed by prices
November 2, 2005 Reuters, Shapi Shacinda

LUSAKA— Traders were cited as saying on Wednesday that Zambia's bid to import 234,000 tons of white maize has been slowed by escalating prices and concerns over gene-altered supplies.

Millers Association of Zambia chairman Caleb Mulenga was cited as telling Reuters in an interview that imports were arriving at a slow pace because most South Africa suppliers offered genetically modified maize, which Zambia banned in 2003, adding, "We have given our suppliers a deadline to bring in the maize by December 31, but it looks unlikely this will be met because there are few stores with non-GMO maize." Industry officials were cited as saying the delays have spawned a parallel black market in which traders making unauthorized imports from Tanzania flourished.

A fuller discussion of the current Zambian situation is here.

Dr Charles Benbrook is currently to tour in Australia giving advice to Australian farmers. His tour is promoted by Genethics, Greenpeace and Network of Concerned Farmers. One area where his advice has been controversial is on non-acceptance ofUS food aid in time of famine by Zambia government.

Below is a copy of Charles Benbrook's reported advice to Zambian delegates to the US who were involved in considering that issue. Subsequent decisions by the Zambian government have not solved food-security problems in that country.

Comments to the Zambian Delegates

- Dr. Charles Benbrook, Northwest Science and Environmental Policy
Center, Sept. 13, 2002

Dear Distinguished Delegates from Zambia:

I am looking forward very much to a chance to visit with you via the phone on Friday afternoon. I apologize for not being able to get to Washington, D.C. to meet in person. I would have liked to do that very much, but it is a long way from North Idaho to the East Coast.

I am hopeful that your fact finding mission will convince you of a few key points, which should inform and guide your actions in the future as you deal with your country's unfolding food security challenges. First, there is no shortage of non-GMO foods which could be offered to Zambia by public and private donors. To a large extent, this "crisis" has been manufactured (might I say, "engineered") by
those looking for a new source of traction in the evolving global debate over agricultural biotechnology.

To use the needs of Zambians to score "political points" on behalf of biotechnology strikes many as unethical and indeed shameless. Second, if and when GMO corn is planted in Zambia, some degree of gene flow will occur to native varieties. There is universal agreement on this point now in the global scientific community. The more GMO corn planted, the more diverse its geographic spread, the faster and more
complete the movement of transgenes will be into Zambian land races, i.e., your native corn varieties. Biotech advocates will argue that this is a good thing -- that Zambia is getting the benefit of "advanced" traits without having to pay for them. You should reject this silly notion.

The movement of biotech traits into your varieties will almost certainly not be of practical benefit, since levels of expression and the consistency of expression will be inadequate to provide farmers with a meaningful level of insect control. Indeed, it is more likely that gene flow will create some unexpected, and under certain circumstances damaging, physiological growth problems, or perhaps impairment of natural plant defense mechanisms.

Third, the flow of genes into Zambian corn varieties will almost certainly be detectable. Once it becomes known that GMO corn is growing in Zambia, European and Japanese buyers will insist upon a system to certify that Zambian corn was not produced from GMO seeds. Putting such a system in place, while possible, will prove costly, and indeed even the United States has not been able to do so, except for the organic market sector.

Fourth, when the companies advanced Bt corn through the regulatory process in the U.S. and Europe in the early 1990s, it was known and understood that 98% plus of the corn would be processed or fed to animals. If regulatory authorities had felt that a sizable portion of the populations of people consuming this corn would eat it directly (largely unprocessed) and that moreover, the corn might make up as much as half or two-thirds of daily caloric intake, they would NEVER have approved it based on the human safety data presented at the time.

Anyone who claims that U.S. and European regulatory reviews "prove" safety in the context of food aid to Africa is either ignorant of the factual basis of U.S. and European regulatory reviews, or is willing to make some rather major assumptions. In the final analysis, Bt corn might prove to be just as safe to humans when eaten directly and making up a large percent of the diet, but today, no one can point to
a solid set of scientific studies that support this conclusion. Put simply, these questions have not arisen before and have not been the subject of any research, to the best of my knowledge. Perhaps other experts or the U.S. State Department will be able to provide you with such studies.

Fifth, people in Africa who are suffering acute or chronic malnutrition may react to consumption of Bt corn, especially when minimally cooked and processed and present as a major share of their diet, in different ways than the average American or European has reacted to it, given how it has been incorporated in the food supply
in North America and Europe. It is known that Bt corn may have adverse impacts on the stomach lining and that some potential food safety/allergenicity impacts are a function of gut bacteria and the overall health status of the GI tract. It is unlikely that any company or institution has carried out any research to determine
whether these differences could translate into risks in Africa among the very hungry, risks that are both qualitatively and quantitatively distinct from those that might be expected in North America and Europe.

And sixth, the agronomic benefits of today's Bt corn varieties in the United States have been marginal, given that the target pest, the European corn borer (ECB) is an episodic pest in most corn growing regions and does not do much damage in most years. My research has shown that the premium price paid by farmers since 1996 for Bt corn seed varieties has been a poor investment averaged out across the
whole nation. Where ECB levels have been high and consistent, Bt corn has clearly paid for itself. But on about two-thirds of planted acres each year, it clearly reduces per acre profits. The information and technology exists in the U.S. to target Bt corn to high-risk acres, but this approach is not compatible with biotechnology and seed
company marketing and financial plans/objectives, and for this reason, this approach is the "road not taken."

As Zambia looks to the tools of biotechnology to improve the productivity of your farming sector, it will be important for Zambians to define the needs and the ways that this technology can be used in order for Zambia to be, and remain the beneficiary of progress made.

I am sure your hosts in Washington will provide you copies of various reports that substantiate the above points. You will also find much information on our website, Ag BioTech InfoNet,

Thank you for the chance to share these views.

- Dr. Charles Benbrook

See also:
In 2005, Pragmatism by Zambian government.

Sunday, November 27, 2005
Where hybrids and hybrid vigour came from and what this means for the bottom line.

GMO Pundit’s Bottom line: Hybrid vigour, which overcomes “inbreeding depression”, and which is a way to increase genetic diversity and stress resilience in a crop, is an important breeding concept. It is especially relevant to canola in Australia. Theoretical and experimental understanding of hybrid vigour in several crops is an extremely sound reason to be confident that GM canola hybrids are more profitable than conventional varieties. This theoretical expectation is confirmed by practical farm level demonstrations of better yields and financial returns from GM canola hybrids in Canada,

There are many silly untrue assumptions floating around the community about commercial seed hybrid varieties - eg that commercial seeds are sterile or do go grow without fertilizer, that it is worth going back to explain what hybrids are. the story starts with maize (Indian corn) in America. A really good source on this is Plants, Genes and Crop Biotechnology, 2nd Ed. MJ Chrispeels and DE Sadova 2003, who have this to say in Chapter 14:

In 1908 the U.S. plant breeder G. H. Shull reported the results of crossing maize plants from two different inbred lines. The cross between two highly homozygous lines produced heterozygous offspring, because the lines were homozygous for different sets of genes. The result was astonishing. The two inbred lines had each produced about 20 bushels of maize per acre in the last crop. Their outbred offspring quadrupled this yield, to 80 bushels per acre! This unanticipated strength in the heterozygous outcross was called hybrid vigor; and such hybrids have played an important role in increasing maize yield.

A major problem with applying Shull's experiment on a massive scale was that the hybrid had to be recreated each year. In contrast to pure lines, the farmer could not use the seeds harvested from the hybrid plants for next year's planting. The reason for this follows the principles of genetics. Suppose the gene combination AaBb is a desirable combination for a hybrid. This can be achieved by crossing two inbred lines: AAbb and aaBB. In such a cross, all the progeny are AaBb. However, crossing AaBb plants among themselves gives only one quarter of the resulting plants as AaBb. Many of the progeny plants have some recessive homozygosity, with its resulting yield depression. This heterogeneity is bad news for the farmer, but good news for the company that supplies seeds to the farmer each year.

After its introduction in the 1920s, hybrid maize spread rapidly: By the 1940s, virtually all maize plants grown in the United States were Fl hybrids. Yields increased fourfold between 1920 and 1990, with most of that increase occurring after 1940, when the spread of the hybrids had already been completed. Some analysts have argued that up to 75% of the increase in maize productivity can be ascribed to introducing hybrid maize, and that the remainder can be accounted for by other technologies (fertilizers, pesticides, and mechanization). It is more accurate to say that after hybrids were introduced, all breeding efforts focused on producing hybrids compatible with the new technologies that became available after 1940. For example, after agronomists realized that maize responds to nitrogen fertilizers with increased growth and crop production: hybrids were bred specifically to respond to high levels of nitrogen fertilizers. Very likely plant breeders could also have selected open-pollinated strains of maize that respond to fertilizers. However, there was no financial incentive to do so.

Starting in the 1950s, maize breeding shifted gradually from public institutions to private companies, and the fact that farmers cannot replant the maize they harvest from their Fl hybrids, because it is genetically heterogeneous, provided the financial incentive for those companies to breed hybrids. Because farmers can plant the seeds they harvest from open-pollinated varieties, there was no financial incentive to improve those varieties. Wheat, which is sold to farmers as pure lines, can be replanted after harvest, so wheat improvement has remained the responsibility of public institutions.

In my view: the single best professional science article this topic is:
Donald N. Duvick Nature Reviews Genetics 2, 69-74 (2001)

It worth knowing that a simple Google images search pulls out wonderful illustrations from this paper. Duvick starts out with the following interesting comments about the origins of seed breeding by hybrid formation:

Hybrid maize was one of the first examples of genetic theory successfully applied to food production. When first introduced, it seemed almost miraculous; sturdy hybrids convinced sceptical farmers that 'the professors' and their arcane science could do them some good. Strangely, the genetic basis of heterosis (hybrid vigour) was and still is unknown. But to this day, newer hybrids continue to outyield their predecessors; they do so because they are tougher and healthier.

Hybrid maize (Zea mays) is not new, but the biological and sociological bases on which it was built are now considered as new — and disturbing — by some segments of the public.

When hybrid maize was invented and presented to US farmers in the first decades of the twentieth century, it was based on two new operations, one biological and the other socio-economic. First, strange manipulations (forced inbreeding and controlled hybridization) produced biological products that had never before existed in nature. Second, farmers gave up their time-honoured practice of saving their own varieties of seed in favour of annual purchases of hybrid maize seed.

These two actions are deplored today by some elements of society as the undesired and potentially dangerous consequences of the application of biotechnology (especially, of genetic transformation) to plant breeding1, 2. (The term 'biotechnology' has many definitions, but is used here to refer to the branch of molecular biology that uses recombinant DNA technology to study, categorize and manipulate genetic materials. Genetic transformation, also called genetic engineering, is one kind of biotechnology.)

Why were similar concerns not expressed 70 years ago when maize hybrids were bred and released rapidly and on a large scale in the heart of the United States 'Corn Belt'? I will consider these questions in the light of the following account of the origins and development of hybrid maize.

An appreciation of this history is needed to understand several recent developments. Hybrid vigour can be fully exploited when plants are cross pollinators rather than self-pollinators. Thus exploitation of hybrid vigour is not possible with self-pollinating wheat and barley, but is possible with maize, sunflower and sorghum.

Although the commercial breeding of hybrid maize has focussed on yield improvements, there are interesting complexities in the actual traits that allow this achievement. Modern hybrids are highly stress tolerant plants, and they can be seeded at high plant desities per acre. Scientific publications of Duvick and Cassman (1999) and Tollenaar et al. (1994) show that modern maize hybrids have increased stress tolerance rather than high yield potential.

Duvick DN and Cassman KG (1999) Post-green revolution trends in yield potential of temperate maize in the North-Central United States. Crop Science 39, 1622-1630

Tollenaar M. McCullough DE and Dwyer LM (1994). Physiological basis of the genetic improvement of corn. In ‘Genetic improvement of field crops’. (Ed. GA Slafer). pp. 183-236. (Marcel Dekker New York)

The Contribution of Breeding to Yield Advances in Maize (Zea mays L.), (D. Duvick) ADVANCES IN AGRONOMY, 86 (2005)

Because of the spectacular potential of hybrid vigour demonstrated with maize, plant breeders have tried to develop artificial methods to allow practical cross-breeding with other crops. The Chinese have developed non-GM artificial methods that generate rice hybrids, and Bayer market GM canola hybrids.

In addition to the practical farm level demonstration of better yield from GM canola hybrids in Canada, the theoretical and experimental demonstration of hybrid vigour in several crops is a sound reason to believe that GM canola hybrids are more profitable.


In the period 2004-2006 dramatic new discoveries were made about the basis of hybrid vigour (vigor) in corn.

These discoveries extended and reinforced the concept that in maize, the existence of hybrid vigour (heterosis) is inextricably connected with high inter-species genetic diversity, and to the presence of significant differences between the different versions of homologous chromosomes that are naturally in the breeding population. The old idea that the order of gene sequences in different chromosome variants (technical term-haplotypes) within modern maize would be virtually constant is wrong. Chromosomes are genetically fluid.

Several laboratories have found DNA regions rich in gene sequences that are present in some maize inbred lines but absent at homologous sites in other lines. This variation, termed ‘‘intraspecific violation of genetic colinearity’’ or ‘‘plus or minus genetic polymorphism’’ was shown by Lai et al. 2005 in a recent issue of the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA to be largely caused by a newly described DNA parasite family called Helitron.

Maize, the familiar Indian Corn with a Mexican centre of origin, is not the only plant in which high interspecies genetic diversity due to "plus or minus genetic polymorphism" occurs. Barley is another example. The agents that create much of this diversity, parasites such as Helitron and Pack-MULE, are in fact widespread in nature.

See (links):
Natural Genetic Engineering is commonplace in conventional food crops and important for their vigour.
Important science update Hybrid vigour mechanisms: any which way it can.
Donald Duvick on why commercial corn is not wimpy.
Hybrids in Australia
US Maize links
Maize Genetics Database
US Maize Related Companies
Exseed Genetics
Garst Seed Co.
NK Seeds
Pacific Seeds
Stewart Seeds

Saturday, November 26, 2005
Misinformation from Choice magazine and the ACA

GMO Pundit has been involved in interesting internet discussions arising from his Online essay arguing the case for a fair deal for GM crops.

The comments on this Online Opinion topic thread are useful because they bring to light many of the misleading factoids and furphies currently circulating about GM crops. They provide good leads to topical issues that deserve future postings at GMO Pundit.

It's fascinating to see one Western Australian anonymous poster to Online Opinion , “nonGMfarmer”, throwing into the discussion many of the red-herrings put out lately by the Network of Concerned farmers, and especially recent ones from NCF and Greenpeace Australia.

But for now, lets go to one link posted by another Online Opinion commenter, Opiniated2, that reveals that Choice magazine, the Australian Consumer Associations magazine, has not checked their facts on basic science relating to antibiotics.

This blunder makes GMO Pundit surmise that on this topic the Australian Consumer Association is too influenced by the PR spin of Greenpeace, who are their close associate which they conveniently link to in their article.

Choice is just adding extra confusion to the antibiotic resistance issues, a subject on which a lot of misinformation is already being circulated. Antibiotic resistance markers in plants are just not a credible medical risk, despite the worries that commonly circulate. A much more important priority should be the massive frequency of natural gene transfer in bacteria promoted by over use of antibiotics in medicine (and for that matter, copper fungicide use in organic farming).

For confirmation of GMO Pundits opinion on this, see for example, (from an Agnet posting):

Genetically engineered plants called no threat to human health
September 30, 2005 MedPage Today Katrina Woznicki

”Any contribution to antibiotic resistance made by genetically modified plants must be overwhelmed by the contribution made by antibiotic prescription in clinical practice,” the authors wrote. Particularly in hospitals where “bacteria are exposed to a multiplicity of antibiotic agents and selection pressure is at its highest.”
The authors concluded that “plants modified genetically have tremendous potential to improve human nutrition.” Although the public health cost of these improvements has been questioned, they added, the evidence shows the risks remain very low.
Primary The Lancet Infectious Diseases Source reference: Gay P. and Gillespie S., “Antibiotic resistance markers in genetically modified plants: a risk to human health,” The Lancet Infectious Diseases; Oct. 2005; vol. 5, p.637-646

Choice has this to say about corn in 2003:


Maximiser corn, developed by Ciba-Geigy (now part of the Swiss-based multinational Novartis), contains three altered genes. The first makes the corn produce the natural biopesticide Bt, which makes it toxic to pests like corn-borer larvae; the second makes it resistant to one of Ciba-Geigy's own herbicides, Basta; and the third makes it resistant to the antibiotic ampicillin

The statement is scientific nonsense, plants are not affected by ampicillin to start with, so that the gene cannot make it resistant, and the gene in fact is also designed not to be active in plants by virtue of having a bacterial control feature. The simple reason plants cannot be affected by ampicillin is that the target of ampicillin is peptidoglycan, and plants don’t have any peptidoglycan.

Choice 2003 magazine’s remarks about Cotton are also misleading and out of date (but only due to the passing of time). Today we would write that insect resistance to"Bt" hasn’t emerged after at least 8 years of use. See also recent late breaking science:

Delayed resistance to transgenic cotton in pink bollworm
Bruce E. Tabashnik *, Timothy J. Dennehy and Yves Carrièr
PNAS October 25, 2005 vol. 102 no. 43 15389-15393
"We monitored pink bollworm resistance to Bt toxin for 8 years with laboratory bioassays of strains derived annually from 10-17 cotton fields statewide. Bioassay results show no net increase from 1997 to 2004 in the mean frequency of pink bollworm resistance to Bt toxin. A synthesis of experimental and modeling results suggests that this delay in resistance can be explained by refuges of cotton without Bt toxin, recessive inheritance of resistance, incomplete resistance, and fitness costs associated with resistance."

A much better and more authoritative briefing document than Choice 2003 is
CAST Commentary of October 2005, Crop Biotechnology and the Future of Food: A Scientific Assessment

Friday, November 25, 2005
Progress on field trials on Golden Rice

First GR field trial harvested

The first Golden Rice field trial was conducted in 2004 in collaboration with Louisiana State University and is currently mentioned on Golden Rice’s main web page.
A second season of trials are underway inLouisiana 2005.

Recent publications on Golden Rice are found here:
Publication highlights are given in links below; especially note bene Adrian Dubock's great talk which was presented at the ICABR conference in Ravello, Italy . For the specially keen, GMO Pundit would gladly burn a copy of the Syngenta DVD, but its easier to view the webcast. The highlight then are:

* Presentation by Prof Ingo Potrykus at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, March 2005 «Golden Rice, vitamin A and blindness — Public responsibility and failure»
* Presentation by Prof Ingo Potrykus at BioVision, Lyon, April 2005 «Is GMO over-regulation costing lives? »
* Presentation by Dr Jorge Mayer at the FDA Science Forum, Washington DC, 27-28 April 2005 «Development and Impact of Golden Rice»
* Presentation by Dr Adrian Dubock at the ICABR Conference in Ravello, Italy, July 2005. «Golden Rice — the Partitioning of Influence» and the corresponding slides to the presentation.
* The Story of Golden Rice Lecture: In 2004, designated by the United Nation as the Year of Rice, the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture asked the two inventors of Golden Rice, Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer, to talk about their discovery and about its future. Syngenta, in the person of Adrian Dubock, was also asked to clarify its role with the Golden Rice program. All three readily agreed, and in October 2004 in honour of World Food Day, together gave a Syngenta lecture in Basel, Switzerland. You can watch the lecture online or order a DVD following this Syngenta Foundation website link.
* Find an extensive compilation of literature on Golden Rice and Pro-vitamin A" by Prof Klaus Ammann (Director of the Botanical Garden of Berne, Switzerland) as a downloadable pdf file.

See later post
How many children have to die?

Unintended Adverse Consequences of the 19 versions of the "Precautionary Principle"

Take home message from Turvey and colleagues' great contibution:

"The African experience provides a very good example of how controversial and misrepresented the Precautionary Principle can be. In this story, the aid workers, those sent to assist in famine relief, could have been forced to accept widespread famine, starvation and death with certainty, in favor of an unproven, undocumented, and undefined future risk. It is unlikely that the architects of the Precautionary Principle had this interpretation in mind."

GMO Pundit's message: A principle originating from German officialdom with at least 19 diverse versions is an ambiguous and unhelpful legal dictum, and is certainly not science. Turvey's approach is the way to go, and worth a read. (I thank Calum for kindly sharing the manuscript with me.)

So read on gentle onlooker, to get insight into a "Law" of Unintended Consequences inextricably linked to a Precautionary "Principle", but in doing so, realise laws and principles need to be treated with considered skepticism if their definitions are vague and their jurisdictions are contested.

And also perhaps see Charles Benbrook entries in other posts as follow up food for though.

The Precautionary Principle and the law of unintended consequences
Calum G. Turvey, Eliza M. Mojduszka
Food Policy 30 (2005) 145–161
available online at

Draft version of Turvey's paper is downloadable from ICABR 2005 Conference webpage

The purpose of this paper is to explore within a political economy framework the application of the Precautionary Principle to food and agricultural policy. The paper reviews the Precautionary Principle in general, but also raises issues associated with unintended consequences varising from it. In addition, the paper provides a general model of political economy that includes both precaution and consequences, discusses issues related to precaution and irreversibility, and illustrates how unintended consequences can affect welfare.

The Precautionary Principle
The Precautionary Principle first emerged in Europe in Swedish and German environmental policies in the1960s and1970s. In the following years, the principle has been enshrined in many international treaties and declarations (e.g., the 1990 Bergen Declaration on Sustainable Development through the 2000 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety). The Treaty on European Union (1992), where the words ‘Precautionary Principle’ appeared in the title of the section on environment, provided the basis for common European environmental law as well as environmental health policies. The Treaty, however, did not define the principle in the environment section or anywhere else in the document. The Precautionary Principle was also stated in the 1992 Rio Declaration following the Rio Conference on the Environment and Development. Principle 15 of the Declaration states that: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by states according to their capability. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.” What this definition of the principle states in two double negatives is that cost-effective prevention of environmental degradation shall not be postponed just because it has not been proven a priori that such preventative measures will work. Löfstedt, Fischhoff, and Fischhoff (2002) report that there exist at least 19 various definitions of the Precautionary Principle used in domestic and international regulatory documents...

We include in our title the ill-defined law of unintended consequences because we believe that the law and the policy issues about the Precautionary Principle are inextricably linked. The ‘law’ in definition is as ubiquitous as the definition of the Precautionary Principle, but it is also the key motivator for activism and policy action. When the EC states that it will apply the principle for the protection of future generations is it referring to unintended consequences that cannot be rejected with certainty given today’s science? When proponents of the Precautionary Principle lobby for policy change on the basis of scientific uncertainty, is their concern about scientific integrity or the unintended consequences that might come about from that uncertainty? The image portrayed by the term ‘Frankenfood’ is as much about the law as it is about the principle, and perhaps more so. But the law is nothing new in economics. In resource and environmental economics the term ‘externalities’ has been used for many years to describe the impacts of an action on the welfare of individuals and society. Where it differs is in the use of the term ‘unintended’.

Later posts
African food insecurity
Pragmatic food decision by Zambia in response to pleas.
How many children have to die?
ITSSD and the "Precautionary principle"
Spelling out Opportunity Benefits

Bureau of Rural Sciences Report on GM Crop future benefits

GM crops - the next generation Thursday, 24 November 2005

Genetically modified (GM) crops that can overcome environmental stresses, resist pests and diseases, deliver greater nutritional benefits or be used to make vaccines, plastics or antibodies are highlighted in a new Bureau of Rural Sciences (BRS) report released yesterday.

“This report focuses on the GM crops that could be commercialised within the next 15 years,” Senator Colbeck said. Significant research is underway, for example, into producing crops that will be better able to tolerate acidic or saline soils, drought and temperature extremes, or resist pests and diseases. There’s also research into higher quality, more nutritious crops, or crops that could be processed more easily or cheaply. They could, for example, include Omega-3 fatty acids — healthy oils we normally get from fish."

It is available on-line:

There is understandable confusion about omega-3 fatty acids.

There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids. Chemists call them
18 : 3n-3 linolenic (ALA)
20 : 5n-3 eicosapentaenoic (EPA)
22 : 6n-3 docosahexaenoic (DHA)

18 , 20, and 22 refer the fat chain length. n-3 means the same as omega-3. The other number refers to polyunsaturation, and the oils are sometimes called PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids).

Fish oils such as herring oil have ALA, DHA, and EPA. Linseed vegetable oil has ALA but is not a direct dietary source of either EPA or DHA. ALA is essential in the diet, but converted only inefficiently to EPA and DHA in the body, hence there are extra nutritional benefits claimed for fish oils. Numerous special health claims have been made for EPA and ALA and it is wrong to think or imply that a vegetable oil such as linseed duplicates fish oil'sl nutritional properties exactly.

Data on oil fatty profiles are given for instance in:
Br J Nutr. 2004 Apr;91(4):551-65. Effects of dietary n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, breed and dietary vitamin E on the fatty acids of lamb muscle, liver and adipose tissue. Demirel G, Wachira AM, Sinclair LA, Wilkinson RG, Wood JD, Enser M.

Phew. No wonder most people hate biochemistry! Nevertheless, the health benefits of DHA are worth some extra googling for those who want to live long healthy lives. My friend Julia look very healthy now she's taking fish oil, even younger too!

SOURCE: Extract from report in the Stock Journal, SA, November 24.

EU's CAP largesse goes to HRH The Queen

From the IHT Article on Common Agricultural Policy:

Peter Mandelson, the EU's top trade negotiator, has proposed substantial cuts in export subsidies and import tariffs as part of a global trade deal. But even if Mandelson's proposal gets past fierce French and other opposition, it would not eliminate the centerpiece of the CAP, which is direct payments to farmers in accordance, mainly, with the amount of land they own.

And so the debate has been intensifying over the past several months. In the spring, after a Freedom of Information Act request produced a compact disc full of previously secret data, the British press gleefully demonstrated that much of the CAP money - hundreds of thousands of pounds a year - goes to agribusinesss and royals, people like Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Westminster. Veerman himself came under scrutiny in the Netherlands not long ago when it was disclosed that he receives 170,000, or $204,000, a year in EU subsidies for farms he owns in the Netherlands and France.

"A lot of Europeans think that the CAP is something that supports small farmers, but most of the money goes to the richest people in the system," said Jack Thurston, a former adviser on agriculture to the British government, now a fellow at the German Marshall Fund.

Agreement on unintended GM presence is possible. Commission authorises Danish state aid to compensate for losses due to presence of GMOs in conventional and organic crops

The European Commission has today authorised Denmark to pay compensation in cases where farmers with conventional or organic production suffer economic losses when genetically modified (GM) material is found in their crops. This is the first case where the Commission has authorised such state aid. The compensation will be granted only if the presence of GM material exceeds 0.9 % and is limited to the price difference between the market price of a crop that has to be labelled as containing GM material and a crop for which no such labelling is required. The compensation is entirely financed by obligatory contributions from farmers who cultivate genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Aussie rice efficient water user-compared to other countries

Rice a viable crop in Aust, despite high water usage concerns By GREGOR HEARD, FARMONLINE - Australia Wednesday, 23 November 2005

The director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) downplayed suggestions about dropping rice in favour of more moisture efficient crops.
Instead, Dr Bob Zeigler, speaking during a visit to Australia, praised the Australian rice industry, based primarily in the irrigation districts of the Riverina, for its efficient water usage.
“Australian growers are among the most competitive in the world, especially in terms of water consumption,” he said. They use a bit over a megalitre per tonne, compared with the world average of 2.5 to 5 megalitres per tonne.”
He also said rice would continue to hold its own in Australia in terms of gross margins per hectare.
“Rice is not an uncompetitive crop in Australia. It is mainly grown on certain types of heavy soils. These heavy soils are a natural fit for rice, as they hold water well. When you try to grow any other crops, however, you can run into problems.”
SOURCE: Extract from full story in The Land, NSW, November 24.

More publicity for "Green biofuel"'s surprise effects. Forests paying the price for biofuels
Fred Pierce in New Scientist
THE drive for "green energy" in the developed world is having the perverse effect of encouraging the destruction of tropical rainforests. From the orang-utan reserves of Borneo to the Brazilian Amazon, virgin forest is being razed to grow palm oil and soybeans to fuel cars and power stations in Europe and North America. And surging prices are likely to accelerate the destruction

The rush to make energy from vegetable oils is being driven in part by European Union laws requiring conventional fuels to be blended with biofuels, and by subsidies equivalent to 20 pence a litre. Last week, the British government announced a target for biofuels to make up 5 per cent of transport fuels by 2010. The aim is to help meet Kyoto protocol targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

Future Pundit discussed this subject (and is indeed a useful technology site to watch for other news too).

Chrispeels comments on the Australian GM Pea Research

Comments on the Australian GM Pea Research
- Maarten J. Chrispeels, University of California San Diego,

The recent Prescott et al paper in JFAC contains a very interesting study on the immunogenicity of amylase inhibitor in its native form (isolated from beans) and expressed as a transgene in peas. First of all, amylase inhibitor is a food protein, but also a "toxic" protein
because it inhibits our digestive amylases. This is one of the reasons you have to cook your beans! (The other toxic bean protein is phytohemagglutinin and it is much more toxic).

This particular amylase inhibitor is found in the common bean (other species have other amylase inhibitors). Even though it is a food protein, it is unlikely ever to be used for genetic engineering of human foods because it inhibits our amylases. What the results show
is that the protein, when synthesized in pea cotyledons has a different immunogenicity than when it is isolated from bean cotyledons (the native form). This is somewhat surprising but may be related to the presence of slightly different carbohydrate chains. Is there some difference in the folding or in the C-terminal processing at the two C-termini?

This amylase inhibitor is a proteolytically processed and glycosylated vacuolar glycoprotein, offering multiple steps at which processing could be different in two species and result in different epitopes. I am sure that TJ agonized over these results and the explanation may be some years in coming.

T.J. Higgins is my long-time collaborator (25 years) and I have full confidence in these studies, which, like many studies, are open to misinterpretation. The results fully support the notion that approval of every GMO should be based on an evaluation of the crop and of the

From today in AgBioView from : November 23, 2005
See also:
Editorial comment in Nature Biotechnology

Improved farmer income is much more than satisfying greed, it's saving and enriching lives

The case for GM food is currently being discussed at Online Opinion.

In the comments GMO Pundit mentions IFPRI studies on the link between agricultural productivity and poverty reduction. Here is the important link.

Further links relating to the topic are:

Better nutritional impact of agriculture.

FAO's GIEWS service publishes "Foodcrops and Shortages" reports. The Agriculture-Nutrition Advantage Project investigated and promoted greater linkages between agriculture and nutrition. The VITAA Partnership gives a paper on"Linking agriculture and nutrition: The human dimension." USAID promotes the Initiative to End Hunger in Africa.

Poverty Reduction Strategies . FAO provides information about country plans to reduce hunger. The World Bank provides PovertyNet for Poverty Reduction Strategies. Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers are provided by the International Monetary Fund. The Institute of Development Studies, UK provides "Poverty Reduction Strategies: A part for the poor?" a 2001 policy briefing titled Eldis is a resource guide titled "Watching the Poverty Reduction Strategies process."

Agricultural research.
The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research is an alliance of countries, international and regional organizations, and private foundations supporting 15 international agricultural centers that has as its mission to contribute to sustainable improvements in the productivity of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries in developing countries in ways that enhance nutrition and well-being, especially for low-income people. IFPRI makes available an October 2003 discussion paper by R. Meinzen-Dick, M. Adato, L. Haddad, and P. Hazell titled "Impacts of agricultural research on poverty: Findings of an integrated economic and social analysis." The World Bank's Agriculture and Rural Development Department provides a resource page on agricultural research.

An Economic overview of benefits of GM technology in developing countries 2006 is discussed in a later Pundit post.

Farming and hunger: Enhanced: Cutting World Hunger in Half
Science 21 January 2005: Vol. 307. no. 5708, pp. 357 - 35
Pedro A. Sanchez and M. S. Swaminathan
There are 854 million people in the world (about 14% of our population) who are chronically or acutely malnourished. Most are in Asia, but sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where hunger prevalence is over 30%, and the absolute numbers of malnourished people are increasing (3). More than 90% are chronically malnourished (4), with a constant or recurrent lack of access to sufficient quality and quantity of food, good health care, and adequate maternal caring practices. Acute hunger (the wasting and starvation resulting from famines, war, and natural disaster) represents 10% of the hungry yet receives most of the media coverage and attention. In addition, hidden hunger from micronutrient deficiencies affects more than 2 billion people worldwide. Chronic and hidden hunger deserve much more global attention and support.

Roughly 50% of the hungry are in smallholder farming households; 20% are the landless rural; 10% are pastoralists, fishers, and forest dwellers; and 20% are the urban hungry. The Task Force has identified hunger hot spots, defined as the subnational units where the prevalence of underweight children (4) less than 5 years of age is at least 20%. The 313 hunger hot spots identified (see the figure below) indicate priority regions, as they cover 79% of the hungry
Agricultural research has been a major driver of hunger reduction. The Task Force recommends doubling investments in national research to at least 2% of agricultural GDP by 2010. It also recommends that donors increase funding to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research to US$1 billion by 2010.

Some recommendations
Increase agricultural productivity of food-insecure farmers. Small-scale farming families represent about half the hungry worldwide and probably three-quarters of the hungry in Africa. Raising the productivity of their crops, livestock, fish, and trees is a major priority.

Improve nutrition for chronically hungry and vulnerable groups. Adequate nutrition lies at the heart of the fight against hunger. As the primary care providers for children and families, women are particularly important in improving nutrition for vulnerable groups. Particular attention should be focused on children under the age of two and on supplemental feeding for pregnant and lactating mothers. The Task Force recommends that, where possible, locally produced foods be used, rather than imported food aid.

For a completely different perspective, see other enrtries on Zambia, Charles Benbrook

Wednesday, November 23, 2005
GMO Rice in Iran

Iran, first to plant GMO rice, hopes to cut imports
November 21, 2005
Reuters via AgNet
Dolly Aglay
MANILA - Behzad Ghareyazie of the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran, was cited as saying that Iran, which says it was the first country to commercialise genetically modified rice in 2004, hopes to cut its imports of about 1 million tonnes each year by developing higher-yielding varieties, and that the area planted to GMO rice was likely to rise in the next several years after high acceptance among farmers and consumers of the initial variety, adding, "In the near future, we will have better varieties and more higher-yielding varieties."
Ghareyazie was further cited as saying Iranian scientists were conducting more research on other higher-yielding varieties.
Iran approved the commercial planting last year of a GMO variety called Tarom molaii, an aromatic rice popular among Iranians but not classified among the higher-yielding varieties.
The Tarom molaii variety yielded an average of 2.2 tonnes per hectare, higher than the 2 tonnes per hectare for a non-GMO counterpart in Iran, Ghareyazie said.
The GMO rice introduced in Iran is resistant to the stem borer pest, the main rice pest in that country which normally infests up to 25 percent of harvest each cropping season.
Greenpeace and other consumer groups are opposing the planting of transgenic crops, specially rice, saying they threaten consumer health and the environment.
Scientists said countries in Asia, like China, India and the Philippines that are pursuing research on other GMO varieties, are closely watching developments of the GMO rice in Iran.

Environmentalists realise land use is an issue. Green Fuels Would Damage Environment, Critics Charge
By Marc Morano Senior Staff Writer November 22, 2005

An alternative fuel source once considered more Earth-friendly than petroleum is now being derided by some environmentalists and farming experts for allegedly hastening the destruction of the world's rainforests..

The British government, hard pressed to meet emission restrictions laid out by the greenhouse gas limiting Kyoto Protocol, is being criticized by the environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOE) for proposing to force oil companies to include bio-fuels in five percent of their gas and diesel fuels by 2010.

FOE is concerned that increased production of bio-fuels will cause the destruction of the world's rainforests.

"It could be genetically modified crops or palm oil from freshly cleared rainforests. There is also a concern that British farmers could flatten the countryside in order to grow bio-fuels," Higman added.

Alistair Darling, the transport secretary in Birmingham England, said the mandate of bio-fuels in Britain would save a million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of eliminating one million cars from the roadways.

A U.S. group, not usually in agreement with the green movement, lauded Higman of Friends of the Earth for recognizing the potentially harmful effects on the environment from bio-fuel mandates.

"I am glad that Friends of the Earth is finally recognizing the environmental threat of expanding bio-fuels. That may be the first time that I have ever heard the greens give bio-fuels the scrutiny it deserves," said Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues. Avery described his group as being "concerned about feeding as many possible people from as little land as possible in order to save more room for nature.

"Good farmland is the scarcest resource on this planet and we are already farming 37 percent of Earth's land area to get today's food supply," Avery told Cybercast News Service.

Avery slammed world governments for attempting to increase mandates for bio-fuel as an alternative to petroleum.

Risk to Australia in saying no to drought tolerance genes

GM crops: Big costs if we don't grow them, says Agrifood expert
By MICHAEL THOMSON - Australia,Tuesday, 22 November 2005

The cost to Australia by not adopting GM crop biotechnology will be too great for too many and will put at risk massive opportunities in the booming Asian economies.
This warning came in a seminar sponsored by Agrifood Awareness Australia in Canberra today.
Chair of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, Dr Clive James, told the forum that both Australian farmers and the world's poor had too much to gain for the technology not to be adopted. "When you say 'No' to biotech canola in Australia, be very careful what you say 'No' to," Dr James warned. "If you look through the annals of history, drought has always been the biggest killer.

"Without drought-tolerance genes, you'll have a very significant disadvantage."

Dr James says there are 850 million people suffering from poverty and malnutrition, of which 520m were on Ausrtalia's doorstep in Asia. Without GM crops, Australia risks losing market share to the South American nations, too. They have led the charge in adopting bio-technology. "The opportunity for Australia will be in Asia - it's a one-time opportunity you should not miss," Dr James said. In 1996, 1.7m hectares were planted to GM crops, which increased to 81mha last year, with more than 8 million farmers, principally small armers, happy to use the technology. "I think that's one of the strongest testimonies for this technology," Dr James said. "Farmers are the masters of risk aversion - if the technology works, they will get it through the front door if it's available and through the back door if it's not."

See later post:
Do we also have plenty of water?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Facts on US Farm exports. One of the urban (and perhaps rural) myths in circulation is that US farmers are losing billions of dollars in export sales because they have adopted GE crops.

You can access official US export statistics at

You then need to search by commodity and region. In searching you will find that corn and soybean exports are reasonably variable; however, there is no evidence of a significant loss of
trade. US corn exports to the EU have declined dramatically, but that has been more than made up by increased exports elsewhere. US corn exports have increased in value from $4.9 billion in 1999 to $5.9 billion in 2004. Soybean seed exports have also increased in value from $4.5 billion in 1999 to $6.7 billion in 2004. Although value is down on 2002 and 2003 because of droughts and lower prices as a result of increased competition from Argentina and Brazil.

Link thanks to
Dr. Christopher Preston
Senior Lecturer, Weed Management
University of Adelaide

Straw to sugar to biofuel breakthroughs

For some thirty years or so now, it has been technically feasible but economically costly to convert cellulose into sugar commodities. Thanks to astounding progress over the last three decades in molecular genetics and microbial biotechnology, this cost barrier has been broken.

The breakpoint in commercially feasible conversion of cellulosic materials into sugars was signalled by April 2005 announcements by a consortium that includes the Danish biotechnology company Novozymes , the US biotechnology company Genenecor, and the US National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) . These announcements heralded a 30-fold reduction in enzyme catalyst cost in a biomass-to-ethanol project.
The April 2005 Danish stock exchange announcement says:.

The project goal has been achieved: the cost of enzymes for biomass-based fuel ethanol production has been reduced to USD 0.10-0.18 per gallon in laboratory trials, a 30-fold reduction since 2001. Enzymes are no longer the main economic barrier in the commercialisation of biomass [cellulose to ethanol conversion] technology.

This announcement is a signal of coming disruptive price competition in all markets that are connected with biofuel, sugar, starch and similar commodities.
Lower cost enzyme catalysts used for biofuels manufacturing moved into the marketplace this year:
Bioethanol – now in Europe too

Novozymes is launching three new enzymes which make the production of ethanol from wheat, rye and barley up to 20% more efficient, so paving the way for increased production of bioethanol in Europe.
The new enzyme solutions launched today (3 November 2005) are aimed especially at bioethanol producers in Europe, where production of wheat, barley and rye is high. There has already been an interest in the new solutions, which offer both financial and environmental benefits.
Bioethanol (also known as fuel ethanol) as a substitute for gasoline in cars is already big business in the USA for both farmers and the companies that produce it for the gas stations, but here bioethanol is derived mainly from corn, which is easier to use for ethanol production. The European bioethanol market is still not as significant as in the US - but a development in the European market can be supported by these improved enzymes designed specifically for the major European grain varieties.

See later posts:
Energy balances.

Brazilian ethanol exports

Corn prices propped up in USA

Biodiesel too

Australian INPACT cellulose conversion technology

Details of new cellulase catalysts developed by Genencor.

Monday, November 21, 2005
Mouldy maize and an outbreak of human birth defects

Maize and contamination with fungal toxin

Exposure to Fumonisins and the Occurrence of Neural Tube Defects along the Texas-Mexico Border, Stacey A. Missmer and colleagues. Environmental Health Perspectives Journal, 2005

Along the Texas-Mexico border, the prevalence of neural tube defects (NTDs) among Mexican-American women doubled during 1990-1991. The human outbreak began during the same crop year as epizootics attributed to exposure to fumonisins – a mycotoxin that often contaminates corn. Because Mexican-Americans in Texas consume large quantities of corn, primarily in the form of tortillas, they may be exposed to high levels of fumonisins...Our findings suggest that fumonisins exposure increases the risk of NTD, proportionate to dose, up to a threshold level, at which point fetal death may be more likely to occur. These results also call for population studies which can more directly measure individual fumonisins intakes and assess effects on the developing embryo.

Sunday, November 20, 2005
What's Really Really Happening with GE Crops in the USA?

Also posted at Agbioview
- Christopher Preston , Senior Lecturer, Weed Management University of Adelaide, Australia

"GE crops a flop in the USA." The GeneEthics Network makes this bold statement as part of their recent publicity for the upcoming visit of Dr. Charles Benbrook to Australia. Dr. Benbrook is apparently to tell us "what's really happening with GE crops in North America, and why we should say 'no' to them here". I don't know quite what Dr. Benbrook will tell us about how GE crops have flopped. I do know the claim that GE crops have stalled, flopped or are otherwise being given up by farmers in the US and elsewhere is not infrequently made in letters to the editor, press releases and other statements in the Australia media. However, whenever I look at the situation, I can find little support for the claims made.

Fuller commentary based on Chris Preston's current investigations in the USA is at The Full Monty

Penetration mutations reveal how plants defend against fungal parasites. Plants have a dual line of defence
November 18, 2005
Max Planck researchers in Cologne, Germany demonstrate that a multi-step defence system underlies the durable resistance of plants to fungal parasites.
Plants are exposed to many different pathogens in the environment. Only a few of these pathogens, however, are able to attack a species of plant and "make it sick". If a particular pathogen is unable to attack a plant, that means that the plant is resistant to it - in other words, it cannot host the pathogen. This durable type of immunity of a plant to parasites is called nonhost resistance. Scientists have uncovered the molecular components of nonhost resistance and described this system of defence in the current edition of the journal Science (November 18, 2005).

The Max Planck researchers were able to identify the gene known as PEN (penetration) as an important component of nonhost resistance. They isolated mutations in a model plant used for basic research called arabidopsis. These mutations give plants that which are partially susceptible to powdery mildews. If these genes are defective, or if the protein they code is missing in the plant cells, the fungus can invade the leaf epidermis cells more frequently. For that reason the scientists looked particularly at the question of exactly which function the PEN2 protein has in the defence against pathogens.
The researchers, on the other hand, observed that when PEN2 is missing, the plants become more susceptible not only to grass powdery mildew fungi but also other pests - for example, the pathogens causing late potato blight. PEN2 is therefore a basic component of the plant s immune system with a broad range of effects.

Signposts to the future of plant abiotic stress work

Salt & Water Stress In Plants
- Upcoming Gordon Research Conference, September 3-8, 2006 Magdalen College, Oxford, UK

Abiotic stress, especially salinity and drought is the primary cause of crop losses worldwide. Much progress has been made in unravelling the complex stress response mechanisms. The application of genetic engineering has resulted in important achievements with respect to stress tolerance...

This Gordon conference focuses on the most recent innovative research in cellular and molecular events that determine the response of plants to salinity and water deficit with particular emphasis on stress metabolism and integration of stress response pathways. The conference will also address the question how knowledge from model plants can be transferred to crop plants.

The conference will highlight novel approaches to understand cross-talk between salt and drought stress with other environmental factors and other stressors e.g. oxidative stress.

(The link lists speakers from many major research groups world-wide.)

Drought tolerant seeds approaching commercialisation.

The Monsanto Company USA has recently made a series of announcements that show they have proved the concept of drought tolerance in field trials of corn, and that they are moving towards commercialisation of (transgenic) seeds that allow more efficient water use with several crops .
Company statement:

More Efficient Water Use Brings Higher Yields
The next generation of traits in our pipeline includes crop plants with improved tolerance of environmental stress, such as cold and drought. An especially promising trait is now in Phase 1 of development. Drought-tolerant corn would offer yield and environmental benefits on all corn acres by improving water use. It would also offer cost savings on irrigated acres.

Since drought and heat stress can account for significant yield reduction in U.S. corn crops, the market potential for drought-tolerant corn in North America and other drought-prone regions is significant. For Monsanto, the ability to stack drought tolerance traits with weed- and insect-control traits enhances our margin opportunity.

"Drought-tolerant corn has the potential to allow crops to be grown on land where it wasn't thought possible," said Adrian Lund, a Monsanto researcher in Wichita, Kansas. "That ability to make a positive impact on farmers' livelihoods is what gets me excited about my job."

We are working on drought tolerance in corn, soybeans and cotton. After demonstrating drought tolerance in corn in greenhouses in 2003, we advanced to field trials in which rows of corn containing the drought-tolerant trait were grown next to rows without the trait. In the photo at [the original website], Lund checks an ear of corn to gauge how effectively it is tolerating a lack of water.

Saturday, November 19, 2005
Sow and grow early to waste less water

An earlier post linked to an article called Breeding for high water-use efficiency by A [Tony] Condon and other CSIRO crop breeding experts.

In it, Tony Condon details crop water physiology concepts that explain how earlier sowing autumn times provided by herbicide tolerant GM canola varieties give better use of available water. Another report by Robert Norton describes how GM canola actually delivers on this promise.

It a great pity that many Australian State governments didn't take notice of either of these reports when they stopped canola producers from using more water efficient GM crop varieties by enacting GM bans in times of significant worries about water sustainability and general climate outlook in Southern Australia.

From Tony Condon:

Several strategies will be required to improve the productivity of water use in irrigated and rain-fed agriculture (Wang et al., 2002). Breeding crop varieties that are more efficient in their water use is one such strategy. Others include better management of the water resource and changes in crop management.

None of these strategies should be seen as operating in isolation.

Rather, it is likely that the greatest gains will be obtained through complementary approaches involving each of them.

Lowering the gradient in water vapour concentration
The simplest and most influential means by which breeding has improved the transpiration efficiency of biomass production ...has been to change crop characteristics so as to lower the average evaporative gradient during the crop growth cycle (Tanner and Sinclair, 1983; Richards et al., 2002)...This gradient is least in cool, humid regions and, in most regions, during the coolest months of the year.

During the past century breeders of many crop species have exploited genetic variation associated with intrinsic earliness, response to photoperiod, and vernalization requirement to generate enormous variation in crop phenology. This phenological variation has allowed crops to be grown successfully in regions and at times of the year that lower the prevailing evaporative demand... boosting crop yield.

As opportunities arise, every effort should be taken to exploit this simple route to improved crop water-use efficiency further. Even seemingly unrelated objectives, such as eliminating disease susceptibility so that crops can be grown reliably in cooler, more humid conditions may present opportunities to adjust sowing time and crop phenology for improved ... crop yield. A good example of what is possible is the doubling of yield achieved by improving the disease resistance of chickpea, transforming it from a spring-sown to an autumn-sown crop in northern Syria (Keatinge and Cooper, 1983).

GM allows canola croppers to sow earlier in autumn
The report by Robert Norton on Conservation farming systems and canola (2003, University of Melbourne ) has many interesting facts that relate to water management in dryland cropping systems .

Norton's words on using GM canola for better water usage in dryland regions:

Much of the development in the area of canola sown over the past five years has been in the drier regions of the grain producing areas (Colton 2001, Burton et al. 2001, and Carmody et al. 2001). These dry areas suffer the highest penalty to late sowing (Farré et al. 2002) and so if better weed control can be obtained earlier, further expansion of canola production into these regions is likely [if commercial cropping with GM canola is allowed to proceed in the region; page 15 of Norton report]... GM varieties will allow farmers to sow early (on or before the break of season), and benefit from the 5 per cent per week yield advantage from timely sowing. [page 9 of Norton report]

Friday, November 18, 2005
The experts on breeding crops for better water use

Breeding for high water-use efficiency

Journal of Experimental Botany (2004) Vol. 55, No. 407, pages 2447-2460
A. G. Condon, R. A. Richards, G. J. Rebetzke and G. D. Farquhar

CSIRO Plant Industry, GPO Box 1600, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia
Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia

There is a pressing need to improve the water-use efficiency of rain-fed and irrigated crop production. Breeding crop varieties with higher water-use efficiency is seen as providing part of the solution. Progress in breeding for improved water-use efficiency of rain-fed wheat is reviewed to illustrate the nature of some of these interactions and to highlight opportunities that may be exploited in other crops as well as potential pitfalls.Crop simulation modelling can be used to assess the likely impact on water-use efficiency and yield of changing the expression of traits of interest. Results of such simulations indicate that greater progress may be achieved by pyramiding traits so that potential negative effects of individual traits are neutralized. DNA-based selection techniques may assist in such a strategy.

For the more general topic of water managment see here, here, here, here, here and here.

Bt Corn Produces Healthier Crops for Humans and Animals

Studies show biotech corn is less susceptible to harmful molds. Biotech corn may actually be safer to eat than conventional varieties — particularly in some developing countries — because it has built-in protection against insect pests that burrow into corn kernels, creating conditions for a mold to develop that can be harmful to both humans and animals.

"There is now clear evidence that food and feed products from Bt corn are often safer than the corresponding products from conventional corn because of lower levels of the mycotoxin fumonisin," according to a November 2003 report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

Fumonisin is produced when insects burrow into corn stalks and kernels, allowing fungi to enter and produce harmful mold. While mycotoxin levels are closely monitored in the industrial world, they are not monitored in many developing countries in the tropics where the threat from fungal infection is greatest.

Toxins made by fungi can be an issue in maize flours sold in Western retail markets

Food Standards Agency UK
More contaminated maize meal products withdrawn from sale
Friday, 26 September 2003

Ten maize meal products have been voluntarily withdrawn from sale in the UK after tests showed that they contained high levels of toxins called fumonisins. These naturally occurring chemicals are produced by a mould that can grow on maize in the field. High levels of fumonisins have been shown to cause liver and kidney damage in animals after they have eaten them over a long period.

It is possible that they could have the same effect on people if they eat high levels of fumonisins for long periods.

Thirty maize meal products were tested after two earlier samples of maize meal were found to contain high levels of fumonisins during a wider study of these toxins in maize-based products. The results so far from this wider survey show much lower levels of fumonisins in other maize-based products such as tortillas and breakfast cereals.

Suppliers of maize meal have been asked by the Agency to test their products to make sure they do not contain unacceptable levels of these toxins. Retailers and importers of the affected products have voluntarily withdrawn them from sale. The Agency has notified the European Commission (EC), which is liaising with other countries in Europe. While there is currently no limit for fumonisins in food, the EC has proposed a limit of 500 micrograms per kilogram in all maize-based foods.

The levels found in the 10 samples which have been withdrawn are above that proposed by the EC. However, there is unlikely to be any significant risk to health if these products are consumed.

Ten maize meal products affected:
Corn Flour, Ladin
Organically Grown Fine Maize Meal, Arjuna Wholefoods
Organic Maize Meal Infinity Foods
Organic Maize Flour, Organic Health
Maize Meal, Nature's Harvest
Maize Meal - Organically Grown & Produced, Suma
Maismehl, Baktat
Farina Di Mais Per Polenta Bramata, Favero
Organically Grown Corn/Maize Flour, Alara Wholefoods
Organic Corn Flour, Fresh and Wild

See earlier Posting- Discovery of fumonisins
Mouldy maize and birth defects
GMO maize safer.

Super sorghum

The African Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project is supported by the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, which focuses on harnessing the power of science and technology to dramatically improve health in the world's poorest countries, and is funded primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The overall goal of ABS is to develop highly enhanced sorghum as a food source to help fight hunger, malnutrition and poverty. The ABS Project is designed to solve global challenges under the direction of a strategic consortium of public and private organizations led by Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International and its strategic partners the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa, and DuPont through its subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International.
The Full Monty

GM pea project discontinued during risk assessment

A CSIRO project using modern genetic methods to protect peas against insect pests has been terminated during the risk assessment process. GM project risk assessment in Australia is mandated by the Gene Technology regulatory agency OGTR.

A CSIRO press release today explains that six performance trials on these GM peas were conducted under field conditions between 1996 and 2001. These trials showed that alpha-amylase inhibitor containing GM pea crops were 99.5 per cent protected against pea weevil damage, and had crop yields that are comparable to non-GM field peas.

Unfortunately though, CSIRO investigators found that the insect feeding inhibitor in these GM peas has a different molecular structure than the native inhibitor present in bean plants.

Immune response study

The bean alpha-amylase inhibitor protein has been studied extensively over many years and has shown no health risk to humans or animals. However as part of its risk assessment, CSIRO asked the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra (JCSMR) to help examine whether the pea form of the alpha-amylase inhibitor protein caused an immune reaction in mice.

Mice were fed either beans, non-GM peas or alpha-amylase inhibitor GM peas twice a week for four weeks. In a separate experiment, the reaction to the pea alpha-amylase inhibitor protein was compared to bean alpha-amylase inhibitor protein when administered to the mice lungs.

Mice fed beans did not show evidence of an immune reaction. Similarly, mice fed non-GM peas did not demonstrate any immune reaction.

Mice exposed to alpha-amylase inhibitor GM-peas showed evidence of an immune response after two weeks, with the response increasing at four weeks. The reaction in mice was evident by inflammation in the lungs and increased serum antibody levels. The research also showed that after eating the GM peas, there was evidence that the pea alpha-amylase inhibitor protein primed the mice to react to other food antigens.

Given the findings about immune responses in this research, CSIRO has now made a decision to discontinue work on GM peas with alpha-amylase inhibitor, and is finalising arrangements with the OGTR for the disposal of GM field peas produced during the project.

The findings of this risk assessment study emphasise the effectiveness of case-by-case evaluation of GM plants and the important role science can play in decision-making around the introduction of GM crops

The details of the work that led to the project’s termination were just recently published by an American Chemical Society journal:

Transgenic Expression of Bean α-Amylase Inhibitor in Peas Results in Altered Structure and Immunogenicity

Vanessa E. Prescott, Peter M. Campbell, Andrew Moore, Joerg Mattes, Marc E. Rothenberg, Paul S. Foster, T. J. V. Higgins, and Simon P. Hogan JOURNAL OF AGRICULTURAL AND FOOD CHEMISTRY

Volume 53, Issue 23 (November 16, 2005) pages 9023 - 9030
See also
CSIRO site
Regulatory Agency rules, other comments
The Plant Journal (2001) 27(6), 503-528
Assessment of the food safety issues related to genetically modified foods
Harry A. Kuiper, Gijs A. Kleter, Hub P. J. M. Noteborn and Esther J. Kok
National Institute for Quality Control of Agricultural Products (RIKILT), Wageningen University and Research Centre, Wageningen, the Netherlands

Editorial comment in Nature Biotechnology
Update March 2006:
GMO wheat from CSIRO has potential to improve bowel health.

Grain toxins that cause birth defects and cancer- the early history

Fumonisins are deadly toxins produced by a fungus naturally present on maize. They have caused serious health damage and deaths which are documented in Hispanic America, South Africa, and China. The most worrying concern about the risk from mouldy grain is spina bifida birth defect. Epidemics of birth defects associated with mouldy corn have occurred in North America.

GMO Pundit will post further on this topic, but to start the series, the Pundit is providing a link to the earlier history of the topic written by Professor Marasas, discoverer of fumonisin toxicity. Professor Marasas was extremely gracious in briefing the GMO Pundit on this topic in Cape Town earlier this year:

Environmental Health Perspectives Supplements Volume 109, Number S2, May 2001
Discovery and Occurrence of the Fumonisins: A Historical Perspective

Walter F.O. Marasas

Programme on Mycotoxins and Experimental Carcinogenesis, Medical Research Council, Tygerberg, South Africa

See later posts:
Mouldy Maize and human health
GMO maize lowers mycotoxins
Mycotoxins in organic produce.

Blue Sky file: solar based nitrogen fertiliser.

Using solar energy to make synthetic fertiliser is is a future possibility

Much fuss is made of current synthetic fertilisers being dependent on fossil fuel inputs, but they need not be. The hydrogen and energy inputs into fertiliser can be generated using solar energy from water.


Until now, hydrogen’s use as an energy source has been minimal, because fossil fuels have been so readily available and hydrogen generation has been comparatively expensive and inefficient.

But there is nothing like a bit of focused science to change the perception of what might be achievable. CSIRO Manufacturing and Infrastructure Technology has developed a device the size of a small, domestic microwave oven that runs on mains power or from a solar panel to extract enough hydrogen per day from water to power a family car for up to 150 kilometres. This work also forms part of CSIRO’s Energy Transformed Flagship research program into positioning Australia for a future hydrogen economy.

While the idea of fuelling your car with hydrogen generated from a solar panel might sound like sci-fi, researchers say concepts such as the hydrogen economy are real possibilities.
From CSIRO Solve newsletter via Farmonline.

Soil Association's marketing with pesticide fear makes money in UK

Organic market soars to more than £1bn led by direct-from-the-farm sales
November 14, 2005 The Independent Martin Hickman

Britain's organic food revolution is, according to this story, spreading across all sectors and social classes, according to new figures which show that the market has surged well past £1bn a year.
The Soil Association's annual audit for 2004 was cited as revealing that overall sales were up by 11 per cent to £1.2bn, amid concern about the level of pesticides sprayed on conventional food.
Supermarkets, which have been accused of rejecting imperfect produce, squeezing farmers and importing too much, have seen their share of the organic market shrink.
The Soil Association's figures - released today - show that sales of organic food direct from the producer - by boxes, farm shop or farmers' market - rose by a third.
The public is also buying far more organic food from independent shops, where sales have rocketed by 43 per cent.
Supermarkets still sell most organic food - £913m a year - but their share of the overall market fell from 81 per cent to 75 per cent. Meanwhile, far more people from lower social and economic groups are going organic. According to the research, 58 per cent, 48 per cent and 55 per cent respectively of classes C2, D and E now say they eat organic. Parents also seem more likely to buy organic food for their children. Sales of organic baby foods rose by 6 per cent - compared with 1 per cent for non-organic - between 2003 and 2004.
More organic than non-organic baby meals are now being bought and the market is worth £51m a year.

For data on pesticides in GM crops see here.

Better Management of Irrigation and Drought in the US

Irrigation for southeast U.S. crops
November 15, 2005
ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
View this report online, plus any included photos or other images, at
Irrigation pays off: That's the message from Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Dawson, Ga., for peanut, corn and cotton farmers.
Marshall Lamb and his colleagues at the ARS National Peanut Research Laboratory (NPRL) are conducting long-term, multicrop research at a farm location to define the best irrigation management practices for growers of peanuts, corn and cotton. Results from the study's fourth year indicate that irrigation, when done properly, pays off.
Peanuts, a major crop in the southeastern United States, suffered reduced yields of about 11 percent during a drought in the 1980s. Proper management of irrigation resources could increase yields even in years of adverse weather conditions, according to Lamb. In the study, planned to run for 15 years, crops of corn, cotton and peanuts are grown in six crop rotation sequences. Some crops are not irrigated at all, while others are irrigated in amounts of 100 percent, 66 percent, and 33 percent of their estimated water need.
Georgia was in a prolonged drought—from 1998 to 2003--during part of the study. In the first year of the study, 2001, the drought was quite pronounced, and it deepened in 2002.

In peanuts in 2002, the study showed that irrigation resulted in similar yields when using either 100 percent or 66 percent irrigation levels. Even though yields were slightly higher (5,130 pounds per acre) when using 100 percent irrigation, compared with 5,065 pounds using 66 percent irrigation, the cost for the water--$125 per acre—wiped out the benefit of the higher yields, according to Lamb. At 100 percent irrigation, the study showed a grower would net $197, compared with $198 per acre using 66 percent irrigation.

Read more about this research in the November 2005 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, available online at:
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

Grafting better roots From Farmonline: Tropical research beats the rot Australia
Tuesday, 15 November 2005

A powerful new scientific weapon against anthracnose - the soft brown rot that spoils avocadoes - is delivering $40 million in benefits to the nation's avocado industry.
As well, it's delivering higher quality fruit to consumers. The return on the avocado research is just a part of $150 million in benefits being delivered to the Australia's tropical farming industries from 10 research projects, according to a new economic analysis.

Professor John Irwin, chief executive of the Cooperative Research Centre for Tropical Plant Protection, says every dollar spent on these tropical agriculture research projects returned $11 in industry and wider benefits. The finding was made by economic research group Agtrans Research in a benefit-cost analysis of 10 CRC TPP research projects from 1992 to 2004.

"Bananas, avocados, sunflowers, cotton, lucerne, sugarcane, wheat - these are just some of an impressive list of crops where research has paid huge dividends," says Professor Irwin. "By using certain Guatemalan rootstocks for avocado tree graftings, growers can halve the incidence of anthracnose disease and enjoy an 80pc decrease in the severity of infection," he says.

Professor Irwin says: "Anthracnose is a fungal disease which affects tropical fruits such as avocados, mangoes and lychees, and results in significant loss of fruit in the marketplace.
"Our research has shown that resistance to the disease is associated with naturally occurring anti-fungal properties. "We have also found a link between excessive nitrogen fertiliser use, low fruit calcium levels, and anthracnose severity." Virtually all 'Hass' avocados - the most common commercial cultivar - are now grown on Guatemalan rootstock, compared with less than half before the study.

High Tech or Slow Tech for Deficiency of vitamin A

Deficiency of vitamin A promotes a high rate of death from infectious disease. David R Murray’s book The Seeds of Concern, UNSW Press 2003, questions the need for vitamin A enhanced rice (Golden Rice), a new transgenic crop which is intended to benefit millions of people, mainly living in Asia who suffer from vitamin A deficiency. In chapter five of Murray's book we read:

[T]here are now plans to give the [Golden] rice free to growers, in the greatest public relations stunt of all time. Apart from the hail of self-congratulatory publicity, moral arguments have been raised in attempts to silence critics. A spokesperson from Nestle attending the World Economic Forum in Melbourne, Michael Garrett, stated that people in well-off nations have no right to deprive the Third World of benefits such as this rice represents. This is a converse kind of logic as, given the often-justified criticisms of some of its own marketing activities in the Third World, Nestle is hardly in a position to be critical of such people. The proposed gift of this golden rice sits incongruously with attempts by other Americans to patent basmati rice from India and jasmine rice from Thailand…The 'help the starving poor' justification for beta carotene-producing rice [Golden Rice] results from an extraordinarily narrow focus…The real solution to Third World starvation requires environmental repair, equitable land tenure, and the encouragement of ecologically sustainable systems of agriculture and horticulture (Chapter 8). Often these were present before the imposition of high-input Green Revolution agriculture. The aim should be to ensure that people under marginal or unpredictable circumstances everywhere have access to a balanced diet.

Current efforts to minimize the vitamin A deficiency do not meet David Murray’s standards either – they involve oral high-dose vitamin A supplementation using high tech chemicals provided by a Swiss drug company, hardly a sustainable solution to malnutrition, in the sense that Golden Rice is, being passable between farmers as seed at little of no cost.

(Go to The Full Monty for more on current high tech approaches to preventing vitamin A deficiency.)
It seems that David Murray would like to wait for an ideal solution to vitamin A deficiency, just as he would have liked an ecologically ideal solution to the desperate food shortages that triggered the Green Revolution in India. When it comes to crises affecting health of millions of people, such idealism needs to be reminded repeatedly of the devastating harm caused by not getting on with the job. His mention of both Nestle and Americans who are attempting to patent basmati rice, neither of whom have anything to do Golden Rice project, makes one wonder whether his opposition to Golden Rice is based on issues other than nutrition and ecology.

For me, the key question is, might Golden Rice work where other approaches fail ?

The GM caravan moves on, past unwanted presence. Canola GM contamination traced to Tas trial

ABC Rural , Australia Wednesday, 02/11/2005

The genetically modified (GM) contamination of canola crops has been traced to a Tasmanian trial in the late 1990s. The state was contracted by the Victorian Government to grow a variety of canola in 1999 and recent tests show that while the seeds were GM-free when sent across Bass Strait, return shipments were contaminated.

Meanwhile, grain handler Graincorp will remove any grower liability for GM contamination once this year's harvest is delivered. Managing director Tom Keene says growers will not have to make declarations about the GM status of their canola and will not be held to account is unintended GM material is found.

"It's not only Graincorp of course, I think you'll find it's common across the industry and certainly that outcome is supported by the Australian Oilseeds Federation which is industry representative on this issue," he said. "We're very confident there won't be any high level detections, it has only ever been at the trace level."

See later posts on Coexistence, Liability, via Blogsearch tool

Monday, November 14, 2005
Canadian producer experience with transgenic Canola

Economics of transgenics in the hands of Canadian producers
The take home message on economic returns:
"A difference of $5.80 per acre in favour of transgenics was calculated, based on these reported results"

A survey of 650 western Canadian canola growers was undertaken in October/November 2000.
The study was designed to compare transgenic canolas to conventional canolas.
The survey sample was managed to reflect a 50% split between conventional and transgenic system growers so that comparisons in economic performance and agronomic practices could be made between the two groups. Some respondents grew both types. In this case, the grower was asked to respond to the survey questions based on the type of which he/she grew the most acres. Further, if the respondent grew more than one variety of the system for which they were answering, he/she was requested to answer for only one variety; again the one of which he/she grew the most acres. Respondents could provide answers for the inputs and outputs for more than one field, only if those fields were treated identically in terms of seed variety, practices, and treatments, and if the yields were the same.

Key extracts of this report, available at the Canola Council of Canada website, are as follows:

2.5.5 Combined Operations

Because several of the above operations may be performed in combination with others, an analysis was conducted to estimate the impact of the combined operations. There was a total of 401 (n=637) different combinations of transgenic/ conventional, summer fallow in 1999 (or not), direct or regular seeding, number of herbicide applications, number of fertilizer applications and number of tillage and harrowing operations.

The assumed prices for the operations calculations were as follows:

* direct seeding - $12.00;
* not direct seeding - $8.00;
* foliar herbicide app - $4.00 (applied to transgenic operations only;
* foliar + incorporated herbicide app - $4.65 (applied to conventional operations only);
* tillage - $6.00;
* harrowing - $3.50;
* fertilizer alone - $7.00; and,
* incremental fertilizer or herbicide cost - $1.00.

Table 2.18 Cost of Combined Operations

_________________Transgenic n=321__ Conventional n=316

Average # Combined Operations Per Acre 6.36.............7.07
Average blended cost per operation..........$5.80...........$5.91
Average Cost/Acre of Combined Operations $36.90. $41.75

Link to more graphic image of this table

2.7.1 Yield
Yields were reported to be 10% higher for the transgenic system over the conventional. The average yield before dockage for the transgenics was 29.25 bu/acre, and for the conventionals, 26.54 bu/acre. Yields reached a maximum of 55 bu/acre for transgenics and 72 bu/acre for conventional canolas.

Had the transgenic growers only planted a conventional variety, their anticipated yield on these acres would have averaged 7% fewer bushels per acre. Thirty-nine percent of the growers felt the yield would have been comparable, 17% thought the yield would have been higher, and 44% thought it would have been lower.

2.7.5 Grower Reported Return per Acre

The grower reported return per acre (after all input costs, labour, etc.) [1] for transgenic (n=241) was $19.92 and for conventional (n=192) $14.12.

The range in net return per acre reported by the growers was -$80.00 to +$240.00 for the transgenics and -$120.00 to +$180.00 for the conventionals. A difference of $5.80 per acre in favour of transgenics was calculated, based on these reported results. These values would have included the premium for contract varieties, the TUA (if applicable) and any other expenses the growers had recorded for these canola acres, such as custom application costs, insect and disease control, etc.

Had the transgenic growers only planted a conventional variety, they anticipated their net return per acre on these acres would have averaged $15.54 or 22% less than actually recorded. Forty-six (46%) of the growers felt the net return would have been comparable, 18% thought the net return would have been higher, and 37% thought it would have been lower.

Effect of GM cotton in reducing pollution in Namoi river
(Image of graph)
Posted by Picasa A picture is worth 1000 words they say. This is from a recent Australian Cotton Industry response to a major environmental audit. GM cotton varieties that allow reduced insecticide spraying were introduced in 1996 and this, with many other integrated pest management measures, has led to the improvements shown in the graph from 1998 onwards. Endosulfan pesticide levels in river water are now undetectable

Update: Comments about the bigger picture
from CS Prakash, Agbioview Newsletter 22 March 2006:

One of the myths perpetuated by activists opposed to GM crops in tricking the gullible public and media is this bogus assertion that 'biotech crops do not reduce pesticide use'.

Various studies show significant reduction in pesticide usage due to biotech crop adoption. See reports by USDA ( ) and also the National Center for Food and Ag Policy which says that "biotechnology-derived crops planted in 2004 reduced the use of pesticides in crop production by 62.0 million pounds. This represents a further 34% decrease in pesticide usage compared with 2003. "

Much of the confusion and distortion arises because of the diverse types of pesticides and herbicides with varying levels of toxicity being used. Farmers are now switching to safer, less-toxic herbicides because of the herbicide-tolerant GM crops. See USDA's document "Genetically Engineered Crops: Has Adoption Reduced Pesticide Use?" from year 2000:

Further, in countries such as China farmers planting Bt cotton have reported 80% reduction in pesticide usage and fewer hospital visits due to pesticide poisonings.

This insect protected Bt GM cotton saves farmers A$100million's too.

Peer review - What is it and Why do we need it?

Public discussion is sometimes dominated by debates about the implications of scientific research: what causes Sudden Infant Death? Will genetically modified crops create ‘superweeds’? Is the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine linked to autism? Will transgenic pigs help to solve a shortage of organs for transplants? Do mobile phones damage children’s brains? What is an optimal dose of fluoride?

Sense about Science has put out a new leaflet explaining how science answers questions like these.

"I don't know what to believe..." is a short public guide to peer review, published by Sense About Science on 2 November 2005, 8pp.

"Is it peer reviewed?" is what Sense About Science is encouraging everyone to ask about science stories. Our new leaflet, written with input from patients, pharmacists and medical practitioners, among others, lets the public in on the arbiter of scientific quality: the peer review process.

A later post on epidemics triggered by scaremongering shows why Peer review is important.

GMO wine in America

FROM Farm on line Breaking Rural News : VITICULTURE
Ready or not, here comes genetically modified wine yeast
By SHAY BAYLY - Australia, Friday, 11 November 2005

A spread in biotechnology use in grape and wine production appears inevitable, following the release of the first genetically modified wine yeast. Before September, the contentious debate about genetically modified wine yeasts had been mostly academic for the Australian industry. But since then influential French yeast company Springer Oenologie has released ML01, the first GM wine yeast, to North America. Australian Wine Research Institute managing director, Sakkie Pretorius, says scientific literature and some recent examples of GM wine yeast prototype theories "show great potential of enhanced cost-effective production of wine with minimised resource inputs, improved quality, and low environmental impact". "But it's hard to predict how long it will take consumers to accept the huge potential benefits offered by grape and wine biotechnology,"

Prof Pretorius said. The Australian wine industry is standing firm on its position "that no GM organisms be used in the production of Australian wine". Denying an anti-GM approach, the industry recognises the potentially significant benefits of gene technology, but also acknowledges the need for safety, openness and quality assurance.

More at

Another opinion

Better, GM, grapes?

Even another opinion.

Finally: GMO beer.

Organic farming uses more land and does not leach less nitrate into waters

A review of farming performance in practice shows that for the same crop yield, organic farming requires more land than is needed conventional farming with synthetic fertiliser.

Surprisingly, with certain organic farming approaches, leaching of nitrogen and phosphate into run-off water (the cause of unwanted water eutrophication) is reported in this article as being greater than conventional farming.

This environmental disadvantage of organic farming becomes obvious when leaching is expressed per unit hectare or unit of crop nitrogen produced, and farms using the same level of nitrogen input are compared.

Nutrient Exclusivity in Organic Farming. Does It Offer Advantages?
By H. Kirchmann and M.H. Ryan
Article Summary:
The following aims are associated with organic farming: to produce healthier foods, to be environmentally friendly, and to be more sustainable. Organic principles are applied in the belief that they are the best way to achieve these aims. However, a critical analysis of organic fertilization practices does not support this belief.

Better Crops/Vol. 89 (2005, No. 1) page 24

The Full Monty on Global Land Use.
Further Swedish studies demonstrating that conventional farning with a fall cover crop allows better leaching management that organics and gives better yields.

Bacteria spread in food

FROM Farm on line Breaking Rural News : HORTICULTURE
Growcom rejects Minister’s safe bacteria claim
Friday, 11 November 2005

Federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran is under attack for claims that E. coli bacteria commonly found on horticultural products are not harmful to human health.
Both peak horticulture lobby group Growcom and Labor's agriculture spokesman, Gavan O'Connor, have slammed the statement and demanded that imported produce be subject to the same food safety standards as home-grown fruit and vegetables.
Mr McGauran's statement followed an Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service survey of imported produce which found 14 of 97 samples contained E. coli bacteria.
Of those 10 were from a single consignment of cassava leaf, drumstick leaf and other specialist items.
But in announcing the results, Mr McGauran's statement said the form of E. coli bacteria commonly found in horticulture is "not usually harmful".
Not so, says Growcom chief executive officer, Jan Davis, who says the Minister is wrong to downgrade the impact of the bacteria on people.
"People have been hospitalised and even died from the E. coli bacteria recently in the United States and the United Kingdom as a result of eating contaminated vegetables," Ms Davis said.
"As well as undercooked beef and unpasteurised milk, people can catch the most virulent strain of E. coli from some horticulture products."
The E coli 0157:H7 strain produces powerful toxins that can cause severe, bloody diarrhoea, kidney failure and even death.
"For consumers to be certain they are getting the highest quality food, the federal government needs to demand that any fresh, preserved or frozen fruit and vegetables that comes into Australia must be grown in a manner consistent with domestic standards."
However, Mr McGauran says as a result of the survey high E. coli count, testing regimes will change.
"As an additional precaution, AQIS will now include E. coli testing in routine screening of imported horticultural products, so we can be confident that imported horticulture will continue to meet Australia's food safety standards," Mr McGauran said.

Sunday, November 13, 2005
Copper fungicide use in farms can promote dangerous bacteria – threatening hospital patients.

(This issue was discussed recently on the ABC channel television program Landline , the transcript of which is a great introduction to this topic)

Survival of bacteria in adverse circumstances is promoted by special cellular mechanisms to detoxify chemicals. The biology of these remarkable detoxifying mechanisms has some surprising consequences. One of these is that toxic chemicals permitted in organic farming are relevant to dangerous outbreaks of untreatable infections in today’s hospitals.

The genetic trait of bacterial resistance to toxic heavy metal metals (such as copper or mercury) is similar to the trait of bacterial resistance to antibiotic drugs. Both these types of survival ability involve mobile forms of genes that can be widely transmitted between different species of bacteria. They are transmissible because they are carried in the bacteria on mobile mini-chromosomes called plasmids that can be naturally injected from one bacterial cell to another in mating events.

Plasmids that bear resistance traits (eg copper-resistance in multiple-drug resistant plasmids) are thus themselves infectious, and can move from one species of bacterium to another. They are really analogous to dangerous viruses, and plasmids in the soil can become hospital plasmids quite easily. Plasmids bearing multiple resistance traits are a major reason why many dangerous bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus are resistant to most modern antibiotics, and why hospitals outbreaks of infections that are untreatable by any antibiotic currently available are such a terrifying modern reality. We now live in the post-antibiotic era.

Overuse of antibiotics is the main cause of this problem, and restricting the use of antibiotics when they are not vital to human welfare is a good place starting point.

But it is important to bear in mind that antibiotics are not the only selective pressure that promotes spread of multiple-drug resistant plasmids in the environment. Copper resistance is in fact a genetic a trait that is carried by many plasmids. (For example Voloudakis AE, Reignier TM, and Cooksey DA. (Appl Environ Microbiol. 2005 Feb;71(2):782-9. ) describe details of a copper resistance genetic trait carried by plasmids in the plant pathogen Xanthomonas axonopodis pv. vesicatoria. )

Resistance by bacteria to the killing ability to copper can arise, for instance, because of their ability to actively pump toxic excess copper out of the cell, and miniature bacterial pumps that eliminate many different compounds from the bacterial cell (copper included) are common in many organisms. These pumps are often of the type of pump called MDR pumps. Thus copper resistance may directly promote resistance of bacteria to other compounds through the pumping ability of a shared MDR pump.

For many years microbiologists have been investigating the origins of multiple-drug resistant plasmids and the genetic traits – such as copper resistance genes – carried on plasmids. (see for example Ana Alonso, Patricia Sanchez and Jose L. Martınez Environmental selection of antibiotic resistance genes Environmental Microbiology, 2001, 3, 1-9). In fact is quite likely that resistance to toxic metals, such as copper and mercury, is a primary driver of plasmid evolution, as metals have been around the natural environment for billions of years.

The fact that copper is extremely broad spectrum in its toxicity, is highly persistent in the environment, has been around the environment for billions of years, and that mechanisms of copper risistance are widely spread among different organisms underlines the importance of taking the human welfare implications of copper resistance traits of bacteria seriously.

A recent scientific paper

“Copper amendment of agricultural soil selects for bacterial antibiotic resistance in the field” (J. Berg1,2, A. Tom-Petersen1,2 and O. Nybroe1 Letters in Applied Microbiology 2005, 40, 146–151 765X.2004. (1Department of Ecology, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Frederiksberg C, and 2Department of Microbiology, Danish Institute for Food and Veterinary Research, Copenhagen V, Denmark))

provides strong evidence on why we should be concerned about agricultural use of copper based fungicides as definite activities that promote the spread of multiple-drug resistant bacteria. To quote the Berg 2005 papers’ main conclusion

“The results of this field experiment show that introduction of Cu [copper] to agricultural soil selects for Cu resistance, but also indirectly selects for antibiotic resistance in the Cu-resistant bacteria. Hence, the widespread accumulation of Cu in agricultural soils worldwide could have a significant effect on the environmental selection of antibiotic resistance.”

Over use of copper is an issue in Australian farms. The quote another publication:

“In Australia, copper-containing sprays of various formulations … have been used to control fungal diseases in pome and stone fruit orchards, vineyards and vegetable crops for well over 100 years (Merry et al. 1983). Over 7500 t yr-1 of Cu fungicides have been used, representing 13% of the global total (Lepp and Dickinson 1994). In stark comparison, England and Wales were estimated to use only 8 t of Cu fungicide between them in the year 2000 (Nicholson et al. 2003).

(Lukas Van-Zwieten, Graham Merrington and Melissa Van-Zwieten, 2004. SuperSoil 2004: 3rd Australian New Zealand Soils Conference, 5 – 9 December 2004, University of Sydney, Australia. website

Van-Zweiten go on to explain how copper is a persistent poison that accumulates in the soil:

“Horticultural and viticultural operations with a long history of copper fungicide application have resulted in accumulations of copper in surface horizons (Gallagher et al. 2001; Chaignon et al. 2003). Prolonged use in Europe has lead to high levels in the soil (200-500 mg/kg in France, Brun et al. 1998), which has affected a large portion of agricultural land. An Australian study found up to 250mg/kg total copper in a 20-30 yr old vineyard soil, while 8-14 vineyards studied exceeded 60 mg/kg (Pietrzak and McPhail 2004). Similarly, avocado orchard soils in northern NSW were recently observed to have even greater soil Cu residues (280-340 mg/kg) (Merrington et al. 2002).”

Organic farmers generally ban antibiotic use, but continue to tolerate use of copper based fungicides. In the GMO Pundit's opinion, if they are to continue to have credibility in providing the community with environmentally virtuous practices, they should be consistent, and ban copper fungicides.

There good synthetic antifungal alternatives to copper but the organic movement decline to use them for no good reason.

For example Anthony Trewavas in

Trewavas, A. 2004. A critical assessment of organic farming-and-food assertions with particular respect to the UK and the potential environmental benefits of no-till agriculture. Crop Prot. 23:757–781.

has provided a critical comparison of mancozeb, a synthetic fungicide, with copper sulphate used by the organics movement.To quote him:

Table 1 makes some limited comparisons between mancozeb, a synthetic copper fungicide usually used to treat late blight, and the organic pesticide equivalent, copper sulphate. The full table can be found in Leake (1999a). In environmental qualities, mancozeb is superior in all categories compared to copper sulphate. In terms of human health, copper sulphate is corrosive and toxic and has caused liver disease in European vineyard workers. Although the EC theoretically banned copper sulphate in 2002, no alternative has been found for organic farmers and thus it continues to be used. The consequences of not using copper sulphate properly have been reported as organic farms acting as repositories of late blight, a serious disease of potato (Eltun, 1996; Zwankhuizein et al., 1998) or seriously damaged orchards (Van Embden and Peakall, 1996). Any sensible approach would determine use based on toxicity.

Leake, A., 1999a. House of Lords Select committee on the European communities. Session 1998–1999, 16th report. Organic farming and the European Union. HMSO, London, pp. 81–91.

New results verifying a major argument for GM food safety

The take home message from some very important new science (thanks to Chris Preston and Agbioview) is:

Quote from Preston in Agbioview

"Finally, the most striking outcome of these two papers is the staggering amount of work that was done to demonstrate that GM potatoes differ less from their parental cultivar than do other
cultivars of the same crop. This should be ample demonstration of the precise nature of GM technology compared to "normal" cross-breeding."

GMO Pundit's Editorial Comment.
Chris Preston, perhaps the most astute and well trained commentator on this general GMO topic in Australia, has picked up an important scientific advance which unlike most advances, confirms current informed opinion rather than breaks new ground. Its as if modern mathematians had carried out billions of simulations with a supercomputer and had verified at great expense that all points on the circumference of a circle are equally distant from one point which they label "the centre of the said geometrical construct".

In everyday terms, they have reinvented the wheel, but for good reason.

Previously the US National Academy of Science Report completed 2003, published 2004 had predicted this outcome, as had many mainsteam scientific acadmies and most trained geneticists. Genetic variation within transgenic crops is expected to be within a wider range of variation displayed by conventional breeds. Chris explains this in appropriate detail below.

(see full NAS Report Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects (2004) by Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) Institute of Medicine (IOM) Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources (BANR) Board on Life Sciences (BLS))

It is a point repeatedly misunderstood by politicised anti-technology lobby groups (for example, Greenpeace)

The complete commentary by Dr Preston starts out:

Studies of GM Potatoes Demonstrate Substantial Equivalence
- Christopher Preston, AgBioView, Nov. 1, 2005;
(Sr Lecturer, Univ. Adelaide, Australia;

In the past 4 months there have been two major studies on the impact of genetic modification of potatoes published. The first was published in Plant Physiology in July 2005 - "Comparison of Tuber Proteomes of Potato Varieties, Landraces, and Genetically Modified Lines" by Lehesranta et al. (Plant Physiology 138, 1690-1699). The second was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA in October - "Hierarchical metabolomics demonstrates substantial compositional similarity between genetically modified and conventional potato crops" by Catchpole et al. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 102, 14458-14462).............Continued at Agbioview

Abstracts and Links to original papers:

Hierarchical metabolomics demonstrates substantial compositional similarity between genetically modified and conventional potato crops

Gareth S. Catchpole , Manfred Beckmann, David P. Enot, Madhav Mondhe, Britta Zywicki, Janet Taylor, Nigel Hardy, Aileen Smith, Ross D. King, Douglas B. Kell, Oliver Fiehn and John Draper

*Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology, D-14424 Golm, Germany; and Institute of Biological Sciences and Department of Computer Science, University of Wales, Aberystwyth SY23 3DA, United Kingdom

There is current debate whether genetically modified (GM) plants might contain unexpected, potentially undesirable changes in overall metabolite composition. However, appropriate analytical technology and acceptable metrics of compositional similarity require development. We describe a comprehensive comparison of total metabolites in field-grown GM and conventional potato tubers using a hierarchical approach initiating with rapid metabolome "fingerprinting" to guide more detailed profiling of metabolites where significant differences are suspected. Central to this strategy are data analysis procedures able to generate validated, reproducible metrics of comparison from complex metabolome data. We show that, apart from targeted changes, these GM potatoes in this study appear substantially equivalent to traditional cultivars.

Comparison of Tuber Proteomes of Potato Varieties, Landraces, and Genetically Modified Lines

Satu J. Lehesranta, Howard V. Davies, Louise V.T. Shepherd, Naoise Nunan, Jim W. McNicol, Seppo Auriola, Kaisa M. Koistinen, Soile Suomalainen, Harri I. Kokko and Sirpa O. Kärenlampi

Institute of Applied Biotechnology (S.J.L., K.M.K., S.S., H.I.K., S.O.K.), and Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry (S.A.), University of Kuopio, FIN–70211 Kuopio, Finland; and Quality, Health and Nutrition Programme (H.V.D., L.V.T.S.), and Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland (N.N., J.W.M.), Scottish Crop Research Institute, Invergowrie, Dundee DD2 5DA, Scotland, United Kingdom

Crop improvement by genetic modification remains controversial, one of the major issues being the potential for unintended effects. Comparative safety assessment includes targeted analysis of key nutrients and antinutritional factors, but broader scale-profiling or "omics" methods could increase the chances of detecting unintended effects. Comparative assessment should consider the extent of natural variation and not simply compare genetically modified (GM) lines and parental controls. In this study, potato (Solanum tuberosum) proteome diversity has been assessed using a range of diverse non-GM germplasm. In addition, a selection of GM potato lines was compared to assess the potential for unintended differences in protein profiles. Clear qualitative and quantitative differences were found in the protein patterns of the varieties and landraces examined, with 1,077 of 1,111 protein spots analyzed showing statistically significant differences. The diploid species Solanum phureja could be clearly differentiated from tetraploid (Solanum tuberosum) genotypes. Many of the proteins apparently contributing to genotype differentiation are involved in disease and defense responses, the glycolytic pathway, and sugar metabolism or protein targeting/storage. Only nine proteins out of 730 showed significant differences between GM lines and their controls. There was much less variation between GM lines and their non-GM controls compared with that found between different varieties and landraces. A number of proteins were identified by mass spectrometry and added to a potato tuber two-dimensional protein map

The Full Monty on GM Food Animal Feeding Tests.

Quarantine issues raised in the EU by Diabrotica worm
Probing the European spread of a U.S. corn pest

November 10, 2005
ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA

View this report online, plus any included photos or other images, at
The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has helped shed new light on the spread in Europe of the western corn rootworm beetle, the most destructive pest of corn in the United States.
It was thought that the European spread of this pest, Diabrotica virgifera virgifera, could be traced exclusively to its accidental 1992 introduction from North America into the former Yugoslavia.
But a new study, headed by researchers Thomas Guillemaud and Nicholas Miller at Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) in Sophia Antipolis, France, has found that it's the result of at least three independent transatlantic introductions. This suggests that such incursions may be occurring more often than previously thought.
The study, described in the current issue of Science, entailed analysis of genetic variation in European and American western corn rootworm populations,
specifically at eight microsatellite loci within their DNA.
Molecular biologist Kyung Seok Kim of ARS' Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit in Ames, Iowa, developed the microsatellite DNA markers needed for the study. His work and ARS cooperation with INRA accelerated the research findings by about a year.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.
Western corn rootworms cost U.S. growers about $1 billion annually in yield losses and control measures. Young larvae feed on root hairs and small roots, while larger larvae feed on primary roots.
Kim explained that the pests are usually most easily controlled by rotating crops between corn and soybean. Eggs laid in corn hatch during the soybean phase, depriving the pests of suitable food.
He added that the findings also bear significance because of the emergence of a new variant of the western corn rootworm in the United States that lays its eggs in soybeans and whose offspring hatch in corn. This variant has not yet been detected in Europe.

Japanese push ahead on Eucalypt breeding
Via Doug Powell at Agnet

Nippon Paper Industries, University of Tsukuba jointly start salt tolerant eucalyptus outdoor cultivation experiment
November 2, 2005JCN News
Aki Tsukioka
TOKYO - Nippon Paper Industries (NPI) has started an outdoor cultivation experiment with salt tolerant eucalyptus trees in collaboration with the University of Tsukuba. The partners are now growing salt-tolerant eucalyptus trees at the university's Gene Research Center.
The relevant plant was genetically engineered with choline oxidase (COD), a[n enzyme from the bacterium, ]... Arthrobacter globiformis, using NPI's proprietary genetic technology MAT Vector System. The tree's salt tolerance has been confirmed in the previous greenhouse cultivation, in which the trees were supplied with saltwater of 30% salinity, the same salinity as seawater.
The current experiment, the first one in Japan to grow a genetically-engineered plant outside, will last until the end of 2009. The partners plan to evaluate growing conditions, salt tolerance levels, impacts on the surroundings of the trees. The salt tolerant eucalyptus, which can be raised in dried and salt damaged soil, is expected to be effective in a fight against global warming as it can absorb carbon dioxide emissions.{Choline related compounds protect cells against water stress note, by GMO Pundit}

Give GM food a fair go
Issues magazine (Melbourne, September 2005)

The Case for Gene Technology
David Tribe, Department of Microbiology and Immunology,
University of Melbourne
Modern gene technology delivers safer and more nutritious food and deserves a fair hearing.

Lack of vitamin A promotes the death of about 6000 children per day, worldwide, from infectious disease. This is a tangible health hazard of vast scope that dwarfs any hypothetical hazard attributed to genetically modified (GM) foods. Recently an affluent Australian lawyer living in London told me that his social set shopped at the high class London chain Sainsbury’s for food but deliberately avoided buying GM food products because they are too “downmarket” as they are produced to meet the needs of desperately poor people in the developing world rather than for discerning people with high culinary standards.
It was only later that I realised that this incident neatly encapsulates the vastly different context of food safety and choices available in the richer developed world compared with the poorer developing world. In the developed world consumers have the luxury of worrying about hypothetical fears while people suffer and die in the developing world from very real food hazards that are preventable by better technology. Satisfying the concerns of wealthy western Europeans about hypothetical food hazards can interfere with the provision of better nutrition for the rural poor in countries like India, Brazil and Bangladesh...Continues at Issues magazine.

Dr Benbrook's unusual use of statistics about wheat

Dr Charles Benbrook is to visit Australia soon to comment on crop biotechnology. His approach to crop statistics has frequently raised dissent from other scientists:
Agbioview Fri, 2 Sep 2005
Benbrook on grain quality in Roundup Ready Wheat.

In his latest offering: "Harvest at Risk: Impacts of Roundup Ready Wheat in the Northern Great Plains" (available from, Benbrook makes the claim that the quality of Roundup Ready wheat is not as high as conventional wheat. In his comments, Benbrook not only claims that the composition of grain from Roundup Ready wheat is not equivalent, but that the differences are significant enough to be of concern.

There are two major problems with Benbrook's approach, both of which suggest a deliberate distortion of the evidence by Benbrook. While the numbers reported by Benbrook are correct, the method of display of the values has been deliberately organised to mislead the reader...Continues at Agbioview

Dr. Christopher Preston
Senior Lecturer, Weed Management
University of Adelaide

Update by GMO Pundit: Charles Benbrooks tour of Australia is being promoted by Genethics, Greenpeace and Network of Concerned Farmers
Other posting see Benbrook letter to Zambia

Chris Prestons detective work on drought

From AgBioView : November 10, 2005

Australia: Network of Concerned Farmers Ask Why GM Crops Perform Worse in Drought

- Christopher Preston ,
Senior Lecturer, Weed Management, University of Adelaide

In my recent search for material on yields of GM canola following the comments of Julie Newman of the Network of Concerned Farmers that GM canola yields were 20% less than those of conventional canola, I came across a press release dating from 30th June 2005 ( In this
press release, the Network of Concerned Farmers are asking why GM crops perform worse in drought. This looks on the surface like a reasonable question. The problem with the question, and perhaps the intention, is that it makes the assumption that GM crops do perform worse in drought. However, is there any evidence to support such an assumption?

Julie Newman thinks so and claims in the press release: "Farmers worldwide have complained that GM crops perform worse than non-GM crops during drought including GM cotton in India and Indonesia, GM soy in the United States and Brazil and GM canola in Canada ."
Supporting information is provided along with the press release mostly pointing to other articles on the Network of Concerned Farmers
In conclusion, the examples given by the Network of Concerned Farmers do not stack up. They can all be sourced to groups that are implacably opposed to GM crops. Has Julie Newman and the Network of Concerned Farmers ever wondered why only anti-GM groups are able to find evidence for GM crops performing worse under drought? Of the seven examples given, only two indicate the possibility that drought might preferentially lower yields of GM crops. In both cases, it was the growing of less well-adapted cultivars that was the root of the problem. At this stage, there is simply no evidence to support a conclusion that GM causes crops to perform worse in drought.

One of the other points of note from this survey was that on two occasions anti-GM activists simply added material to the story to make up for the lack of evidence and on a third occasion change the wording significantly to make a quote look more damaging. This should be adequate warning to Julie Newman, and others, that they should
look for the original sources of the stories instead of simply believing and parroting what is written by these groups...Continues at Agbioview

Reprogramming stress defences in barley improves yield

Proceedings Natl. Acad. Sci USA | September 20, 2005 | vol. 102 | no. 38 | 13386-13391
The endophytic fungus Piriformospora indica reprograms barley to salt-stress tolerance, disease resistance, and higher yield

Disease resistance strategies are powerful approaches to sustainable agriculture because they reduce chemical input into the environment. Recently, Piriformospora indica, a plant-root-colonizing basidiomycete fungus, has been discovered in the Indian Thar desert and was shown to provide strong growth-promoting activity during its symbiosis with a broad spectrum of plants [Verma, S. et al. (1998) Mycologia 90, 896-903]. Here, we report on the potential of P. indica to induce resistance to fungal diseases and tolerance to salt stress in the plant barley. The beneficial effect on the defense status is detected in distal leaves, demonstrating a systemic induction of resistance by a root-endophytic fungus. The systemically altered "defense readiness" is associated with an elevated antioxidative capacity and results in an overall increase in grain yield. Because P. indica can be easily propagated in the absence of a host plant, we conclude that the fungus could be exploited to increase disease resistance and yield in crop plants.

Salt tolerant wheat tested in Western Australia 2005-2006

Via Plantstress webpage
Grain Biotech Australia is testing two salt tolerant wheat lines in Western Australia. These rely on transgenic (GM) technology.

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