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Beer giant ends rice threat: Anheuser-Busch will buy in Missouri if capital-based Ventria shifts its fields; other news

(Friday, April 22, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. Beer giant ends rice threat: Anheuser-Busch will buy in Missouri if capital-based Ventria shifts its fields
2. California bill addresses crops, bio-contamination
3. EU Nations Agree to Ban Suspect U.S. Corn Shipments
4. South Americans refuse "Monsanto tax" on soy harvest
5. Water Loss, seed destruction - Saving the World's Seeds - Dr. Vandana Shiva
6. Underground Crops Could Be Future of 'Pharming'
7. Hard Red Spring Wheat at a Genetic Crossroad: Rural Prosperity or Corporate Hegemony?

Beer giant ends rice threat: Anheuser-Busch will buy in Missouri if capital-based Ventria shifts its fields.

By Dale Kasler -- Sacramento Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Saturday, April 16, 2005

The King of Beers backed off.

Anheuser-Busch Cos. dropped its rice boycott threat Friday and struck a compromise with a small Sacramento biotech company that wants to plant genetically engineered rice in the brewer's home state of Missouri. Under the deal, announced in a joint statement by Anheuser-Busch, Sacramento-based Ventria Bioscience and Missouri officials, the biotech firm agreed to move its planting operations at least 120 miles from the rice-growing region of southeastern Missouri. Ventria Chief Executive Scott Deeter said the company will plant instead at the other end of the state, in southwest Missouri.

In return, Anheuser-Busch abandoned its threat to boycott Missouri's entire rice crop if Ventria planted any biotech rice in the state. Anheuser-Busch, which is the largest consumer of rice in the nation, had earlier said it was worried that its rice could be contaminated somehow by the biotech product. In the joint statement, St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch said it would buy Missouri-grown rice "as long as Ventria's growing areas remain sufficiently far from commercial rice production (in southeast Missouri)." Deeter said Ventria was prepared to go ahead with its plans even if Anheuser-Busch stuck to its guns. But he acknowledged that Missouri rice growers were becoming nervous about the threatened boycott.

"It would have been very difficult," he said. "It was very important to Ventria to find a way to get Anheuser-Busch back into the rice market in Missouri."

Deeter insisted that Ventria's rice wouldn't become mingled with conventional rice. But the brewer, which uses rice to improve beer's taste, was afraid of upsetting customers."This was never an issue about science; it was about perception," Deeter said.

Ventria, which has been planting small rice crops in California for several years, was essentially chased out of California because of protests by anti-biotech activists and mainstream rice farmers. It said last fall it would move its headquarters to the campus of Northwest Missouri State University - which provided $5 million in venture capital - and begin planting this spring in southeast Missouri.

Ventria's plans have become a hot political issue in Missouri and the biotech industry. Besides Anheuser-Busch's threat, the congresswoman from southeast Missouri blasted Ventria's plans this week. Rice farmers had been protesting to state officials, and representatives of Gov. Matt Blunt met with executives from both companies Friday in St. Louis.

"I am pleased that Anheuser-Busch and Ventria have reached a fair compromise that furthers cutting-edge life sciences technology while protecting current markets for Missouri rice farmers," Blunt said in a prepared statement.

The compromise, however, left some farmers uneasy. "If Anheuser-Busch can live with it and buy our rice, we can live with it - as long as they (Ventria) don't try to come down here next year," said Sonny Martin, president of the Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising Council.

Ventria is trying to use rice to produce two proteins that could be used in medicines to combat deadly forms of diarrhea in developing countries. Ventria's rice planting still needs approval from the U.S. Department of, Agriculture. Deeter said he thinks the company can stick to its schedule of putting a crop in the ground this spring.

2. California bill addresses crops, bio-contamination

BRIAN SEALS, Santa Cruz Sentinel, April 21, 2005

Ken Kimes has been farming organic baby greens in his 4-acre greenhouse for years.

The selling point is the all-natural purity of the product.

So the prospect of his crops somehow becoming contaminated by genetically modified seed worries him.

Many European and Asian nations reject crops found to have non-permitted genetically altered seeds.

"The real problem is the rejection of GMO contaminated crops by other countries," Kimes said.

GMO stands for "genetically modified organism," plant or animal.

A bill written by Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, weighs in on the increasingly controversial issue of genetically modified agriculture in California's roughly $30 billion farming industry.

Laird's AB 984 would enable farmers whose crops are unintentionally contaminated by genetically modified crops to collect damages from the company that produced the seed.

The bill would also shield farmers from liability should their crops be pollinated by a genetically modified crop. In some cases worldwide, farmers whose crops have been contaminated, unbeknownst to them, by genetically modified crops have been held liable for patent infringement.

"You have liability for, in essence, purchasing or using that seed," Laird said.

The organic farming industry is backing the bill.

"We're not telling farmers what they can and cannot grow," said Peggy Miars, executive director of the Santa Cruz-based California Certified Organic Farmers. "What we're saying is the GMO farmer should take responsibility for the impact on other farmers."

Organic farmers risk losing organic certification should their crops be affected.

A genetically modified organism is a plant, animal or microorganism whose genetic code has been altered to give it characteristics that it does not have naturally. Plant seeds can be modified to resist pests, for example.

Supporters say that reduces herbicide use, and such seeds can improve yields.

Critics say not enough is known about genetically modified seeds and plants to ensure they are safe.

Pollen from modified crops, like corn, can travel for miles, said David Schubert, a professor of molecular biology at the Salk Institute in San Diego. "The pollen can be dispersed by wind or by insects," Schubert said.

Pollen can also be spread when a crop is being hauled.

"I'm not totally against the technology itself," Schubert said. "I think they just need to go slowly. It's a new technology and it's best to err on the side of caution."

In March 2004, Mendocino County became the first county in the nation to prohibit production of GMOs.

Marin County voters did the same the following November. Similar measures in Butte, Humboldt and San Luis Obispo counties failed.

The Western Plant Health Association -- the West Coast arm of the CropLife a trade group for the biotech industry -- has yet to take a position on Laird's bill, spokeswoman Sara Miller said.

In the Pajaro Valley, the bill would be more of a preemptive move.

Genetically modified crops are more typically corn cotton and soybeans rather than the berries and lettuce crops that dominate agriculture here.

"I think it's time to address this on a statewide basis," Laird said. "It's a broader issue than just county by county."

Just this week, beer-making giant Anheuser-Busch said it would not by rice grown in Missouri if Sacramento-based Ventria were permitted to grow a strain of rice engineered to make human proteins for producing pharmaceuticals.

About 167 million acres of genetically modified crops were planted worldwide in 2003, according to a report by the Pew Institute on Food and Biotechnology.

The bill passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee this week by a 6-2 vote and is scheduled for a hearing before the Assembly Agriculture Committee April 27.

3. EU Nations Agree to Ban Suspect U.S. Corn Shipments

Associated Press, April 15, 2005

BRUSSELS -- European Union nations voted Friday to ban U.S. shipments of suspect corn gluten animal feed unless the bloc has full assurance that the imports are free of genetically modified corn.

The move could affect millions of dollars' worth of corn gluten exports. The dispute centers on a batch of Bt10 genetically modified corn that Swiss agrochemicals company Syngenta AG inadvertently sold in the U.S. and exported to Europe without approval.

"This is a targeted measure which is necessary to uphold EU law, maintain consumer confidence and ensure that the unauthorized GMO [genetically modified organism] Bt10 cannot enter the EU. Imports of maize products which are certified as free of Bt10 will be able to continue," said EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou.

The ban will effectively shut out all imports of U.S. corn gluten, since there is currently no effective way of testing for Bt10, which hasn't been approved by American or European regulators.

Syngenta Friday said it will have a detection method within days for Bt10. "We will have a valid testing method for these two products [corn gluten feed and brewers grain] in the coming days," said Mike Mack, the chief operating officer of Syngenta Seeds on a conference call.

U.S. shipments of corn gluten feed to the EU totaled EURO347 million ($444.8 million) last year.

The U.S. said the ban was exaggerated. "We view the EU's decision to impose a certification requirement on U.S. corn gluten due to the possible, low-level presence of Bt10 corn to be an overreaction," said Edward Kemp, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the EU.

"U.S. regulatory authorities have determined there are no hazards to health, safety or the environment related to Bt10," Mr. Kemp added. "The small amounts of Bt10 corn that may have entered the EU have had no proven negative impact."

The ban is to come into force early next week, pending formal approval by the EU's head office.

Environmental campaigners welcomed the move. "Europe now has a de facto ban on the import of many U.S. animal feeds," said Friends of the Earth spokesman Adrian Bebb.

However, Greenpeace warned that stricter controls are needed to prevent more cases of unauthorized biotech imports. "Europe is currently helpless to defend itself from contamination by GMOs that are suspected to harm human health and the environment," said Christoph Then, genetic engineering expert for the campaign group. "As long as EU authorities have no means to test imports for all the GMOs being released in the U.S. and elsewhere, it must say 'no entry' to the EU for any food, feed or seeds that are at risk of contamination."

The EU said it is in continuous contact with U.S. authorities on the issue, but its decision to ban suspect corn gluten imports further strains trans-Atlantic trade relations.

Syngenta said last week it has reached a settlement with the U.S. government over the inadvertent sale of Bt10 to farmers. The company said in a statement that under the settlement reached with U.S. authorities, it would pay a fine of $375,000 and teach its employees the importance of complying with all rules.

However, the EU has been annoyed that U.S. authorities allowed the export of Bt10 to Europe after it was mixed up with an authorized biotech Syngenta maize labeled Bt11. About 1,000 tons of animal feed and food products such as oil and flour containing the corn are thought to have entered the EU since 2001. The case has underscored European concerns about biotech foods, coming shortly after the EU relaxed restrictions on GMOs.


4. South Americans refuse "Monsanto tax" on soy harvest

Reuters, April 4
http://www.checkbiotech.org/root/index.cfm? fuseaction=news&doc_id=10027&start=1&control=197&page_start=1&page_nr=10 1&pg=1

BUENOS AIRES - Farm ministers from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay -- the world's top soybean exporters behind the United States -- on Friday shunned a bid by US biotech pioneer Monsanto to charge royalties on genetically modified soybeans when they are harvested.

Royalties "should only be charged when farmers buy seeds," said a statement issued by Argentina after a special meeting of the Southern Agricultural Council in Cartagena, Colombia at the request of Argentine Agriculture Secretary Miguel Campos.

The meeting arose from a protracted battle between Argentina and Monsanto over GMO soy royalties. Chile's Agriculture Minister Jaime Campos also attended, as did lower-level Uruguayan and Bolivian officials.

Monsanto officials in Buenos Aires declined to comment. The St. Louis, Missouri-based company wants Argentine farmers to pay technology fees for its herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready soybeans.

The statement did not refer specifically to soybeans, and could include other crops such as wheat.

Argentina approved Roundup Ready soy for planting in 1996 and Monsanto used to embed the royalties charge into soybean seed prices.

But because the black market for soy seeds is so great, the company stopped selling such seeds altogether in 2003. Many other companies continue to sell soy seeds containing Roundup Ready genes, however, paying licensing fees to Monsanto.

Only 20 percent of Argentina's $1 billion, annual soybean seed trade is legal.


Months-long talks to set royalties collapsed last month when Monsanto warned Argentine exporters it aimed to impose a $15-per-tonne fine on Argentine shipments of Roundup Ready beans in European nations where The gene is patented.

In February, the firm had proposed a $1-per-tonne charge on Argentine soy and soy derivatives in 2005, rising to $2.50 per tonne between 2006 and 2011.

Argentina's Campos responded by threatening to take Monsanto to court if it levies fines in European ports.

Campos, who insists technology fees should be charged as part of the seed price, rallied five neighboring countries to his side. South American officials "urged farmers in the region to reject accords to pay any kind of royalties compensation on harvested grains," the statement said.

Last month, farmers in Paraguay agreed to pay royalties to Monsanto for Roundup Ready soybeans grown this season. But the company has yet to reach a national accord in Brazil, where GMO crops were just recently approved.

Argentina has drafted a legislative bill to crack down on the illegal seed trade.

On Thursday, Campos met in Colombia with US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, who expressed concern over Argentina's lack of royalties payments, according to a statement issued afterward by Argentina's Agriculture Secretariat.

Johanns said this puts US farmers who pay royalties at a competitive disadvantage. But the Secretariat statement said Campos replied that US subsidies on farm production and exports are even less fair.

5. Water Loss, seed destruction - Saving the World's Seeds - Dr. Vandana Shiva

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Thank you for joining us on Catalyst Radio.

Would you start by talking about some general issues surrounding globalization.

Dr. Vandana Shiva: Well those of use who are concerned about the globalization that has been contrived and yet made to look as if it is a natural evolutionary step, we are concerned about the injustice and undemocratic system on which it is based.

And everything we said, fifteen years ago, when these rules were being put in place, very artificially, under GAT and then became the WTO rules, or on the financial side as the instrumentalities and conditionalities of the World Bank and IMF, what we said fifteen years ago turns out not to have been an exaggeration but an underestimation of the devastation of both nature, society and economies.

I had talked about the WTO agreement on agriculture as the death knell for Indian farmers. Every year 16,000 farmers are being killed. They are taking their lives, but I don't think they are taking their lives. It is that they are being pushed to the edge of survival - through the indebtedness that is an inevitable result of turning them into a market for Monsanto seed, and, on the other hand disposable items, when Cargill and ConAgra have to dump subsidized grain through a liberalized agreement.

When I started to fight intellectual property rights in the WTO, I was concerned about patents on life. And seed patents now we can see what they are doing.

American farmers are being harassed, fined for three million dollars, and the crime is seed saving?

What could be a worse situation for humanity? To turn something as valuable as saving seeds for the future into a criminal activity.

Similar laws have just been passed in India, two weeks ago.

I think anyone who doesn't resist this kind of globalization is not being fully human, is not exercising their duties.

Catalyst Radio: You spoke about how this is being played out around water, around water globally. I wonder if you could say more about that with water as an example. Specifically the impact in your country, in India.

Dr. Vandana Shiva: Well, three major issues around water co-modification that are creating new movements in India - a new generation of ecology movements, a new generation of social justice movements, a new generation of human rights movements - the first is the mining of very, very scarce and precious ground water.

In remaining pockets - that wasn't destroyed by 'Green Revolution,' which is the name given to industrial agriculture - this mining is now being done by Coke and Pepsi. This culture in which they are bringing more soft drinks for sale, more bottled water for sale as Kinley⤙s and Aquafina, they are mining for every plant that they have set up in the five years since they came back to India.

One point five to two million liters per day leaving a water famine.

People are resisting because woman are having to walk ten, twenty, thirty miles to find water. The Coke, Pepsi campaign I believe is going to intensify in the future. Woman in Carela organized to shut a plant down. Coke has just manipulated the courts to undo an earlier court judgment. We are going to have to continue to resist.

The second, very, very major issue is World Bank driven privatization of water in urban areas. Deli being a prime case where the urban supply is being handed over to Sways. On the one hand this means privatization the sacred Ganges. On the other hand it means an increase in tariffs, ten times to fifteen times, excluding the poor, drawing the public access that was guaranteed to everyone.

The third very, very huge movement that's emerging is around two hundred billion dollar river linking project. It is basically a river linking diversion project. It is a privatization project. Because you can't privatize rives as free flowing systems. You can only privatize them after you have locked them in dams and captured them in canals. These three major privatization movements are also being countered by people's movements to keep water in the commons, keep it as a public good, defend it as a human right.

Catalyst Radio: I just came back from Guatemala where we have been interviewing people about the so called trade agreement, the CAFTA trade agreement, which is almost an unknown factor here. How much of a role does commercial media, does corporate media play in keeping people in the dark about these very important trade agreements, these economic policies that impact all of our lives.

Dr. Vandana Shiva: I think it is the key, to push anti-people policies through.

It is the key to making slavery appear like freedom.

It is the key to not allowing the stories of resistance to reach others. Because for that people draw solidarity, people draw energy, people draw strength.

That's why it becomes absolutely necessary to create alternate means of communication between people because the dominant corporate media has become one big lie.

Catalyst Radio: You mention the danger of people getting information about what is happening because it builds solidarity. The World Social Forum happened again recently, what are some of the things you have seen happen as you have traveled around the world with regard to these issues, in terms of people networking, coalition building and the types of resistance that are taking place all around the globe?

Dr. Vandana Shiva: Well I will give you just three very simple examples of movements that have spread very rapidly.

A few years as Monsanto started to push genetically modified crops and food around the world using all the instruments of corruption of governments, of WTO rules, we started to talk about declaring regions GM free. Freedom zones just as we used to have nuclear free zones.

There are more than five thousand freedom zones in Europe now. And even in the United States counties are starting to organize and have referendums.

It is a movement that is just multiplying. People are learning from each other and saying we can do that too. We don't have to wait until a WTO gives us freedom. Freedom is ours to exercise and live.

The Coke, Pepsi campaigns as they have built up. The issues of communities in the south loosing their water have got deeply connected to concerns of northern campuses.

With the entire mafia rule around Coca-Cola plants and the killing of trade unionists who are trying to organize, two ends of the Coke campaign are starting to join together to find new ways to reclaim freedom for communities.

And the third, very, very, big issue that has multiplied as people have talked to each other, I believe is the seed issue.

You know I started to work on seed patenting, seed conservation in 1987 onwards when I first came to the GAT agreement. There used to be four or five people one could pick up the phone and talk to.

Today there is not a country where there isn't a movement for farmers rights, where there isn⤙t a movement to save native seeds, and where there isn't a movement to challenge patents on life and patents on seed.

So I think this communication outside the dominant media - and these are issues absolutely shut out and censored in the dominant media - but outside the dominant media people are communicating with each other and the realities are getting connected to deal with the handful of greedy giants.

When we start to exchange notes, it's five corporate seed companies, five water giants, five agribusiness giants, that's what we are up against across the worlds. In the United States as much as India and Guatemala and Germany.

Catalyst Radio: You talked about seed patenting and the dilemmas with that. Could you say a little more about what the dangers of that are. About the biological dangers of having homogenous seed production. And what that means to people, particularly people in indigenous populations around the world, which are the ones that hold this rich treasure of centuries of knowledge.

Dr. Vandana Shiva: The first problem that starts with the patenting of seed is that corporations do not sell seed according to what is adapted to local climate, or what farmers need. They sell seed according to where they have been able to do the quickest manipulation.

So that using that manipulation they can claim novelty.

Claiming novelty they can claim patents.


've been of the view that genetic engineering was an excuse to enforce patents on seed.

It was an unnecessary step in improving breeding. We don't have a single improved crop through genetic engineering.

We got herbicide resistant crops and we have BT toxin crops. Neither of which are improvements from nature's perspective, from farmers' perspective.

Now if you just look at the world. Where is the highest rate of expansion of crop varieties? It's in genetically engineered Soya, genetically engineered corn, genetically engineered canola, and genetically engineered cotton.

So you are getting the food base of the world, which should be something like ten thousand crops, being reduced to four genetically engineered crops.

None adapted to any ecosystem.

All of them in the hands of one company, Monsanto, controlling something like ninety-three, ninety-four percent of all GM seeds sold anywhere in the world.

So you have the problem of mono-cultures, of homogeneity, but you also have the problem of total control of the seed supply.

And that total control of the seed supply has many social and economic implications.

First implication is that farmers who used to save seed, and who used to be able to exchange seed, are now treated as thieves of intellectual property.

It also means that the cost of seed start to skyrocket because farmers must pay royalties, must pay technology fees, must buy seeds annually, and a zero cost input in farming has ended up being the highest cost input in farming.

In addition, corporations like Monsanto ensure that farmers alternative supplies are destroyed by other legal trips - seed laws, compulsory legislation like the Iraqi 81 order, like the Indian Seed Act, and through that they ensure that farmers' alternatives, genetic diversity, biodiversity, specially in the countries that are home to genetic diversity are wiped out.

Which is a threat not just to those communities.

It is a threat to humanity.

It is a threat to our food supply.

It is a threat to our security.

Catalyst Radio: Quite often people who dismiss the concerns of people like yourself are sharing, they keep saying that all we have is a criticism. That what we are is always against, not what we are for. Can you say something about what this global movement is really asking for. Asking for what we want to happen.

Dr. Vandana Shiva: You know, before I started to fight against patents in seed, I started to first save seed.

Because you cannot afford to critic a system to which you cannot offer an alternative.

First of all, those who are destroying alternatives, will then treat the absence of alternatives as the reason for their existence.

Secondly, you really do not have the moral authority to demand a shift if you have not been able to show that there are other ways, and better ways to do things.

On seed saving, we firmly believe seed is a common resource.

Seed is a common heritage.

And so we actually do what we believe in.

We create community seed banks from which farmers can take the seeds they need according to their agriculture, according to their cropping systems.

Seeds in a free exchange of a common property.

In agriculture, when we critic globalization of trade, and we critic the control of agriculture in the hands of a few giants, and the technologies of non-sustainability, we do the farming and the trade that allows farmers to have alternatives.

Navdanya organization that I founded has trained more that two hundred thousand farmers in India to go corporate free and chemical free. And corporate seed free.

Our farmers have increased their income three-fold. They have reduced their expenditure by ninety percent.

The only place in India where farmers are not getting into debt is areas where they are practicing sustainable organic farming.

And are engaging in fair trade where they set the terms of the market, rather than the genocidal terms created by the ConAgra's and the Cargill's.

And in case of water, we conserve water.

We conserve every drop.

We make our contribution to building up and rebuilding our common legacy and then we have the moral right and the authority to say you will not mess around with out water.

Because it is water that we share.

It is water that we conserve collectively.

And it is water to which access for all must be guaranteed.

Catalyst Radio

RFSTE was founded in Dehra Dun, Uttar Pradesh (INDIA) in 1982 by Dr. Vandana Shiva.

6. Underground Crops Could Be Future of 'Pharming'

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., April 20 (AScribe Newswire) -- Corn grows just as well - if not better - underground as in a typical greenhouse setting or in the field, according to a team of Purdue University researchers that is working with a company to develop techniques for tightly controlled production of crops containing pharmaceuticals such as edible vaccines or antibodies.

The scientists, in partnership with Controlled Pharming Ventures LLC of McCordsville, Ind., have designed and built a crop-growth facility inside a 60-acre former limestone mine in Marengo, a small town in southern Indiana. The first test crop, planted in the underground facility late last fall, produced more corn in a shorter time period than plants grown in a greenhouse on the Purdue campus, said Cary Mitchell, a Purdue professor of horticulture.

"This first planting performed very well," Mitchell said. "We've shown that you can successfully grow crops underground in a lighted but completely contained facility. What we have here is a perfect model for controlled-environment agriculture. This could jump-start a whole industry."

Controlled-environment agriculture is a system in which all the inputs required for plant growth - light, temperature, carbon dioxide and humidity - are regulated to maximize growth.

The team recently presented its results at the NCR-101 annual conference. NCR-101 is a U.S. Department of Agriculture committee dedicated to controlled environment agriculture.

In the initial trial, genetically modified corn grown in the facility had an average yield that equaled 337 bushels per acre. By comparison, corn the researchers grew in a greenhouse yielded the equivalent of 267 bushels per acre.

The average yield for field corn grown in the United States is 142 bushels per acre. The higher yield in the growth facility is a product of the amount of control the researchers have over the environment compared to both greenhouse and field settings. The corn the researchers planted, known as Bt corn, contains a gene that produces a protein that kills larvae of European corn borer, an agricultural pest.

These results lay to rest the team's initial concerns about growing crops in an underground mine.

"Because corn and other pharma crop candidates, such as tobacco and tomato, are naturally hot-weather crops, there was some concern whether the year-round, cool temperatures of the mine would be sub-optimal for crop growth underground," Mitchell said.

It turns out that the growth facility's location in the mine actually puts it at a temperature advantage.

"The design we use leverages the cool air temperatures in the mine to reject waste heat from the intensely hot plant-growth lamps in the facility," Mitchell said.

The underground growth chamber is the brainchild of Doug Ausenbaugh, president of Controlled Pharming Ventures, a startup company funded to develop the facility through the Indiana 21st Century Research and Technology Fund.

Ausenbaugh said the facility's design incorporates safeguards to prevent any release into the wild of plants genetically modified to produce pharmaceutical agents.

"This is a safe, reliable, consistent and contained production environment that can operate year-round and around the clock," he said. "What's unique here is the level of control we have over the environment inside the facility."

Ausenbaugh hopes to see the facility become a prime research, development and production site for companies interested in developing pharmaceutical crops or plants engineered to produce proteins like vaccines and antibodies.

Producing these compounds in plants can be cheaper and easier than conventional methods for pharmaceutical production. Some pharmaceutical companies today are interested in using crops as plant-based "factories" to produce proteins that may be extracted and processed in pill or injectable form.

"We have been talking with a number of plant-based pharmaceutical companies about using our facility design, and we hope to launch pilot growth trials over the next 12 months," Ausenbaugh said.

The underground facility is a tall room built within a cavern in a former limestone mine now used largely as a warehouse facility for the transportation industry. The mine creates an environment in which temperature, humidity, light, airflow and other plant-growth factors are tightly regulated.

Environmental control and containment are crucial to any pharmaceutical crops initiative, Ausenbaugh said. Several organizations, including the American Society of Plant Biologists, recommend that any development of pharmaceutical or other transgenic crops be done in an entirely enclosed environment removed from the food system to prevent any accidental contamination.

Currently, the USDA's Biotechnology Regulatory Services, the agency that regulates genetically engineered organisms, has not established specific protocols for transgenic plant production in contained facilities.

However, the facility does meet strict biosafety criteria established by the National Institutes of Health for the handling of transgenic plants in greenhouses, said Yang Yang, a Purdue research scientist helping to develop the growth facility.

"As it exists today, we have biosafety level two status at the growth facility," he said. "We can easily achieve biosafety level three, and because of the natural containment and control offered by our setting in the mine, it would be significantly less costly than in an above-ground facility."

Biosafety level two, or BL2-P, status requires limited access to the facility and inactivation of "biologically active materials," such as the genes inserted into transgenic organisms, before any plants are disposed of. Biosafety level three, or BL3-P, requires additional safeguards, including a double set of self-closing, locking doors and high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters for both incoming and exhaust air.

"The ability to attain biosafety level three at a cost advantage is attractive, given the expanding efforts of biotechnology companies on biodefense issues and the NIH's goal of expanding biosafety level research capacity throughout the United States," Ausenbaugh said.

The 60-acre mine is large enough also to include facilities for processing pharmaceutical plants, Ausenbaugh said.

Processing would render inactive any genes those plants carry to produce compounds, such as vaccines, insulin or antibiotics, preventing the transport of any active transgenic material out of the facility.

"We are ahead of our time in that the research we are doing now can provide very good and important references for guidance on building contained transgenic plant production facilities," Yang said. "The procedures we develop and follow may very well end up as the protocols of NIH, USDA, or the Environmental Protection Agency for future construction of underground facilities."

The pilot facility was designed and built for scalability up to sizes measured in acres.

"The walls are just like a sandwich," Yang said. "In the center is an insulation layer, which helps conserve heat. The walls inside the room are made of reflective materials to bounce back as much light as possible, and the outside of the room is covered in protective material."

Data monitors throughout the facility collect real-time information about temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels. These monitors communicate with a computer system that responds to any changes in conditions by adjusting variables such as light intensity or air circulation.

A second growth facility, specifically designed to grow crops that benefit from elevated carbon dioxide levels, such as tobacco, alfalfa and soybeans, will be completed later this spring in the same mine.

Taking the long view, Mitchell sees in this facility the potential to revolutionize the U.S. crop production system, provided the cost of artificial lighting can be minimized. He envisions a system by which such facilities will recoup some of their electricity costs by using plant waste, such as leaves and stems, as a source to create energy that goes back into lighting the facility.

He also predicts facilities like the one in southern Indiana will one day support aquaponics, a system that couples fish farming to hydroponic crop production, or even organic agriculture, in which fruit and vegetable production could be done in an environment that requires no pesticides.

"Eventually, we could see plant-related businesses clustering where a lot of waste biomass is being generated and where there's an opportunity to reclaim energy," Mitchell said.

7. Hard Red Spring Wheat at a Genetic Crossroad: Rural Prosperity or Corporate Hegemony?

When Monsanto announced in June 2004 that it would withdraw its application for approval of genetically engineered wheat, it was the end of a long battle with farm and consumer groups in the U.S. and Canada. This stunning retreat by a major biotechnology company from the marketing of a major biotech crop, even if it proves only temporary, represents an historical bell weather in the ongoing controversy over the safety of biotech crops for humans, biodiversity and rural economies.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's R. Dennis Olson traces the history of Monsanto's attempt to gain government approval of genetically engineered wheat in a chapter of a new book, Controversies in Science & Technology, published by the University of Wisonsin.

You can read the full article at: http://www.iatp.org