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Glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed found in West Tennessee

(Friday, Sept. 30, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. GMOs and the right of self-determination
2. Glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed found in West Tennessee
3. Investigation confirms case of glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed in Georgia
4. GMOs not the silver bullet that'll solve agriculture's problems
5. Brazil`s Monsanto RR soy patent questioned in Brazil
6. Will biotech wheat research be revived?
7. Seed companies examine Bt patent: Depending on scope, royalties could be required
8. When food from the laboratory leaves a bitter taste
9. A project to remodel grape genes yields mostly outrage
10. Organic farmers can appeal ruling
11. Voter poll shows strong biotech crops support
12. Less is more: working miracles in Nepal's rice fields

1. GMOs and the right of self-determination

Lake County Record-Bee
Saturday, September 24, 2005 -
Lake County Publishing Editorial Board

On Tuesday, the board of supervisors will discuss whether or not to accept an ordinance crafted by a local group, Coalition for Responsible Agriculture (CRG) that places a 30-month moratorium on the introduction of Roundup Ready alfalfa in Lake County.

Developed by Monsanto, one of the world's largest and most powerful multinational corporations, this alfalfa is meant to be resistant to one of Monsanto's own products, Roundup, a powerful herbicide. The corporation suggests that this will allow growers to use its herbicide to kill weeds while not harming the alfalfa itself.

The government cleared the crop for release in July.

Agricultural publications have cited its potential for greater yields and weed resistance; at the same time, concerns have emerged from various corners.

CRG members have compared the seed's introduction to letting a genie out of a bottle; other GMO opponents around the country call the issue a "Pandora's box" that, once opened, can't be closed.

Their concerns aren't isolated. An August article in Kennewick, Wash.'s Tri-City Herald says alfalfa growers in the region's Columbia Basin are concerned that Japanese export markets will reject the crop based on the perception that "the product is unnatural" and could affect both people and the milk from dairy cows that eat the hay.

An August 2004 article from the University of California's Agriculture and Natural Resources Department touts the seed as promising while mentioning "weed shift," a phenomenon in which weeds Roundup doesn't control proliferate, and that certain weeds develop resistance to Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate.

In Lake County where approximately 108,000 acres are devoted to some type of agricultural use, less than 100 acres of the crop is grown by a handful of farmers, said agricultural commissioner Steve Hajik. Hajik said he doesn't know of any local farmers planning to use the seed.

While there is, he said, a search on for an alternate crop to pears, the acreage of which continues to decline, he added, "I don't know if alfalfa is it."

It's unlikely that this seed would either be introduced or much used in Lake County, which Chuck March, executive director of the Lake County Farm Bureau and a moratorium opponent, told us this week. "It's almost a non-issue in Lake County," he said.

Yet you wouldn't know that by the flood of e-mails we've received from "think tanks" across the country urging us to oppose the moratorium. These groups aren't unbiased; in fact, they're all funded, at least in part, by Monsanto. When we questioned these groups about their affiliations, and then asked them, "What's the rush?" about introducing the crop, their hard-sell tactics immediately took a harder edge, accusing us of bias.

That told us this matter is less about helping farmers and more about helping Monsanto, and the safety of Lake County's ecosystem doesn't figure anywhere.

For March, the moratorium is "the first step for an all-out ban on GMOs." Such a ban, he said, could prevent positive steps forward in crop development such as winegrapes resistant to Pierce's disease.

"Our whole position is that it (GMOs) should be regulated at the state level, not local," said March. State agencies, like the Department of Food and Agriculture, March said, are better equipped to set GMO regulations, much as they do with pesticides.

Yet, we believe this issue is about self-determination, allowing local citizens and officials to judge products on their merit and benefits, on a case-by-case basis, instead of leaving the decisions to distant, politically charged processes behind closed doors in Sacramento.

This matter requires an approach that blends caution, concern for everyone involved and a respect for the environment.

The Record-Bee supports the 30-month moratorium on Roundup Ready alfalfa. Long-term, careful study and anecdotal evidence in the open market will address concerns about the seed, and tell us if it is truly safe.

We're not saying that we favor a total GMO ban. But we do believe that we need to think carefully before opening a door that, once opened, can never be closed.

The Lake County Publishing Editorial Board includes Publisher Gregg McConnell, Editor Elizabeth Larson, News Editor David Stoneberg and Sports Editor Brian Sumpter.

2. Glyphosate-resistant Palmer Pigweed found in West Tennessee

Compiled by Farm Progress staff, 9/23/05

Glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed has been confirmed at two locations in west Tennessee, making it the second finding of resistance in the weed species in the nation, say University of Tennessee weed scientists.

Scientists at the University of Georgia and Monsanto earlier this summer confirmed glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed in Georgia.

University of Tennessee Extension weed specialist Larry Steckel says Palmer pigweed at locations in Lauderdale and Crockett counties in West Tennessee survived an application of 22 full ounces of Roundup WeatherMax. Plants at one location survived an application of 44 ounces.

University of Tennessee Extension weed scientist Tom Mueller says, "In some ways the Palmer pigweed appears to be similar to glyphosate-tolerant horseweed/mare?s tail. All the treated Palmer pigweed plants look the same for two or three days after the application. They all wilt and turn yellow."

About four days after spraying, the tolerant plants stop wilting and begin new growth in lateral buds.

As far as control is concerned, proper applications of Clarity, 2,4-D, Gramoxone Max or Ignite "will allow farmers to produce pretty clean crops," Steckel says. "However, we expect resistant Palmer pigweed will pose more problems for producers than horseweed."

The discovery of resistant Palmer pigweed reinforces the importance of managing weed resistance to herbicides. "It is essential to use more than one herbicidal mode of action in your fields," Mueller says.

For more details: http://utcrops.com/

3. Investigation confirms case of glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed in Georgia


ST. LOUIS (Sept. 13, 2005) - Dr. Stanley Culpepper, a University of Georgia weed scientist, and Monsanto have determined that Palmer amaranth (Palmer pigweed) at specific sites in central Georgia is resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup(r) agricultural herbicides. Numerous field and greenhouse trials completed earlier this year indicated probable resistance; however, heritability studies - to determine whether the lack of control is passed on to the next generation - are now complete and confirm this Palmer amaranth population as resistant.

"This Palmer amaranth population has tolerated extremely high rates of glyphosate applied in the field under excellent growing conditions," says Culpepper. The resistant population infests 500 acres of Roundup Ready(r) cotton in central Georgia. Additional herbicide products have provided effective control of the resistant population. Dr. Culpepper and Monsanto are surveying the surrounding area this season to determine if this biotype has spread.

When glyphosate resistant weed biotypes have been identified in the past, they have been effectively managed with other herbicides and/or cultural practices, such as tillage. Based on the data available today, Monsanto recommends that farmers growing Roundup Ready cotton or Roundup Ready Flex(r) cotton who have glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth on their farm do the following for 2006:

  • Use a pre-emergence residual herbicide such as Prowl(r)
  • Apply Roundup agricultural herbicide plus metolachlor early post-emergence
  • Apply Roundup agricultural herbicide plus diuron at lay-by

In case of weed escapes, there are other herbicide products available as well. Growers should always read and follow herbicide label directions. Monsanto will continue to work with the University of Georgia to research the best options for control of glyphosate resistant Palmer amaranth and will modify these recommendations as new information becomes available.

"We have ongoing research planned to investigate Palmer amaranth management systems for a number of crops," says Culpepper. "We won't be sure what the best recommendation is until after the cotton harvest."

For growers that do not have confirmed glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth, Monsanto is recommending they use a pre-emergence residual that is active on Palmer amaranth, such as Prowl, in addition to a Roundup agricultural herbicide.

"Using a residual helps reduce early season weed competition and reduces the number and size of weeds when the first application of Roundup is made," says David Heering, Roundup Technical Manager. "In cotton, it is also important to add a residual at lay-by such as diuron to control weeds that emerge between lay-by and harvest."

Growers who are planting other Roundup Ready crops, such as corn or soybeans, should also use a pre-emergence residual if they have Palmer amaranth in their fields. Additionally, using the right rate of glyphosate for the right size weed at the right time is critical in an effective weed control program. The use of lower than recommended rates of glyphosate has been a contributing factor in previous cases of confirmed glyphosate resistant weeds. Growers should also consider using additional weed control tools that may be necessary for the weed spectrum on their farm.

The research on Palmer amaranth will be submitted to the International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds at http://www.weedscience.com for inclusion on the official list of glyphosate-resistant weeds.

Monsanto Company is a leading global provider of technology-based solutions and agricultural products that improve farm productivity and food quality. For more information on Monsanto, see: http://www.monsanto.com

4. GMOs not the silver bullet that'll solve agriculture's problems

The Charlottetown Guardian, September 23, 2005 [Via Agnet]

Danny Hendricken, district director of the National Farmers Union, writes to address some of the points that Eddy Dykerman made in his article 'GMOs can benefit the farmer, society and the environment' (The Guardian, Sept. 19, 2005).

GMOs are not the silver bullet we are seeking to reverse or resolve the problems associated with industrial agriculture (soil degradation and unacceptable low farm incomes, to mention a few).

When are we finally going to come to the realization that when we try to manipulate and control nature, we lose? Early in our education system we were taught that altering our environment in even the slightest manner would have grave consequences on the entire animal kingdom. But here we are today genetically changing plants in a manner that could never happen naturally.

The scientists and the companies that have developed this technology believe that it is preposterous that anyone would question the legitimacy of their research.

Our governments constantly tell us that they make decisions regarding the introduction of new GM foods on the basis of 'sound science'. So Canadians should ask: How sound is the science on human health risks posed by GM foods? How many peer-reviewed papers on the health effects of GM foods have been published in academic journals?

Hendricken says that as of 2003, there existed only 10 such papers. And only five of those studies are independent (not 'performed more or less in collaboration with private companies'). And all five of these independent studies report adverse effects from feeding GM foods to lab animals. These are the findings of a 2003 study by Dr. Ian Pryme and Dr. Rolf Lembcke published in the journal Nutrition and Health.

In the U.S., the most recent look at the question of pesticide use is by Dr. Charles Benbrook in his paper entitled 'Genetically Engineered Crops and Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Nine Years'. Benbrook finds that since 1996 " ... GE crops ... have increased corn, soybean, and cotton pesticide use by 122.4 million pounds, or about four per cent." Further, the rate of increase is increasing - peaking at over 16 per cent in 2004.

It is important to remember that no commercially grown crop has been genetically modified for higher yield. The two most common modifications are resistance to glyphosate (often called 'herbicide tolerant' or 'HT'; or 'Roundup Ready', after the most popular brand of glyphosate) and the expression of the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) insecticide. Neither of these modifications directly increases yield. The implication is that they can increase yield indirectly - by reducing weed or insect pressures. There is no evidence, however, that GM seeds increase yields, either directly or indirectly.

When GM crops were first introduced, environmental advocates and others raised the prospect of contamination and 'gene flow'. Monsanto and other technology developers said that this could never happen. Now it is universally recognized that GM plants outcross promiscuously.

And even when GM seed companies first admitted that GM crops outcross and contaminate, these companies claimed that it was only over a limited range. Where companies admitted the need for buffer strips, they advocated buffers of just a few yards. Now we understand that GM pollen travels dozens of kilometres. At every turn, and without any data, GM-seed sellers and promoters have recklessly claimed to have knowledge of the environmental safety of GM crops when in fact they were completely ignorant of how such crops will actually act in the biosphere. Even today, they and we remain ignorant.

In terms of increasing our market share for agricultural exports, the general public may be interested in a response to a Canadian Wheat Board survey. The customers that purchase 87 per cent of the Canadian wheat crop said that they will stop buying Canadian wheat if we introduce GM varieties.

Our customers are clear: not only will they refuse to buy GM wheat from Canada, they will cease buying all wheat from us, because they simply did not believe the GM wheat could be segregated from non-GM. Certainly not an overwhelming show of confidence by importing countries.

Around the world, academics, citizens and civil society organizations are raising concerns about a global food system increasingly controlled by corporations such as Cargill, Wal-Mart, and Monsanto. And if corporate control of our food supply is something to be concerned about, control of seed is a key concern. Monsanto and a tiny number of other companies are tightening their grip, not merely on our seeds, but on the genes the building blocks of life. In effect, we are turning control of our seed supply over to a tiny number of global transnationals, in return, it is implied, for the benefits of the seeds that they will produce. But since such benefits are nearly absent, we may want to reconsider our bargain with these companies.

The suggestion that this technology will not have a negative impact on our province, in my opinion, is misleading. As a food producer, I certainly would like to believe it could benefit our industry and society. But by unleashing this into the food system it raises more concerns than it addresses. There may well be a time in the future when we can utilize this technology safely without compromising the integrity of our ecosystems and health, but that time is not currently at hand.

5. Brazil`s Monsanto RR soy patent questioned in Brazil

Last Update: 3:19 PM ET Sept. 26, 2005

SAO PAULO (MarketWatch) -- After battling for five years to establish its right to charge Brazilian farmers royalties for the use of its RoundUp Ready soybeans, U.S. biotech giant Monsanto (MON) faces the prospect of seeing its patent run out.

Arguing the 20-year period on Monsanto's RoundUp Ready patent expired on Aug. 7, 2005, the National Industrial Property Institute and biotech competitor Nortex say farmers do not need to pay any more for some versions of the seed.

Brazil is the world's No. 2 soybean producer after the U.S.. Monsanto recently closed a two-year agreement whereby farmers in the south would pay 2% of the eventual price of RoundUp Ready soybeans on the local market.

Inpi originally agreed to extend its patent to 2007, based on the recognition of the U.S. patent, and Monsanto reserved its right to charge royalties with an injunction in a Rio de Janeiro court. However, Inpi has since pulled back from that position and now argues the patent expired on Aug. 7, said Carlos Pazos Rodrigues, Inpi's patent director.

Monsanto has been widely used in Brazil for around five years but the sale has only been legal for the last two years.

Monsanto has seven U.S. patents protecting RoundUp Ready, some running past 2011, but Brazilian law only allows one patent per product, which would be the first patent, according to Nelson Nery Jr. of the Sao Paulo-based Magalhaes, Ferraz and Nery Advocacia law firm.

Nery was contracted by Brazilian soybean producers to accompany their negotiations over royalty payments.

Brazilian firms, which adapt RoundUp Ready technology to Brazilian conditions will still have to pay royalties to Monsanto, under the crop cultivation law, but farmers won`t have to pay directly.

Monsanto and the local seed producers recently agreed on a payment of 0.88 Brazilian reals ($1 = BRL2.26) per kilo.

6. Will biotech wheat research be revived?

By Mikkel Pates
September 27, 2005

FARGO, N.D. -- A Crop Biotechnology Update Conference in Fargo, N.D., last week was remarkable primarily because it brought together proponents and opponents of the technology that often aren't in one place.

The conference drew technology officials of the major companies and the organic producers who fear contamination of their non- GMO crops. Parts of the conference were attended by agricultural officials from several foreign countries who were in Fargo for a grain procurement seminar at the Northern Crops Institute.

Officials of three companies -- Monsanto, Pioneer and Sygenta -- offered brief updates about new crop traits being developed by their companies.

Among the traits on the horizon are those that would allow more efficient uptake of nitrogen for less expensive fertilization and pharmaceuticals, or better use for making fuel.

Paul Isakson, regional tech development manager for Monsanto and a native of the Mohall, N.D., area, says his company's efforts now are concentrated on four crops -- corn, soybeans, canola and cotton.

Drought tolerance, cold tolerance and nitrogen utilization are some of the primary opportunities, he says.

In fact, drought tolerance may be the "golden egg" for genetic modification investments, Isakson says, He recently talked to a grower in Texas who puts 18 inches of water on his corn crop, at nearly $ 8 an inch, which makes corn uneconomical. And with $ 540 per ton anhydrous ammonia costs, genetic modifications to improve nitrogen uptake look good, but there still is a risk that market conditions will change during the 10-year development phase.

He says it is personally disappointing, after 15 years at Monsanto, to have to say that his company doesn't have a project in wheat.

"Being raised in North Dakota, wheat still is important," he says.

He predicts a release of biotech wheat into the market won't happen until U.S. agriculture takes a more unified approach and until major corporations drop their stance against certain biotech crops.

Estimates from the three officials indicate that it takes a biotechnology company about $ 80 million to $ 120 million in research and product support to bring a biotech crop to market.

"That might be on the low side," says Tom Frappier of Pioneer Hi-Bred International. In comparison, Frappier says his company's entire research budget for biotech and conventional breeding is $ 340 million to $ 350 million per year.

The cost of getting a 1-bushel increase in yield has tripled in the past five years, Isakson says, through biotech tools, like using "molecular markers" to take a "chip off the seed" to know if a seed or plant contains the gene or DNA of interest.

North Dakota State Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, was one of the farmers in the group, urging the technology companies to continue to consider wheat and barley for their biotech. Duane Berglund, a North Dakota State University agronomist who hosted the conference, agreed with Brandenburg, who branded the opposition as primarily political, but opponents had more basic questions.

Todd Leake, a Larimore, N.D.-area farmer and GMO opponent asked whether U.S. universities could jeopardize their access to international genetic seed banks, if the universities enter into patent contracts with biotech companies who might patent crops from those seed banks. No one at the conference offered an answer.

One biotech wheat supporter was speaker Alan Skogen, Valley City, N.D., who says that on his farm, he lost 30 percent to 40 percent of his yield potential to scab and another 5 percent to 10 percent loss in market discounts. Chemical costs to try to protect the crop were more than $ 40 an acre. These resulted in a per- bushel cost of production of more than $ 4 per bushel, resulting in a 75 cents a bushel loss on his wheat. Skogen compares that with a predicted "short-term, 5- to 20-cent-per-bushel potential market risk" from the introducing a biotech wheat.

Sherman Reese, an Oregon farmer and president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, says his group is working to cut that market risk.

NAWG has talked to the U.S. milling and baking and grocery industries that have surveyed consumers and found they are "at worst indifferent" to whether wheat products are made with GM wheat and labeled as such.

NAWG is working on a pilot plan to introduce products made from a wheat with a biotech trait and "release that on a limited basis that is highly controlled" and include that in "some product, whether it's Twinkies or a pancake mix -- whatever."

"Would that be a way to show not only U.S. consumers, but the rest of the world that in fact these products are harmless," Reese says.

If a domestic platform could be established, that could give biotech provider companies the confidence they need to do research and develop varieties.

Reese says the time to introduce a biotech wheat is now, while there still is a farm program to protect farmers from market disruptions.

"We don't know exactly what the parameters of disruption would be with a domestic release. If indeed it's something that would cause the market to collapse and not have a market for, say, several months, or maybe a less problematic scenario of just a downward price trend or sudden drop, then the countercyclical (payment) would back the producer up."

After the NAWG pilot consumer program is completed, the opposition, market disruption and market risk, will all decline, according to Reese.

"I think there's always a downside risk anytime you bring a product into the market that has controversy, into the market.

That's why it's imperative to us as wheat producers and us as a wheat industry to educate the consumer that there is no overall, long-term effect from having a transgenic wheat crop."

Reese acknowledges that that the current market disruption support in the farm program only runs through 2007, under the current farm law. He says that's one reason the programs should continue. He says House and Senate agriculture staffs are aware of the potential impacts from biotech wheat.

7. Seed companies examine Bt patent: Depending on scope, royalties could be required

By Aine Gianoli DTN Staff Reporter

OMAHA (DTN) -- Two weeks ago, Mycogen Plant Seeds, a Dow Agrosciences affiliate, received U.S. patent rights to transgenic Bt in plants, concluding an endeavor that lasted nearly 20 years.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's decision was delayed by proceedings brought by other companies to contest Dow's claim to be the first to invent transgenic Bt in plants.

What effect Patent 6,943,282 will have on seed companies and crop producers remains to be seen.

The insecticidal protein Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is produced naturally by soil bacteria and helps plants resist pests. The protein occurs in nature and cannot be patented, said Peter Carstensen, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, but the method of inserting Bt into plants can be. Various technologies for doing so exist.

"How exclusionary is the patent that has just been issued?" Carstensen said. "Until you know the scope of the patent it will be hard to predict the effect."

If the patent isn't limited to a single method of inserting Bt into plants, it could be preclusive, which would force other seed companies to make changes, Carstensen said.

Companies could have to pay royalties to Dow if the patent is preclusive, said DTN Agronomist Dan Davidson.

Representatives from seed companies said they are still examining the patent.

"Monsanto has not yet had the opportunity to fully review the patent as it was just recently issued," said Lee Quarles, Monsanto's director of external affairs. "However ... we believe we have the necessary rights we need to continue to commercialize our current Bt products and to continue developing the Bt projects in our pipeline."

Sorting through the new patent is a complex process, said Anne Burt, a Syngenta spokesperson.

"All the companies are looking at what the scope of the patent is," she said. "We are taking a look at it, but we are confident in our plans. There's no change in our plans right now."

8. When food from the laboratory leaves a bitter taste

By STEPHEN HOLDEN, NY Times, 09/14/05

The heroes and villains in "The Future of Food," Deborah Koons Garcia's sober, far-reaching polemic against genetically modified foods, are clearly identified. The good guys, acknowledged in the film's cursory final segment, are organic farmers along with a growing network of farmers' markets around the United States that constitute a grass-roots resistance to the Goliath of agribusiness and the genetically engineered products it favors.

The bad guys, to whom this quietly inflammatory film devotes the bulk of its attention, are large corporations, especially the Monsanto Company, a pioneer in the development of genetically engineered agricultural products. In recent years, Monsanto has patented seeds that yield crops whose chemical structures have been modified to ward off pests.

The film poses many ticklish ethical and scientific questions:

  • Since genetic material is life, should corporations have the right to patent genes?
  • What are the long-term effects on humans of consuming genetically engineered food, which is still largely unlabeled in the United States?
  • Can the crossbreeding of wild and genetically modified plants be controlled?
  • Might genetically engineered food be the answer to world hunger?
  • And finally, could the reduction of biodiversity, which has quickened since the introduction of genetically modified plants, lead to catastrophe?

The film's answers to these five questions are: No. Possibly damaging. Probably not. Probably not. Possibly.

In each case, the movie outlines the pluses, the minuses and the imponderables. But the overall attitude of Ms. Garcia, the widow of the Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, might be summed up with the scolding slogan "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."

Much of the film is devoted to Monsanto's prosecution of Canadian farmers on whose property the company discovered traces of its patented Roundup Ready canola seed, which is genetically engineered to kill pests. Though the seed had drifted accidentally onto the farmers' land, courts ruled that they had violated Monsanto's patent and were liable for damages.

The film begins with a capsule history of agriculture going back more than 12,000 years but concentrating on the 20th century. It traces the development of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the rise and fall of the green revolution, its morphing into the gene revolution, and the implanting of natural bacterial toxins into the cells of corn. Can wheat be far behind?

In the mid-1990's, Monsanto, the DuPont Company and others bought the seed industry. Monsanto alone spent $8 billion investing in the notion that, as the film bluntly puts it, "whoever controls the seeds controls the food."

Monsanto has even developed a "suicide seed" that makes crops kill themselves after one planting. What might happen, the film wonders, if this seed mixed with wild seeds?

The movie wags its finger at the hand-in-hand relationship of multinational corporations and big government. One of the film's more unsettling revelations is its identification of the connections between Monsanto and top government officials who have been board members, consultants and executives for its subsidiaries. As a result, the movie insinuates, the government has little interest in underwriting research into the promotion of biodiversity and other alternatives to the economic goals of agribusiness.

The movie ends on a tentative upbeat note. It visits farmers' markets where the organically grown tomatoes look so inviting you want to pluck them off the screen and slice them into your own scrumptious B.L.T. We see whole-earth-style advocates carrying signs that read, "Our children are not lab rats." Goliath, we are assured, still has a way to go before trampling all the Davids armed with slingshots.

The Future of Food Opens today in Manhattan.

Written and directed by Deborah Koons Garcia; director of photography, John Chater; edited by Vivien Hillgrove; narrated by Sara Maamouri; music by Todd Boekelheide; produced by Catherine Lynn Butler and Ms. Garcia; released by Cinema Libre Studio. At the Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west of Sixth Avenue, South Village. Running time: 88 minutes. This film is not rated.

9. A project to remodel grape genes yields mostly outrage

NY Times
September 26, 2005

COLMAR, France, Sept. 21 - Behind six-foot fencing, watched by unblinking video eyes, and guarded by motion detectors that set off bright halogen lights and a silent police alarm in the event of nocturnal intruders, there lurks what some people in this gentle wine-making region consider an unholy alliance between the noble grape and "Frankenstem": 70 grapevines grafted onto genetically modified rootstocks.

Olivier Lemaire, chief scientist for a project at the National Institute for Agronomic Research in Colmar, with grafted grapevines. The study's goal is to stamp out the fan-leaf virus, which reduces grape harvests.

The operation here by the National Institute for Agronomic Research is meant to demonstrate that transgenic plants can cure one of grape growing's most nettlesome ills: the fan-leaf virus, which turns leaves yellow and kills the flowers before they can form fruit, reducing vineyard yields. The virus is present in as many as a third of French vineyards.

But in a land where winemaking is a sacred art and genetic modification is blasphemy to many people, selling the idea to the public has been slow.

"We feel that we don't have the right to alter nature," said Ren Mur, glaring behind large tortoise-shell-rimmed eyeglasses, at a nearby winery that his family has run since 1648. He contends that wine should be an expression of the land and that the tiny worms that carry the virus and even the virus itself are part of the complex and wondrous biology that makes for great wine.

Mr. Mur's dismay is part of a growing concern in Europe about the gradual spread of genetically modified plants despite popular opposition. Transgenic corn is growing in more than 2,500 acres in France, up from just over 40 in 2004.

Nowhere is the genetic tinkering more contentious than in the vineyards, whose richly varied produce, together with the country's cheese, as much as anything else define French culture.

The effort to modify grapevines genetically started in the 1990's with Mot & Chandon, the venerable Champagne maker, which was trying to combat the virus.

Gene splicers argue that a transgenic answer is the only effective way to stop the virus, short of saturating the soil with pesticides to kill the worms that carry it, or tearing out infected vineyards and leaving the land fallow for 10 years.

Mot & Chandon's scientists, working with a hybrid of the Vitis vinifera and Vitis berlandieri vines known as 41B, developed a transgenic fanleaf-resistant plant onto which grapevines could be grafted. The rootstock is used primarily for growing white grapes.

The company eventually won approval for a field test from the Ministry of Agriculture and quietly planted dozens of the gene-altered grapevines in 1996, only to rip them out three years later when the French press learned of the project.

Worried about tarnishing its image, the company turned over the genetic material to the National Institute for Agronomic Research, which has been working ever since to win over skeptical winemakers.

Winemakers worry that someone could steal the genetically modified grapevines and transplant them in the neighboring vineyards, "as a kind of bioterrorism," said Olivier Lemaire, lead scientist on the project.

French grapevines are already growing on borrowed roots. The country's vineyards were nearly wiped out in the late 1800's when an aggressive ground-borne aphid, the grape phylloxera, arrived from the United States and spread quickly. Only American vines were resistant to the sap-sucking insect, so French vineyards were replanted with American plants that had European grapevines grafted onto them. The practice has continued ever since.

The National Institute is using five transgenic strains of 41B, each with a gene that produces virus-killing material implanted in a different place in the rootstock's DNA, the substance in the cell nucleus that contains the genetic code. Mr. Lemaire watches over the young plants on the institute's grounds.

But local vintners worry that any confusion in the public's mind could taint their wine.

"We asked that they not use an Alsatian grape," said Jean-Paul Goulby, president of the Alsatian Winemakers Association, adding that any link between Alsatian wines and genetically modified grapevines "would be catastrophic for us."

To ease those fears, the institute chose Pinot Meunier, a variety used in Champagne, to graft onto the transgenic rootstocks. The vine has fuzzy leaves that are easily differentiated from Alsatian varieties.

Mr. Lemaire said the institute has also agreed to cut off all buds before they can develop into flowers. Thus, the plants will not be used to produce wine. He emphasized that there was no exchange of DNA between the rootstock and the grapevine grafted onto it. There may, however, be an exchange of RNA, a nucleic acid present in all cells, and one of the things the scientists want to discover is whether the genetically modified rootstock will send virus-killing RNA into the grapevine, making the entire plant immune.

The scientists also created a test area to see if the transgenic rootstock caused the virus itself to mutate or if the worms migrated toward unprotected rootstocks planted in clean soil.

It will take at least two years before they have any results, and the test is scheduled to run through 2009, when the results will be evaluated and the plants destroyed.

The careful planning has not assuaged everyone. Earlier this month, about 40 protesters gathered outside the institute's gates.

Mr. Mur, looking at a verdant hillside combed by rows of grape-heavy vines, worries that the introduction of genetically modified plants would only create disease-resistant, climate-adapted vines and increase the volume of mass-produced wine with a standardized flavor.

"There needs to be a multitude of organisms in the soil for the land to express itself in the vine," he said, adding that wine quality eroded after World War II as more and more chemicals were applied to the land. His vineyard stopped using pesticides and herbicides a decade ago, part of a growing trend in France to produce organic wines.

He said a carefully tended vineyard could survive without pesticides, herbicides or transgenic plants. "The more diversity, the greater the character of the wine," he said, "but there will be no diversity if you use a clone."

10. Organic farmers can appeal ruling

August 31, 2005, The Regina Leader-Post

Saskatchewan organic farmers will get another opportunity to try to launch a class-action lawsuit against Monsanto and Bayer CropScience.

The farmers' first attempt to have the case against the two companies certified as a class action was rejected in a 179-page ruling by Justice Gene Anne Smith in May 2005. On Tuesday, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal granted them leave to appeal that decision.

Two farmers were named as plaintiffs in the suit, which aims to include all Saskatchewan organic farmers certified from 1996. The producers, supported by the Organic Agriculture Protection Fund, are seeking compensation for losses they say are the result of the introduction of genetically modified canola.

In granting the leave to appeal, Justice Stuart Cameron wrote that the proposed appeal raises "some comparatively new and potentially controversial points of law." Smith had ruled that prerequisites needed to certify an action as a class action -- according to Section 6 of the Class Actions Act -- were not satisfied. Cameron noted the Class Actions Act was enacted fairly recently, and Smith's decision "constitutes the most comprehensive application" of Section 6 of the act undertaken so far in the province. "It stands as the seminal authority in the province on class actions," Cameron wrote.

"Without suggesting that Justice Smith's decision is in any respect flawed, I do believe her appreciation and application of the prerequisites of Section 6 raises some issues of sufficient importance generally to warrant consideration by this court." For example, some of the arguments before Cameron centred on the "rigour" Smith applied in considering each of the prerequisites that had to be met to allow the class action, wrote Cameron.

On one hand, it was argued the application for certification as a class action was subjected to more exacting standards than called for by the act. On the other, Smith was said to have approached it rigorously "in the sense of carefully and thoroughly."

Terry Zakreski, the lawyer representing the farmers, said they will now file documents with the Court of Appeal and wait for an appeal date to be set. Zakreski said he feels the decision shows they raised good arguments for the higher court to consider on the basis the lower court may have "set the bar too high" regarding what's needed in order to be certified as a class action. (by Angela Hall)

11. Voter poll shows strong biotech crops support

By Harry Cline
Western Farm Press, 9-3-2005

A majority of Californians say farmers in their state should not be denied the right to plant biotech crops.

Fully 54 percent of registered voters in California say farmers should be allowed to grow biotech crops and just 31 percent say no. Support for biotech crops skyrockets in the Central Valley, where 68 percent support the planting of biotech crops, and just 24 percent oppose.

The survey of 900 likely voters was conducted May 3-5 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent. The bipartisan study was conducted by Republican pollsters McLaughlin & Associates, and Democratic pollsters Hart Research Associates.

The release of this poll comes about two months ahead of a November general election ballot to ban biotech crops in Sonoma County. Sonoma is viewed as a key county in California biotech battle because it is largely urban, yet has a strong agricultural industry.

Strong opposition to the Sonoma ban has been mounted by a group formed through the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

Fifth ban attempt

The Sonoma vote will be the fifth ballot box attempt to ban biotech crops in a California county. The score is currently 3-2 in the biotech battle with pro-biotech/agricultural groups winning in San Luis Obispo, Butte and Humboldt counties and the anti-biotech group winning ballot measures in Mendocino and Marin counties. The anti-biotech faction claims victory in Trinity County where the board of supervisors voted to ban biotech crops via a county ordinance, which can be rescinded. The ordinance was also passed to avoid a costly single-issue county ballot initiative.

Resolutions supporting biotechnology have been passed by 11 county boards of supervisors. These include Fresno, Kings, Kern, San Diego, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Tulare, Solano, Sutter and Imperial. These resolutions are non-binding, but they send a clear signal that the leadership in those counties do not support costly attempts to ban biotech crops.

The majority of the 600,000 acres of biotech crops grown in California last season were in those counties.

The anti-biotech faction, backed largely by Minnesota-based Organic Consumer Association, are targeting Sacramento, Yolo, Lake, Nevada, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Alameda, Placer, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara for anti-biotech initiatives or ordinances in 2006.

However, a defeat in Sonoma County would have a major impact on those initiatives since it would mean a defeat on the home court of the anti-biotech group. Californians for GE-Free Agriculture is heavily funded by and based at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (OAEC) in Sonoma County. OAEC is a communal, organic farm near Bodega Bay.

Combat ledgers

According to an article in the Sacramento Bee, the anti-bio tech campaign in Sonoma County has raised about $155,000 and the Family Farmers Alliance representing many of the major wine grape growers and dairymen in the county have raised almost $138,000 to defeat the initiative.

In that same article, Renata Billinger, director of Californians for GE-Free Agriculture, dismissed the poll showing support for biotech crops saying poll "answers depend on how questions are phrased." She said more people are opposed to biotech when it is called generically modified.

"It is clear from these (poll) results that biotech agriculture is here to stay in California," stated pollster Stu Polk. "Those who seek to ban this technology will have an uphill climb, because the majority of Californians are supportive and accepting of it. And the more the public learns about the benefits of agricultural biotechnology, the more supportive they are."

Among those voters who say they know "a lot" about biotech agriculture, fully 72 percent support a farmer's right to plant them. Sixty-six percent of those who know a lot about biotech crops say they would purchase foods containing them for their families, compared to 53 percent of the public at large.

"The more California consumers learn about the benefits of biotech crops, the more confident they are that California's family farmers will continue to provide them safe and affordable foods," said Marko Mlikotin, spokesman for The California Health Foods Coalition, a newly formed grass-roots coalition of leading agricultural organizations and community leaders.

"Clearly, California voters recognize family farmers as a trusted source for information on food safety and that they should be allowed to use progressive farming practices that also benefit the environment.

"California's family farmers serve an important role in providing safe and healthy food to consumers throughout the world," said Marko Mlikotin, spokesman for the coalition. "When family farmers speak to farming practices that ensure food safety and protecting California's agricultural economy and jobs, consumers listen and ballot measures fail."

Statewide coalition

The California Healthy Foods Coalition is a statewide group composed of organizations and community leaders including the California Farm Bureau Federation, California Cattlemen's Association and California Women for Agriculture.

"Family farmers understand some people have questions about biotechnology," said California Farm Bureau President Bill Pauli, a Mendocino County wine grape grower.

"Our coalition will provide people with the facts and will support agricultural innovations that will improve the quality of life for California consumers."

Consumers will be the ultimate beneficiaries of agricultural biotechnology, he said. New technology holds great promise for protecting the environment, enhancing food production, improving health care, building California's economy and creating local jobs.

The coalition says biotechnology holds great promise to improve the quality of life for all Americans through the research and development of agricultural-based medicines for cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses.

Unfortunately, Pauli said, political activists hope to qualify (more) ballot measures in several California counties that would harm family farmers and the consumers they serve, by banning biotechnology.

"If family farmers didn't welcome innovation and new farming practices, we could not feed the world, nor could we survive economically," Pauli said. "There is no justification for restricting the family farmers' ability to utilize the kind of breakthroughs and ingenuity we celebrate in every other facet of life.

Contrary to the scare tactics of extremists who seek to ban biotech agriculture from California, more than 3,500 scientists, 25 Nobel Prize winning scientists, the National Academy of Sciences, the European Union, the American Medical Association and the Food and Drug Administration have all concluded that commercial biotech crops are no different than traditionally grown crops and are safe for human consumption, animal feed and the environment.

Biotech crops have been supported by the United Nations and the Vatican because of their potential to help cure malnutrition and starvation in developing nations.

About 200 million acres of biotech crops were planted globally last year.

11. Levy for research increases on wheat and barley

by Paul Beingessner
Canadian farmer and writer

After having talked about it for some time, the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF) announced recently that it will raise the level of the check-off on wheat and barley sales. The move means the wheat check-off goes from 20 to 30 cents per tonne, and the barley levy from 40 to 50 cents per tonne. The increases should bring another $1.75 million into the coffers of the Foundation. Funds are used to support wheat and barley breeding programs at eight major public institutions in western Canada.

Varieties from these research centers have been the mainstay of wheat and barley growing on the prairies for many decades. For example, it is estimated that 90 percent of prairie wheat acres are seeded to varieties produced by one or another of these breeding programs and funded, at least in part, by the WGRF.

It would seem, then, that the investment by prairie farmers in plant breeding has been worthwhile. This is all the more true when you consider that private plant breeding companies have been woefully uninterested in cereals adapted to the prairie climate and ecosystem. It is this lack of interest that has perhaps been the salvation of public breeding. After all, Agriculture Canada has threatened many times to cut off its plant breeding resources. The problem is, the void that would be created would never be filled by the private sector. In this regard, plant breeders rights legislation has been a dismal failure. It has done little to increase private interest in plant breeding, except in the case of canola.

Despite its success, the WGRF should be taken to task on one very important issue. Its failure to control the downstream distribution of new varieties is proving costly to the farm community and is holding back progress in bringing new varieties to widespread use. Currently, most varieties being generated with farmers' money are turned over to the exclusive control of seed companies. These companies then put restrictions on the use of those varieties that force farmers to pay again for something they have already paid for.

There are numerous examples. Navigator durum is one of these. This extra strong gluten variety of durum wheat was developed by Agriculture Canada and licensed to Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. Seed for this variety has to be purchased from SWP and production must be sold to the Pool. Farmers have to pay, unnecessarily, for certified seed each year, and lose the benefit of being able to market their crop competitively. Farmers who ship their grain in producer cars, a popular option in southern Saskatchewan where the bulk of Canadian durum is grown, cannot ship Navigator durum this way, even if they send it to a Pool terminal for export. The Pool wants to get the handling fees out of these farmers.

The hard white wheat varieties released a couple years ago are a similar situation. The company that bought the license for these varieties requires growers to purchase registered seed each year and to market all production to certain grain companies. As a result, production of these varieties is not taking hold as much as it might have otherwise.

The purpose of these licensing arrangements for cereal breeders and for the WGRF is to return more money to the breeding programs through royalties collected on seed sales and sales of the rights to the variety. But has any one looked to see if the increased benefits to the breeding programs exceed the increased costs to farmers who lose their competitive choices and are unable to save their own seed?

The Saskatchewan Pulse Growers present an interesting alternative where plant breeding is concerned. Through the pulse check-off, and its agreement on breeding with the Crop Development Center at the University of Saskatchewan, the Pulse Growers have made dozens of new lentil, chickpea, and pea varieties available to farmers. These varieties are provided royalty free to growers of Select seed. Plant Breeders Rights are not allowed on these varieties. The result is rapid and widespread adoption of improved varieties.

The WGRF should consider this model for its agreements with the public breeding institutions. By failing to do so, the 18 member organizations have failed farmers. While I would hesitate to recommend that farmers request a refund of their check-off monies, such drastic actions may be necessary to wake up the WGRF. Perhaps the WGRF should ask farmers if they would prefer to fund plant breeding directly through higher levies, of if they like paying indirectly, over and over again, and losing their options in the process. The answer might be surprising.

(c) Paul Beingessner (306) 868-4734 phone 868-2009 fax beingessner@sasktel.net

12. Less is more: working miracles in Nepal's rice fields

Kunda Dixit
SciDev.Net, 15 September 2005

Dan Bahadur Rajbansi is planting rice seedlings on his farm near Nepal's border with India, 300 kilometres southeast of Kathmandu.

The monsoon rains came late to Nepal this year and many farmers delayed transplanting their rice seedlings from nursery beds to paddy fields.

But Rajbansi was ready. He is one of a dozen farmers in Morang district testing a new method of planting rice. It is reported to boost harvests without requiring farmers to flood their fields or use chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

It sounds too good to be true. After all, this is not a high-yielding variety of genetically modified rice but the normal local variety, mansuli.

Bumper harvests

The secret lies in the cultivation method: the seedlings are transplanted when they are only two weeks old instead of at six weeks. Instead of being flooded, the field is drained. And the seedlings are planted farther apart - while a normal paddy field needs 50 kilograms of seed per hectare, the new method uses less than ten kilograms.

Yet because each seedling produces many more shoots than when planted conventionally, the harvest can more than double.

"I thought, how can this be?" says local agriculture officer Rajendra Uprety, recalling first reading about the technique on the Internet. He decided to test it out. "Since 2002, we've achieved double and triple harvests on test plots. It's just amazing."

Ananta Ram Majhi, another of Morang district's rice farmers, admits he was sceptical. "Initially, I thought to myself, if this is such a great idea why didn't my ancestors think of it?" he says, wading ankle-deep in mud to prepare his next field. "But I decided to take the chance and this is my third year using the new method."

Majhi used to harvest five tonnes per hectare, but is now getting at least twice as much. He has achieved those yields with only one-third of the seeds he used before and with less water.

News of the amazing harvests spread quickly from Morang district, where about 100 farmers have adopted the new method. Uprety brings farmers from other districts there on inspection visits. "Actually, it has been more difficult convincing the agronomists and officials than the farmers," he laughs.

Sceptical scientists

It hasn't been easy to convince international scientists either. Agriculture research institutes have been doubtful ever since Henri de Laulanie, a French Jesuit priest in Madagascar, devised the new method in 1983.

It was only after the International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development at Cornell University in the United States started pushing the idea that it was taken seriously.

The System of Rice Intensification (SRI), as it is now called, has been tried and tested in about 20 countries, from Cuba to China.

Tens of thousands of farmers have adopted the method in the few years since researchers introduce it in Cambodia. There, as in India, Laos, and Sri Lanka, farmers report that SRI means bigger harvests and better incomes, for fewer seeds and less water.

But critics say that scientific evidence for such claims is lacking. Most field trial results have, for instance, not been recorded in detail and published in peer-reviewed journals.

Can 'rice intensification' feed the world?

When researchers at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and colleagues tested SRI in field trials in China, they found no difference in yield between SRI and conventionally-grown rice.

Their study, published in Field Crops Research in March 2004, concluded that: "SRI has no major role in improving rice production generally".

Training the trainers

For Uprety though, the results speak for themselves. He points out that the technique's success depends on skillful farming, good timing and careful planting and drainage. Since planting on flooded paddy fields helped to control weeds, the drier SRI fields need weeding several times during the growing season.

But the benefits far outweigh these obstacles, says Uprety, adding that the main challenge is training.

He has turned local farmers like Kishore Luitel, who are now total converts to SRI, into trainers. A few years ago Rajbansi thought Luitel had gone mad for adopting the new technique. But earlier this month, Luitel was in Rajbansi's field teaching him how to plant his seedlings the new way.

The tiny two-week-old seedlings look fragile in Luitel's hands as he picks them up one by one and plants them 20 centimetres apart in the sticky mud not the 10 centimetres apart in slush needed for normal rice planting.

Luitel points out his own field where rice now grows in thick tufts with more than 80 shoots from one seed. "Using the old method, you plant three or four seedlings in one spot and you only get about ten shoots per seed," he says.

For Uprety and Luitel, seeing is believing. They are convinced that no part of Nepal need be short of food anymore if SRI is promoted nationally. Every year, Nepal needs to produce more than 90,000 tonnes of rice seeds. The SRI advocates say the method would save 80,000 tonnes and harvests nationwide could be doubled.

Uprety sums it up: "Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest ones."