Sunday, November 29, 2009

Food bill frightens farmers

Proposed legislation holds small growers to difficult standards

The East Oregonian

Small farmers and local food activists are up in arms about the Food Safety Modernization Act, the U.S. Senate's plan to improve food safety.

The bill, S510, is a rewrite of the nation's food safety rules. It would expand federal regulation of food production facilities, including small farms.

One point of contention for small farmers is the bill's requirement that all food production facilities, no matter how small, register with the federal government and complete a hazard analysis.

"It will mean that small producers that sell direct to consumers will have to go through the same regulations as Smith Foods," said Andrea Malmberg, the director of Oregon Rural Action, a group that supports local foods. "It's a one-size-fits-all regulatory mechanism for food facilities."

The food safety overhaul comes in the wake of national food scares, such as the peanut-related salmonella outbreak last spring that killed nine people. But the tainted products came from large processing facilities, Malmberg said, not small producers.

Gus Wahner, a Stanfield farmer, grows vegetables for markets in Pendleton and Hermiston. He said the bill's regulations might make it impossible for him to do business. It's not just the hazard plan, he said, it's also new Food and Drug Administration guidelines on how to grow crops.

The bill declares that the FDA will establish "science-based minimum standards for the safe production and harvesting of...raw agricultural commodities."

To satisfy those standards, the FDA may require growers to prove they are monitoring insect and wildlife activity in their fields, among other rules.

Under the Senate bill, growers will also be subject to more federal inspections, something which Wahner said he could not afford. He said he already opted out of the state's organic certification program because it required too much time and paperwork.

"They want to put all these regulations on you, but they don't have any idea how much it's going to cost," Wahner said.

Wahner said he was unsure about all the implications of the bill, a concern that was echoed by others in the local foods community. The bill makes reference to a number of new regulations of food "facilities," for example, but doesn't describe what a facility is.

Karen Wagner, the Pendleton Farmer's Market board president, said the bill's rules could have a chilling effect on growers. The profit margins on small and organic operations are thin enough as it is, she said.

"And (the rules) don't address the issues at hand - why people are getting sick," she said.
Much of the bill's regulations concern traceability - the need to know where contaminated food came from. But if a person gets sick from food bought at the farmer's market, she said, traceability is not as issue.

"You go to that farmer and say, 'You made me sick,' and you go to public health and they are shut down," she said.

Wagner pointed out that when people got sick from tainted spinach, it was difficult to trace the source because the produce came from hundreds of different farms and was packaged at a distant location.

"In essence, the extra paperwork does not protect the public," she said. "What protects the public is safe handling of our food."

Julie Edwards, communications director for Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said the bill addresses the problem of food-related illnesses and has provisions to protect small growers from undue regulation.

"It's important to keep in mind why it was needed," she said.

Every year, she pointed out, there are millions of cases of food-borne illnesses. Last year, there were 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths from tainted food. And it's not just a public health issue, she said - growers suffer when a food item becomes untouchable in the marketplace.

Merkley was among those who insisted the bill direct the FDA to be flexible for small farmers, she said. For example, one potential rule for large growers could be to have handwashing stations in the field. That requirement is obviously unnecessary when your field is right next to your house, she said.

"As long as their business is direct to consumer, they will benefit from that flexibility," she said.

Edwards said having growers keep a hazard plan was a simple process of keeping a list of guidelines. The FDA would help growers with that process, she added.

After the bill unanimously passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition issued a letter to senators that praised changes in the bill related to organic and small-scale farming. However, it wrote, the bill still has problems.

"The chief flaw relates to the very basic issue of how many farms are presumed to be regulated under the terms of the bill, at what cost, and with what incremental gain to food safety, if any," the NSAC wrote.

Many small-foods activists are happier with the House's food safety bill, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, which it passed in July.

The House bill exempts some farms that sell food directly to consumers from registration as "facilities" and small farms from traceability requirements.

Janet Marie, the manager of the La Grande Farmer's Market, is among those who have been raising awareness about the two bills for the past several months. She praised Senator Merkley for his additions to the Senate bill, but said he didn't go quite far enough. She would like to see an amendment that exempts small growers from many of the bills requirements, including the hazard plan, she said.

"It's kind of a tiny point in a big bill, but we think it's extremely important for direct market farmers," she said.

Friday, November 27, 2009

China gives safety approval to GMO rice - Reuters

* China approves pest-resistant Bt strain as safe

* Large scale production could start in 2-3 years

* Approval follows phytase corn clearance last week

* Corn, rice approvals are first for grains in China (Adds background, detail, quote)

By Niu Shuping and Tom Miles

BEIJING, Nov 27 (Reuters) - China, the world's largest rice producer and consumer, has approved a locally-developed strain of genetically-modified rice, paving the way for large-scale production in 2 to 3 years, Chinese scientists said on Friday.

The Ministry of Agriculture's Biosafety Committee has issued biosafety certificates to Bt rice, a pest-resistant genetically modified strain, two committee members told Reuters.

Along with GM phytase corn approval announced last week, this is China's first two approvals for grains, although it already permits GM papaya, cotton and tomatoes.

But the strains still need to undergo registration and production trials before commercial production can begin in restricted areas, which may take 2-3 years, the scientists said.

The scientists declined to be identified as the Chinese government has not officially published the information. Officials at the Agricultural Ministry's biosafety office declined to comment.

China is the world's top producer of rice, growing 59.5 million tonnes in the 12 months to October, but it exports only around 50,000 tonnes a month as most is consumed domestically. Exports of GM rice would be likely to face tough scrutiny abroad.

The European Union's executive body, the European Commission, said in July that China needed to tighten export controls on rice products, such as baby food, because shipments might contain traces of the Bt-63 strain, which is not authorised in the EU.

While China is not yet growing GM rice commercially, there are numerous field trials going on around the country.

Bt rice, developed by Huazhong Agricultural University, would help reduce the use of pesticide by 80 percent while raising yields by as much as 8 percent, said Huang Jikun, the chief scientist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"We believe more genetically-modified technology will be used in agriculture production in future to increase production and reduce inputs," said Huang.

Phytase corn, developed by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science, will help animals such as pigs digest more of the phosphorus in corn, enhancing growth and reducing environmental phosphorus pollution via animal waste and fertiliser runoff.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Are We Being Needlessly Hysterical About Food Safety?

Despite all the media hype, there's little to actually suggest we're facing a major food safety crisis. 

By David E. Gumpert, Chelsea Green Publishing. Posted November 25, 2009.

There have been all kinds of scary headlines and stories about food safety problems. The most recent was a front-page story in the New York Times a few weeks ago about a young dance instructor who wound up paralyzed from the waist down after a bout of illness from E.coli O157:H7 contained in a hamburger she ate. The story led to so much public upset that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was prompted to issue a statement saying the case was "unacceptable and tragic."

Shortly after that, victims of foodborne illness were received by Obama administration officials at the White House for a high-profile photo session.

Besides health care reform, new food safety legislation moving through Congress (passed by the House, about to be voted on by the Senate) is billed as the most urgent consumer proposal in the Congress. It’s supposed to reduce the scary headlines about contaminated peanut butter, pistachios, ground beef, spinach, and other foods that have embarrassed the public health establishment over the last three years.

Unlike health care reform, food safety legislation, which is designed to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration more power to monitor food producers and institute recalls, is heavily supported by an array of consumer organizations and health industry professionals, not to mention bureaucrats and legislators. President Obama has indicated he’s ready to sign whatever Congress passes.

But in all the handwringing, there’s been very little data presented by public health officials to document that we have a worsening problem with foodborne illness. Indeed, when you review the testimony provided by the FDA and other experts to the House in connection with the legislation that passed there over the summer (HR 2749), no one even tried to make a statistical case that we have a worsening problem with foodborne illness. The best you’ll find is FDA food safety adviser Michael R. Taylor, saying, "Every year, millions of our friends and neighbors in the United States suffer from foodborne illness, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized, and thousands die."

The reason FDA experts haven’t provided more convincing data is that it doesn’t exist. Indeed, if you examine the data on foodborne illness, you find a different sort of crisis—a crisis of credibility, based on ineffective and incomplete data gathering and investigation. And some of what is there actually shows declines in rates of foodborne illness.

The bastion of data on foodborne illness is the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the data it pushes the public to consider as most relevant is a study scientists conducted more than ten years ago, and published in 1999. The study estimates that 76 million Americans are sickened by foodborne illness each year, with 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. (That’s the data the FDA’s Michael Taylor was quoting from.)

Three things are most notable about this data. First, it is old. Not only is the paper containing its findings more than ten years old, but the data it draws on goes back to as far as 1948.

Second, it is based entirely on what can only be termed wild estimates of the real situation. The number of reported illnesses are miniscule in comparison with the 76 million estimate. Even allowing for the multiplier effect -- the likelihood that for every reported illness, there may be between ten and forty times that number not reported -- the numbers don’t obviously add up to the millions projected by the CDC. Consider that in 2007, the CDC reported a total 21,183 cases of foodborne illness, based on reports from states and localities around the country. Multiplying that by 40, you still only get 847,000 illnesses, a far cry from 76 million.

Not only that, but the 2007 data of reported illnesses is down 15% from the 25,035 reported in 2001. The Center for Science and the Public Interest, a nonprofit organization that also monitors foodborne illnesses, reported last year that it counted 168,000 illnesses over the 17-year period 1990-2006. That averages out to fewer than 10,000 per year.

The problem here isn’t that the CDC is manipulating the data, but rather that the data is incomplete. Public health officials will tell you that states categorize illnesses differently, and vary widely in their aggressiveness in seeking out information. The Center for Science and the Public Interest in its 2008 report on foodborne illness, reported that "nearly half of all states do not follow national standards for tracking disease outbreaks. Those gaps are particularly troubling given the numerous recent large outbreaks."

So what’s behind the hysteria on foodborne illness? Clearly, part of it has to do with the dramatic cases being reported of individuals who have suffered serious long-term repercussions. While the vast majority of foodborne illnesses involve mild gastrointestinal problems that last just a few days, the serious cases obviously capture public attention, and stir up nervousness, as well they should. They are tragic.

But there’s another factor at work here as well: a drive to broadly expand the powers of the FDA. As one example, it will have the power under the House legislation recently passed to require highly detailed written food plans from all food producers, including the smallest makers of artisan cheese and meats. The owner of a two-person California maker of specialty cheeses, fruits, and nuts, told me that creating such a plan would require about 100 hours of upfront work, and then two hours a day to be kept up to date. Failure to comply could result in a fine of $10,000 per infraction per day, this for a business doing less than $100,000 of annual revenues.

In addition, the FDA could inspect the records of all food producers at will, instead of the current requirement of having strong reason to believe a problem exists, or obtaining a search warrant. It will also be able to quarantine large areas of the country if it believes a serious source of pathogens exist, and shut down all food shipping in the process. And it will obtain substantial additional budget for inspection personnel.

Before requiring such an infringement on individual rights, and added costs for doing business, it would seem that the FDA should at the least put together data showing the nature of the foodborne-illness problem at hand, and to what extent its new powers will solve the problem. It could be that more targeted changes, costing less in funding for new personnel and foregone rights, could be quite effective in reducing foodborne illnesses.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Help for Organic Farmers Added to S. 510

Monday the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee released Chairman Tom Harkin's (D-IA) draft markup of the pending S. 510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which contained new provisions to protect organic and sustainable farmers.

tomatoes-farmer-featured.jpgSenators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Al Franken (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Michael Bennet (D-CO) sent a letter to Chairman Harkin last week urging the inclusion of provisions to help organic farms and sustainable agriculture comply with the new legislation.

"Specifically, we request that the Chairman's mark include language to streamline food safety guidelines and regulations governing organic and sustainable farms," said the senators in the letter to Harkin.

The letter, which noted that organic food sales have been growing between 15 and 21 percent annually, cited concerns over whether the legislation might unintentionally burden the small and sustainable agriculture sector.

"We are concerned that following enactment of S. 510, organic farms and sustainable agriculture will be subject to two potentially conflicting or duplicative sets of regulations issued by the two agencies," the HELP committee said in its letter. "In order to avoid potential regulatory conflicts or duplication, we urge you to include require the FDA and USDA to work together in developing food safety regulations."

"We believe that a cohesive set of regulations will help ensure the viability or organic and sustainable food producers, while also increasing the safety of the foods these producers bring to market," the letter added.

Harkin listened to the concerns and adopted the suggested provisions.

"The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 will strengthen the FDA's ability to protect the nation's food supply by enacting comprehensive reforms that will improve capacity to detect and respond to contamination outbreaks, provide food safety training for small farmers and food processors and enact strong preventative measures for food imports," said Senator Merkley's office in a statement responding to the Chairman's markup draft, released on Monday.

"Oregon farmers, schools and restaurant owners have forged strong partnerships to provide locally grown, sustainable food for our families," said Merkley. "We should work to strengthen those relationships while enacting policies to make sure that the food parents are packing in school lunches and putting on the dinner table is safe to eat."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Small Ag Organizes to Amend Senate Bill

Small and sustainable agriculture advocates are urging the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee to make significant changes to the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, during markup this week.

Advocates are worried that the legislation as it is currently written, could have unintended, negative consequences to the very kind of agriculture they are trying to support.

organic greens article.jpg
"The bill as introduced would make major improvements in the federal regulatory regime related to food-borne illness from pathogens, but in doing so would erect significant barriers to better food and nutrition and improved public health," said the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), in a statement released yesterday, which called the bill a "heavy-handed" and "costly" attempt to apply industrial-scaled regulations to family farms.

NSAC, joined by the National Organic Coalition, National Farmers Union, the Organic Trade Association, and dozens of other groups sent a letter to HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Michael Enzi (R-WY) asking the senators to consider  amending the bill to lessen the impact on small, sustainable and organic farmers.

"We want to support the bill, but in its current form we cannot," said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for NSAC.

"It is not good policy to stick small and mid-sized family farms with large compliance costs to comply with industrial regulations," said Hoefner. "We support training and technical assistance to help farmers craft scale-appropriate on-farm food safety plans, a key element missing from the bill."

Harry Hamil, founder of Black Mountain Farmers Market in North Carolina, agrees.

"As written, the good that S. 510 does will be more than offset by the unintended harm it will to do to the local, sustainable agriculture," said Hamil, in an email to local food supporters, growers, and producers. "It's one-size-fits-all approach to food safety means that much of what we all love about local food will be destroyed." 

Small and sustainable agriculture advocates are also concerned about the impact the food safety bill could have on biodiversity and conservation efforts.

"Besides contributing to clean air, clean water, soil tilth and overall environmental health, the  conservation practices our farmers use mitigate certain food safety risks by establishing important vegetative buffers that can filter pathogens from streams and runoff and protect from windborne pathogens," said Brad Redlin, director of Agricultural Programs at the Izaak Walton League of America. 

"It is critical that the HELP committee ensures that new food safety standards are consistent with conservation practice standards for the safety and long-term health of our agricultural systems and human communities," added Redlin.

The group also cited concerns over how the proposed food safety regulations could conflict or add to existing regulations for organic farmers. 

"It is imperative that the FDA recognized these existing measures and coordinate with the USDA so that certified organic farmers and ranchers do not have to face duplicative or conflicting standards," said Steve Etka, senior representative for the National Organic Coalition.

In its letter to HELP Committee members, the group voiced strong support for adding Senator Stabenow's (D-MI) proposed legislation, the Growing Safe Food Act to S. 510. Stabenow's provision would establish food safety training and education to assist small and mid-sized farms.

Group training and education programs are a better fit and the most cost effective mechanism for reaching the the tens if not hundreds of thousands of small and mid-sized farms that engage in on-farm processing," said Hamil.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pope to Visit U.N. Food Summit

Spokesman Underlines Urgent Need to Feed Hungry

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 15, 2009 ( On Monday, Benedict XVI will visit the headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, to speak on behalf of all people of the universal right to food.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, affirmed this today on Octava Dies, as he analyzed the reasons the Pope is taking part in the world summit for food security.
The Vatican spokesman referred to a sentence from "Caritas in Veritate" (n. 27): "It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination."
In this document, Father Lombardi said, the Pontiff "highlights the fact that the right to food is essential to guarantee the very right that is first among all, the right to life."
"Yes," he added, "because one either dies from hunger or thirst, or if one does not die one lives only half a life."
The summit, said the priest, "is taking place in a scenario in which the tragedy is too often forgotten."
He recalled: "In 2000 the famous Summit of the Millennium stated that the number of hungry people should be halved, of the 800 million at that time to 400 million in 2015; but in 2009 we have reached instead some 1.2 billion, a horrible tragedy, a strong impetus to migrations, a very grave threat to peace."
"It is evident that the principal way to address the problem and foster agricultural development in the poorest countries, is to involve the local communities as much as possible, putting 'the human person at the center of development,'" added Father Lombardi, quoting the Pope's encyclical.
He continued: "This is in the interest of the world community, of the family of peoples that we should be. It should not be difficult for the participants in the summit of Rome to understand it.
"However, it will then be necessary to act in consequence. If not, the number of those dead by famine will increase again."

Limited Release of Herbicide-Resistant Sugarcane in Australia

Australia's Gene Technology Regulator has approved the application submitted by BSES Limited for the limited release of 6,000 lines of genetically modified sugarcane. The sugar cane lines have been modified for herbicide tolerance. According to the papers released by the Regulator, BSES will release "three categories of GM sugarcane with two herbicide tolerance genes, two marker genes (nptII and bla) and a reporter gene." Details of the genetic modification, including the identities of the genes and regulatory sequences that confer herbicide tolerance, have been declared Confidential Commercial Information (CCI) under the country's Gene Technology Act.
The purpose of the trial, which will take place in six Queensland shires from 2009-2015, is to evaluate the agronomic properties of the GM sugarcane lines grown under field conditions. The GM sugar cane lines will not be used for human food and animal feed.
According to a risk assessment plan prepared by the regulator, the planned release poses negligible risks to people and the environment. BSES is bound to adopt certain measures to prevent escape of GM materials into the environment.
For more information, visit

Japan: Blue roses through gene technology

Since the beginning of November, the world’s first blue rose has been on the market in Japan. With the aid of gene technology, the rose has been modified to produce a blue colour in blossoms. Demand for the rose is expected primarily in Asia.
A blue rose long has been regarded as the holy Grail of flower breeding. Despite intensive efforts, conventional breeding has failed for centuries to produce a blue flower of this type. In roses and related plants, the metabolic pathways have lacked that could lead to the production of blue buds. The application of gene technology has made it possible for the first time to broaden the ‘natural’ colour spectrum of roses.
Australian flower breeding company Florigene, which is a subsidiary of the Japanese Suntory firm for mixing technology and biotechnology. Nonetheless, even with the aid of gene technology, the blue rose remains a difficult goal.
First, the already-existing metabolic pathways for the production of red and orange pigments must be shut down. In order to do so, the relevant key genes are blocked in a process known as gene silencing.
Scientists subsequently inserted a special pansy gene through which a new, appropriate metabolic pathway was established in the rose towards the production of blue pigment. The blue colour itself is derived from an iris gene that also was transferred to the rose plant. The development of this blue rose has taken almost twenty years.
A single Applause rose is expected to cost between two and three thousand yen, i.e. roughly fifteen to twenty euros. Despite this high price, great demand is expected primarily in Asia. In reference to a traditional Chinese fairytale, blue roses are regarded throughout the region as a symbol of love fulfilled. It already is common to present blue-dyed white roses at an event such as a wedding or the celebration of an anniversary.
In order to be marketed in Europe, the genetically modified Applause roses must be approved according to the legal regulations on gene technology. To date, the responsible bureau has received no such application. Genetically modified carnations that stay fresh longer or that display a blue colour derived from a petunia gene have been approved in Europe for years. These flowers also were developed by Florigene.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Senate Schedules Markup of S. 510

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) has scheduled a markup of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, almost nine months after Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the measure.

The bill would be a big boost for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by providing the agency with greater authority and mandate. The bill would require more inspections of food facilities, grant the agency access to food safety records, and require facilities to have food safety plans in place.

Though the markup, scheduled for November 18th, is a critical step in the progress of the legislation, sources on the Hill downplayed the possibility that the bill had any chance to make it to a vote before Christmas.

Food safety advocates now hope the bill will be reported out of committee before Thanksgiving.

Leading up to the meeting, the Make Our Food Safe Coalition, is pushing for three changes to strengthen the legislation.

The coalition, which consists of consumer advocacy and public health groups, wants to strengthen frequency requirements for high-risk food facilities (by including the 6 to 12 month minimum standard in the House version), improve the import and traceability requirements, and include language that would require the FDA to issue rules for testing food for contamination.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is also pressing the committee to make changes to the bill, which would extend limited FDA authority to on-farm production.

Though NSAC has not issued specific amendment recommendations, the group recently released a policy brief. According to the brief, "NSAC urges policymakers to ensure that standards and regulations encourage farmers to seek out innovations and a more sustainable agriculture, and at least not create additional barriers to the widespread adoption of sustainable agriculture practices."

NSAC will be issuing an alert to its network in the next few days to rally support for modifications that would lessen the impact on small and mid-sized sustainable and organic farms.

Farm Food Safety Bill Introduced


Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced S. 2758, the Growing Safe Food Act, yesterday to help educate and train farmers and food processors in food safety.

The proposed legislation, which is co-sponsored by Senators Bingaman, Boxer, Gillibrand, Leahy Merkley and Sanders, comes as the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, S. 510, a bill that would greatly increase resources and authority for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, continues to be stalled in the Senate behind health care reform.

Stabenow believes her proposal will help small and mid-sized farmers, food processors, and wholesalers comply with the pending food safety overhaul, which is likely to pass once there is room in the Senate schedule.

"With all the recent scares over contaminated food, this legislation will help restore consumer trust in the safety of our food supply," said Stabenow. "Providing training to farmers and processors on things like handling practices and safe packaging will go a long way toward restoring this confidence."

The training program proposed would be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) National Integrated Food Safety Initiative. State agriculture departments, extension services, agricultural trade associations, and universities would be eligible to apply for grant support to promote training programs.

According to a statement released by Stabenow's office, "Training can be in the areas of handling practices, manufacturing, produce safety standards, risk analysis, sanitation standards, safe packaging, storage, traceability, record-keeping, and food safety audits."

The proposed bill also stipulates that existing conservation, biodiversity, and organic farming standards would have to be taken into account in the development of any training program receiving funds.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

GE Corn Growers Out of Compliance

  • Farmers growing genetically engineereed corn break rules
    By Elizabeth Weise
    USA Today, November 6, 2009
    Straight to the Source

Corn genetically engineered to resist pests and tolerate herbicides made up 85% of the U.S. corn crop in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But a report by a watchdog group, out today, finds that since 2006, farmers have become increasingly non-compliant with federally-mandated planting requirements designed to keep the popular technology useful in the future.

Approximately 25% of U.S. farmers no longer follow Environmental Protection Agency requirements to plant conventional corn "refuge fields." Those fields are crucial to ensuring that the pests - corn borers and corn rootworms - don't become resistant to the pesticide the plants have been engineered to make.

About 65% of genetically engineered (GE) corn contains a gene from a common soil bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, which produces a chemical that kills either corn rootworms or corn borers. EPA required refuge fields to ensure that that some insects had non-GE corn to eat, so that not all would develop resistance to the genetically engineered corn. The insecticide produced by the corn is very mild. Organic growing rules allow the use of Bt bacterium sprays.

>>> Read the Full Article

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Draft Genetic Sequence of Cucumber Completed By Chinese Scientists

Cucumber is an economically important crop as well as a model system for sex determination studies and plant vascular biology. The draft genome sequence of Cucumis sativus var. sativus L. was completed by Chinese scientists at the Institute of Vegetables and Flowers, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences with a novel combination of traditional Sanger and next-generation Illumina GA sequencing technologies. Results were published online in Nature Genetics on November 1, 2009.
In this study, scientists obtained 72.2-fold genome coverage and the results established that five of the cucumber's seven chromosomes arose from fusions of ten ancestral chromosomes after divergence from Cucumis melo. The sequenced cucumber genome affords insight into traits such as its sex expression, disease resistance, biosynthesis of cucurbitacin and 'fresh green' odor, and also provides a valuable resource for developing elite cultivars and studying the evolution and function of the plant vascular system.
The full text is available at

Monsanto Opens Biotech Research Facility in China

Monsanto Company has recently launched its first biotechnology research center in China. Monsanto Biotechnology Research Center in Zhongguancun, Beijing will participate in early-stage bioinformatics and genomics research and serve as a base for collaborations with Chinese scientists, the company said in a press release. Monsanto also has research centers in India, Brazil and the US.
Monsanto said that the center demonstrates "its commitment to forming technology collaborations in the country." Recently, the company entered into collaboration with the Huazhong Agricultural University to further gene discovery and the development of novel biotechnology traits. The company also established a RMB 1 million (USD 150,000) scholarship at the university to encourage students to pursue careers in biotechnology research.
"We are pleased that Monsanto, the leading agricultural biotech company, is setting up a research center in China. Biotech is an important solution to increase crop productivity. Technology innovation and improvement will be determining factors for agriculture sustainability," said Zhai Huqu, president of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science (CAAS).
The press release is available at