Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Resolution on the Halal Status of GM Crops/Foods

Two weeks ago MABIC organized an International Workshop for Ulama on Agribiotechnology. The theme was “Agribiotechnology: Shariah Compliance” The aim of this workshop was to bridge the knowledge and communication divide between scientists and ulama and to adopt a resolution on the halal status of GM crops/foods. MABIC has been engaging all stakeholders involved in the biotech sector and ulama is one of the key groups although no efforts have been made to create awareness on biotech among them. It is of paramount importance ulama has good understanding on the basic of modern biotechnology as they develop fatwa.

The workshop was attended by very prominent scientists and ulama from Malaysia as well as overseas. Presentations on halal concept, Shariah principles, GM technology, its safety, socioeconomic impact, global status, environmental impact and the need for this technology in Muslim countries were part of the workshop and these were deliberated by both scientists and the ulama present.

I would like to share here the resolution that was adopted in the workshop:

For full report

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Friday, November 26, 2010

Seminar on Agribiotechnology: Listen to what is happening in Africa and more…

MABIC is organizing a seminar on agribiotechnology featuring speakers from Nigeria, Egypt, USA and the Philippines. They will talk about the developments in agribiotechnology in Africa, biosafety regulations and biotechnology communication in the Asia Pacific region. The seminar is jointly organized by Centre for Research in Biotechnology for Agriculture (CEBAR), University of Malaya.

I invite all those interested to attend this seminar which is free of charge.

You may find answers to these questions:

1. Does Africa need GM technology?

2. Who does research on GM technology in Africa – public or private sector?

3. Why is there so much of interest in Africa among philanthropic organizations and multinationals?

4. Can GM crops promise food security to Africa?

5. And many more…

See you there on the 29th Nov 2010, 9am, Rimba Ilmu, UM.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

GM Mosquito to Combat Dengue

Every day we read about new cases of dengue and the number is rising, in spite of the heavy campaign carried out by the Ministry of Health. Dengue is a vector-borne tropical disease caused by Aedes aegypti. It can be fatal a disease as timely detection is a problem. Symptoms only appear 3-14 days after the infective bite. The symptoms are the same as any common viral disease and currently there are no specific treatments for dengue. Severe cases can cause hemorrhage. According to World Health Organization (WHO), two fifth of world population, or 2.5 billion are currently at risk of dengue. Every year there might be 50 million dengue cases globally.

Current measures taken to combat dengue have failed to reduce the population of this deadly mosquito. Fogging has not been effective and it also presents another problem where these mosquitoes become resistant to the chemical used. Fogging also only kills adult insects and not the larvae. It creates more environmental problems than being effective in reducing the population of the mosquito. The Ministry of Health is urging the public to clean the surroundings of their house and look out for mosquito breeding grounds. The effectiveness of this measure is really insignificant. As Malaysia receives rain almost every day and water can retain anywhere from flowers pots, drains, roofs, tree trunks, empty containers at landfills to just anywhere, it is just impossible to lookout for the all the possible mosquito breeding grounds.

Doing the same thing year after year and expecting a different result is certainly foolish.

Fortunately, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) approved the confined field trial for GM mosquito after many years of deliberation. This is a new approach to battle against the Aedes. The GM mosquitoes are created at Oxford University and its subsidiary, Oxitec in the UK. The Institute for Medical Research (IMR) in Malaysia is working with Oxitec on this research on mission to suppress the population of Aedes aegypti. The male mosquitoes have been sterilized and will not be able to breed. This will cause population reduction. This in fact, is not a new approach. Sterile insects have been released to the environment in the past to control the population of insect pests in the agriculture sector. Nevertheless the technique used was irradiation which the public care less about. Thanks to many GM opponents who have featured GM technology as more hazardous than irradiation!

If the field trials are successfully conducted and yield the desired results, Malaysians can heave a sigh of relief. We can shed off our label as one of the dengue prone region and remove Malaysia from the dengue global map. Unfortunately, it is not just the science that needs to be strengthened and battled but also the public attitude and concerns. Naysayers and scaremongers are hard at work to ensure this project is halted.

It frustrates to read about all the negative letters and the ONE main question: “who is behind this project and what is the benefit to them?”

Why do we readily embrace all other products that come from the industry and not GM technology? It is beyond me to comprehend the concerns of these people. Does it matter where the technology comes from as long as we are not shortchanged and it is worth every cent we spend?

I must say SYABAS to NRE, the Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC) and the National Biosafety Board for upholding scientific principles in approving this technology for field trial. This letter from NRE says it all.

If this technology is successful with Aedes, the next to be eliminated could be the vector for Malaria.

I want to end by saying “Those who want the world to continue in the same way, do not want the world to continue”

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Where Fashion Meets Biotech...

Biotechnology made its way into fashion pages of newspapers for the first time through the efforts of MABIC and BiotechCorp and the support of Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM, Perak Campus). MyBio Carnival which took place from 25 Sept – 2 Oct at the National Science Centre in Kuala Lumpur saw fashion luminaries researching on biotech to design their outfits. The fashion design undergraduates of UiTM also got their first taste of biotechnology through the fashion designing competition which was the highlight of the MyBio Carnival. Named BioRunway, it was a platform where fashion designers were inspired by the world of biotechnology.

It was a great achievement for both MABIC and BiotechCorp where we managed to sensitise fashion design community on biotechnology. What more when we got their feedback that they are amazed on the information that they read on biotechnology and their pledge to use biotech motifs in their future designs. Rahman Saif, a leading fashion designer said he is now totally impressed with the new horizon biotech has offered for his future designs.

Karl Ng, another designer is equally impressed and wants to be part of future biotech events where fashion can be used to create awareness. Shegar Chandran wants more of this kind of events to be organized and readily offered his services. There are now talks among these designers to incorporate biotech into bigger fashion shows at the national level. I can’t believe the number of doors that has opened in front of us. Both BiotechCorp and MABIC are very excited about taking this to greater heights and using events of this kind to reach to a wider audience.

And that’s not all, UiTM lecturer, Miss Aniza came all out to support MyBio Carnival. Her students exhibited extraordinary talent and creativity which made the life of judges very difficult. UiTM has now introduced biotech as one of the categories for their final year students. Can we ask more?

With the success of MyBio Carnival in Kuala Lumpur, it was only right to bring this event to other regions. So, MyBio Canrival reincarnated at AIMST University for the Northern region from 8-10 Nov. Rahman Saif made special appearance here and UiTM came in full force.

The audience of both the carnivals saw how DNA, plasmids, natural products, cloning, cells, viruses, fungus and bacteria could make beautiful designs and outfits.

And the most interesting piece – BioRunway is going to make its way into Brazil soon…

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

MyBiotechnology Carnival 2010

Communicating biotechnology requires not just science but also creativity and innovation. Not only science has evolved rapidly, but also ways in communication science. From conventional media such as newspapers, television and radio, new media has been employed which are perceived to be much more efficient with far-reaching impact. These media are internet, facebook, twitter and blogs. There also another type media such as museums, exhibitions, and theatrical media. Many developed countries have solid strategies and trained personnel in this field who use these media to the fullest. Malaysia should not be left behind as science literacy determines the prosperity of a nation.

MABIC has been a lead organization in communicating biotechnology to various stakeholders and this year marks its 10th anniversary. To commemorate this special occasion, MABIC is organizing MyBiotechnology Carnival 2010 with an aim to enhance biotech awareness among the general public. The carnival is jointly organized by the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation (BiotechCorp) and the National Science Centre which share the same mandate and aspiration as MABIC. The carnival is held at the National Science Centre in Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur from 25 Sept – 2 Oct.

This is the first-of-its kind carnival in Malaysia with fun-filled activities for people from all walks of life to enrich their knowledge on biotechnology. Bring your kids, families and friends and be prepared to go home with goodies and loads of facts on biotechnology. The beauty is these activities will not drain your energy nor strain you in spite of the learning exercises. We ensure you fun while learning about biotechnology.

What more you will get a chance to meet fashion celebrities and beauty queens in person – Karl Ng, Rahman Saif, Karen Liew, Keith Kee, Shegar Chandra, Thanuja Ananthan and Stephanie Chua.

There is a long list of activities:

  • Debates
  • Colouring competition
  • Quizzes
  • Spelling competition
  • Fashion show
  • Fashion design competition
  • BioSales
  • BioCultural Village
  • BioRace (treasure hunt)
  • Exhibition
  • Public talks on biotech
  • Writing competition
  • Poster drawing competition
  • Hands-on experience on biotech experiments
  • And much more…

All the competitions that are open to school students are endorsed by Ministry of Education and certificates will be provided which carries the co-curriculum points for entry into universities. Get your children to send their entries before the deadline!

See you all at the National Science Centre next month!

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Use of Animals in Clinical Testing

The animal activists have called for the ban in using animals for clinical testing and created a huge hue and cry on this matter. I would urge the government to listen to them and form a committee made up by these activists to brainstorm for better options that can be used in drug discovery. Anyone who has such strong objections should also come out with better alternatives that can save lives. It is always easy to protest and portray a “good and clean” image but to be constructive and contribute positively towards the betterment of mankind requires more “grey matters”…

Put the questions to them on how we can study neurological disorders, efficient drug delivery, toxicology, immunology and allergenicity among others. Ask them how many times in their lives, or the lives of their loved ones, they have consumed drugs and medications. I know one of the prominent activists in Malaysia has undergone coronary artery bypass surgery. He would not have been alive today, if not for the animals that were sacrificed during the testing of the many cardiovascular drugs that are in use.

Have these people at least once walked into an animal testing laboratory? Do they know what goes on in there. In Japan, funerals and prayers are carried out for sacrificed animals. Researchers often become so attached to the animals and these animals are given good care during drug testing procedures.

In most countries, laboratories that deal with animals have an ethical code of conduct that has to be strictly adhered to. Committee members would meet regularly to approve procedures. Researchers make sure that pain is minimized during the research process and animals are kept in good living conditions.

Until today, diseases likes Alzheimer and Parkinson’s are not fully studied and understood. Vaccines for various types of cancers are still under development. Animal testing offers the most accurate results as the drugs are tested under the closest conditions to human beings. Transplantation of organs will not be in the mainstream medicine if not for the use of animals in the laboratory. Vaccines for many life threatening diseases like Herpes Simplex, Hepatitis B, Polio, rabies, mumps would not be possible without clinical research on animals. Anesthesia, the procedure to numb a patient during surgery or a diagnostic procedure is available today after being successfully tested on animals. The prominent activist I mentioned earlier would have yelled to death during his bypass surgery if not for anesthesia drugs and procedures.

Human beings are not the only beneficiary in the use of animals in the laboratory. Many pet diseases can be treated today, thanks to the use of animals in drug testing. Pet nutrition has also advanced due to animal testing.

What the government should do is develop proper guidelines on the use of animals in the laboratory to ensure researchers abide to a code of conduct that is accepted globally. Laboratories that use animals in their research should be monitored and regulated. National level bioethics committee is long overdue in Malaysia. All these measures will ensure research is carried out in the most humane and ethical way possible.

Whatever said and done, I will never listen to someone who walks nude on the stage just to protest the use of fur and wool!

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Real Meaning of Functional Foods

Malaysian biotechnology sector is flooded with health supplement companies. They are lucky to be clustered as “biotech company” as Malaysia has a broad definition of biotechnology. And also health supplement does not go through stringent safety procedures and also of the public perception that anything natural is “safe”. Some of them who label themselves as “high-end” biotech company simply buy the technology from foreign companies and hold the patent rights.

In this post, I would like to share a recent report by
Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology entitled, “Application of Biotechnology for Functional Foods”. This report adopts the following definition for functional foods – Foods that provides health benefits beyond basic nutrition.

The original concept of functional foods originated in Japan from its development of a special seal to denote Foods for Specified Health Use (FOSHU). More than 270 foods have FOSHU status in Japan. Foods qualify as “functional foods” because they contain non-essential substances with potential health benefits. Examples of the diverse foods and their bioactive substances that are considered “functional foods” are: psyllium seeds (soluble fiber), soy foods (isoflavones), cranberry juice (proanthocyanidins), purple grape juice (resveratrol), tomatoes (lycopene), and green tea (catechins).

With the advanced in modern biotechnology, bioactive compounds in foods can be added or increased. Examples are oils that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, tomatoes rich in lycopene, and cassava rich in iron, vitamin or protein.

Oils alone can be modified in many ways to enhance it health benefits and reduce disease-causing factors. The following are some examples where traditional plant breeding cannot be employed:

· Reduce saturated fatty acid content for “heart-healthy” oils
· Increase saturated fatty acids for greater stability in processing and frying
· Increase oleic acid in food oils for food manufacturing
· Reduce alpha-linolenic acid for improved stability in food processing
· Introduce various omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids including long-chain forms
· Enhance the availability of novel fatty acids, e.g., gamma-linoleic acid

Increasing the protein content of some staple food is another area under research. Crops that are being studied are cassava, corn and potato. Cassava is a staple food for some 500 million people in tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world, cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz), also known as yucca or manioc, thrives in marginal lands having little rain and nutrient-poor soils. It is widely consumed in Africa, and parts of Asia and South America. Corn, although is rich in protein, it lacks lysine and tryptophan. Corn is a predominantly consumed as staple food in Latin America and Africa. Potato is a dietary staple throughout parts of Asia, Africa, and South America and it contains about 2% protein and 0.1% fat. Various international institutes are working on these crops to increase its protein content.

A crop closer to home is rice. Almost half the world’s population eats rice (Oryza sativa L.), at least once a day according to International Rice Research Institute. Rice is the staple food among the world’s poor, especially in Asia and parts of Africa and South America. It is the primary source of energy and nutrition for millions. Thus, improving the nutritional quality of rice could potentially improve the nutritional status of nearly half the world’s population, particularly its children. Commodity rice contains about 7% protein. The most limiting amino acid in rice is lysine. Efforts to increase the nutritional value of rice target protein content and quality along with key nutrients often deficient in rice-eating populations, such as vitamin A and iron.

This report also discusses various other nutrients such as Vitamin E, Vitamin C, folic acid, antioxidants, iron, zinc, selenium, and phytonutrients among others. Enhancing food with these nutrients will have great impact on public health. With the rising of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure, functional foods can reverse some of the disease trends. However, not all this foods will be available at the supermarket shelves as they have go through vigorous regulatory procedures.

Coming back to Malaysia, a rice variety with low hyperglycaemic index would be a boon for us. Any takers?

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Thursday, April 22, 2010

BASF GM Potato: The second GM crop approved in EU for planting

After 13 years of battle, BASF was finally successful in getting approval for its GM potato, Amflora for planting in the EU. This is the second crop approved by EU Commission. The first was Monsanto’s MON810 trait for corn that protects it from European corn borer.

Amflora will have a big impact in the European starch industry where Europe produces 2 million tones of potato starch annually. Amflora is genetically modified to produce 98% amylopectin compared to the conventional variety which produces a mixture of 80% amylopectin and 20% amylase. The starch industry only uses the amylopectin for the production of paper, textiles and adhesives. This will offer a big saving to the industry where it eliminates to need to separate the two types of starch.

Germany and Czech Republic might be the first countries in Europe to plant this potato with cultivation expected to begin in spring this year.

The road to success if often not sweet and that was the case for Amflora. BASF first applied for approval in Sweden in 1996. However, between 1996 and 2004 there was a moratorium on approvals of GM crops in Europe. When EU modified its regulation, BASF again submitted the application for cultivation in 2003 and for the use of food and feed in 2005. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that Amflora was as safe for the humans, animals and the environment as conventional potatoes but politicians created hurdles for its approval. They were not able to make decision for or against its cultivation. In 2009, EFSA reiterated its stand on the safety of Amflora. And finally the approval came on 2 March 2010.

However, the battle is not over yet with activists raising their usual concerns. The first concern is that Amflora contains an antibiotic resistance marker gene, and the activists claim it could give rise to bacterial strains resistant to antibiotics used to control infections in human. This has been addressed by EFSA in 2004, which concluded that the risk of transferring the antibiotic resistance from plant to bacteria is remote. Furthermore, resistance to the antibiotics used as marker, in this case, kanamycin, could already be found in bacteria in animal and human intestines.

The second concern of activists is the possibility of transgene (the foreign gene in Amflora) dissemination to other potatoes. The spreading of transgene from Amflora to conventional potato is unlikely as potatoes do not cross-pollinate with other potatoes to reproduce. As such transgene movement by pollen is very limited and escaped wild type potatoes have rarely been observed in Europe. Moreover, potatoes are harvested before they produce seeds and this will reduce the risk of inadvertently persisting in the environment.

In spite of the concerns being not too substantial, measures will be taken to ensure risks are minimized. Farmers who want to cultivate Amflora will have to sign a contract with BASF to ensure the potatoes will be physically separated from potatoes for food or feed uses during planting, cultivation, harvest, storage and handling. The tubers will be delivered to designated starch factories within closed system. These farmers will not be able to grow conventional potatoes in the same field the year following GM potatoes and the fields will be monitored the following growing season to destroy volunteers (plants from previous season that grow in the following growing season and become a weed).

Will this potato flourish in Europe? We will wait and see.

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Communicating Biotech: Taking the less travelled path

Communicating science is a challenging task. Who is interested to know more about nanotechnology, genetic engineering, tissue culture or marker assisted selection among the general public? Who would take time to read about these technologies? Science has to be taught in a very innovative way that will raise the students’ or the audience’s inquisitiveness. Many abhorred science in schools but are hooked up to CSI, Discovery Channel and other science programmes on TV. So, when I was brainstorming with my colleagues on an event to commemorate MABIC’s 10th anniversary, we wanted to take the less travelled path…The event had to reflect MABIC’s role, the various stakeholders we have been working with over the years, our objectives, and be able to reach out to a wide range of audience and attract media coverage. We also wanted to teach biotech to the general public without them realizing that they are being taught. And it has to be innovative. That is how Biotechnology Carnival was conceived.

Block your diary now: 18-26 Sept, National Science Centre, Kuala Lumpur. The carnival is jointly organized with the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation (BiotechCorp) and National Science Centre (NSC).

So, why did I say we are taking the less travelled path? Because you will see Malaysia’s leading fashion designers there: Keith Kee, Karl Ng, Shegar Chandran, Rahman Saif and Karen Liew. And also Miss Universe Malaysia 2009, Joannabelle Ng and first runner up Miss World Malaysia, Stephanie Chua. What are they doing at a biotechnology event, you may ask.

The designers are now busy designing their creations based on biotech motifs and I trust they must all be doing some research on biotechnology. And the two beauties are going to parade the designers’ creations along with other models. As the models do their catwalk, the audience will listen to the description of the design and enrich their knowledge on biotech. I am also eager to see how biotech can be translated into art… We are also organizing a fashion designing competition among students from fashion design schools, again based on biotech.

The following are the other activities planned for the carnival (all topics and themes will be based in biotech):

- Debates for schools
- Inter-school biotech quiz
- Writing competition for students
- Poster drawing competition for students
- Colouring competition
- Pop quizzes for all audience
- Debates for undergraduates
- Business plan writing competition
- Games
- Demonstration of DNA extraction
- Seminar on science communication
- Talks on career opportunities for life science graduates
- Talks on bioentrepreneurship
- Exhibition by universities, industry, and research institutes

Lots of goodies, prizes, freebies and more importantly FUN and KNOWLEDGE waiting to be given out during the carnival.

To keep yourself updated, visit our website.

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Fairer Sex in the World of Science

Girls do better than boys in primary and secondary schools. Even at tertiary level, there are more girls than boys in most universities. But where do they go after that? Why do we see most top positions, head of departments, chief scientists, and executives at decision making levels are occupied by men?

I would like to share a riddle with the readers. Here it goes:
One day, a father and son went for a leisure driving outing. Unfortunately, the car crashed and the boy was in a serious condition. The father took him to a hospital and the examining doctor said that the boy must go for an immediate surgery. The surgeon, upon seeing the boy, screamed, “Oh, my God. What happened to my son?” The question: who is the surgeon?

Most people would have their mind wandering about the legitimacy of the boy’s birth. And none would have thought that the surgeon is the boy’s mother... Our mind often perceives surgeons to be men. What more scientists.

It is ironic that we always fail to see women as superstar scientists and put them in the same category as Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Alexander Graham Bell and their likes.

There are a number of women scientists who revolutionized the world in the past and there still a large number working hard in the laboratories around the world.

I recently read an interesting article on the internet on “15 Female scientists who changed the world” and would like to share the link: http://www.ekgclasses.org/15-female-scientists-who-changed-the-world/

In every part of the world, we need to address the constraints faced by women in excelling in the field of science, in spite of their academic achievements. These constraints could be family commitments, existence of glass-ceiling, lack of support from family and husbands, lack of support from bosses and top management, lack of confidence, access to grants, lack of equal opportunities, etc. These constraints are predominant in less developed countries. But developed countries are not spared as well.

These barriers need to be broken.

Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Phytase Corn: Breakthrough by Chinese Scientists to Improve Feed and Reduce Pollution

Chinese scientists at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) have successfully developed a genetically modified (GM) corn that could help enhance the nutritional value of livestock feed and reduce environmental footprints caused by the livestock industry.

This corn called the “Phytase Corn” is a result of the insertion of a gene from a fungus, Aspergillus. It is a known fact that 80% of the phosphorus in corn is in the form of phytate which can easily chelate with minerals and protein to form phytin. Phytate or phytic acid is the main form of phosphorus in plant-based animal feed. But due to lack of phytase (an enzyme capable of digesting phytic acid) in animals, phosphorus in the feed is poorly available to the animals. This deprives the animals of phosphorus which is essential for growth. Furthermore, fecal phosphorus leads to major environmental pollution. Fertilizers produced from animal manure also contribute to environmental pollution due to excessive amount of phytic acid.

China alone produces 2.5 million tons of fecal phosphorus annually. Phytase corn will decrease the excretion of phosphorus in the feces by 40%. This will reduce phosphorus pollution greatly. Phosphorus pollution has caused a widespread of algal bloom in Chinese lakes. Currently it is mandatory to use phytase as an additive for animal feed in countries like Europe, Southeast Asia, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan for environmental purposes. With the introduction of phytase corn, livestock players will not have to buy corn and phytase separately. It is reported that Chinese farmers could save up to US$60 million per year in buying industrial phytase. The worldwide phytase potential market size is US$500 million. It is anticipated that farmers can save time, machinery, and labour cost as phytase corn will eliminate the need for mixing phytase and corn together.

Phytase corn was developed by CAAS after seven years of study and the Ministry of Agriculture has evaluated it for safety and has awarded the Biosafety Certificate to Origin Agritech Limited, a Chinese company located in Beijing. CAAS will license the technology to Origin Agritech Limited for the corn to be commercialised.

CAAS is expecting the product to hit the market in five years time. Will this product be spared of activists' criticism and opposition since it will hugely contribute in reducing negative impact on the environment? Time will tell.

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I spoke at the EU parliament...

I just returned from Brussels after a seminar at EU parliament on “The impact of EU GMO-regulations on biotechnology research for the public good”. I had very little time to indulge in Belgian chocolates but listening to the experienced and prominent speakers made up for it. What more, when given an opportunity to make an intervention... When did I ever imagine that I would speak at the EU parliament?

This seminar was organized by the Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI) and the Science and Technology Options Assessment Panel (STOA) of the EU Parliament to address the constraints the public research sector face due to the stringent regulatory situation in many countries, particularly in the EU. The seminar discussed how current regulations and policies impact the potential for the public biotechnology sector. It was chaired by Prof. Antonio Correia de Campos, who is the STOA Vice-Chairman and a Member of European Parliament (MEP), jointly with Prof. Marc Baron van Montagu, the chairman of PRRI. Prof. Dr. El-Beltagy, Chair Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) gave a very comprehensive account of climate change and how green biotechnology can help in producing plants and crops that can survive the adverse effects of the climate change.

Ms. Maive Rute, Director for the Biotechnology, Agriculture and Fisheries and Food Directorate, European Commission (EC) gave a very positive account on how biotechnology, especially GM technology can benefit Europe. Dr. Emilio Rodriguez from EC’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) presented the experiences with GM crops in Europe, its economic and productivity impact. Dr. Piero Morandini from University of Milan gave a very emotional and passionate presentation on the many case studies where potential research is halted at the laboratory level due to restrictions on field trials in Europe. He presented the difficult experiences being faced by European public researchers due to the GMO regulation in Europe.

I commented on the need for EU to be mindful with the regulations and policies on GMOs as the rest of the world, especially emerging economies perceive EU as a role model when drafting their own regulations, Acts, and policies. Debates and decisions made in EU parliament is echoed in many part of the world, thus, EU should lead in the right direction based on scientific consensus. It was heartening when Dr. Beltagy acknowledged my views and further strengthened the points made. NGOs made intervention on why they oppose GMOs, but the speakers and chairpersons were quick to rebut their negative comments with facts and data. An activist from a well-known NGO said that they oppose GMOs as these are monopolised by MNCs. The strange thing is that the same NGOs press governments for heavy penalties and stringent law that only MNCs with deep pocket could effort, leaving the public sector researchers out of the game. How then, the public sector could compete with MNCs and break the monopoly? What are their genuine reasons for opposing GMOs... only they know!

The seminar was attended by industry representatives, MEPs, NGOs, scientists, and regulators. The STOA committee members who are also MEPs and European Commission representatives made presented very balanced views on GMOs based on scientific facts and evidence. PRRI certainly created a milestone in EU with this seminar. Hope we see wind of change.

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Thursday, March 4, 2010

New wave of adoption of GM crops

GM crops once again proved to be the fastest adopted crop technology with an 80-fold increase in hectarage from 1999 to 2009. 134 million hectares of GM crops were planted around the world compared to 125 million hectares in 2008. The number of countries growing GM crops remained the same at 25, with Costa Rica joining in and Germany discontinuing the planting of GM corn. Whereas, the number of farmers growing GM crops continued to grow with 14 million farmers around the globe in 2009. Out of this, 13 million are from developing countries. This proves the notion that GM crops only benefits the rich nations wrong.

A landmark decision was made by the Chinese government in approving biosafety certificates for insect-resistant Bt rice and phytase corn. It is worth mentioning here that both these crops are entirely products of public sectors. The decision will have great impact not only in China, but the rest of the world as rice is the most important food crop in globally. Phytase corn allows efficient meat production as livestock animals will be able to digest the phosphorus in this corn easily. This would also mean reduction in the pollution level as there will be lower phosphate waste from the livestock industry.

The highlights of the new ISAAA report:

- More than three quarters of the 90 million hectares of soybean grown globally were GM.

- Almost half of the cotton grown globally was GM.

- More than a quarter of the 158 million hectares of corn grown globally was GM varieties.

- 21 percent of the 31 million hectares of canola were GM.

The countries that grow GM crops in descending order are: US, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, South Africa, Uruguay, Bolivia, Philippines, Australia, Burkina Faso, Spain, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Czech Republic, Portugal, Romania, Poland, Costa Rica, Egypt, and Slovakia.

For detailed information visit: http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/41/default.asp

The international Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) publishes this report yearly and this is one of the most cited publication in the field of plant biotechnology.

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan