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SCIENCE & POLICY: USDA reporting positive GE crop developments in EU countries



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:  ITALY BIOTECHNOLOGY 2008: ITALY APPROVES GM FIELD TRIALS

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Agriculture, USA

AUTHOR: GAIN Report Number: IT8039, by Sandro Perini

URL:    http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200812/146306725.pdf

DATE:   03.12.2008

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ITALY BIOTECHNOLOGY 2008: ITALY APPROVES GM FIELD TRIALS

Approved by: Jim Dever, U.S. Embassy

Report Highlights:

Italy?s has approved the resumption of biotech field trials after a hiatus of 10 years. Protocols for nine crops were approved but leave implementing regulations up to the regions?many of which have declared themselves to be GMO free. While the approval of these protocols may be a positive step, most Italian scientists remain skeptical about their actual significance. In their view, too many constraints exist to make field tests practical. In fact, many research centers have abandoned agricultural biotechnology research because there is little likelihood that any farm in Italy will be able to benefit from such research any time soon.

?A glimmer opens, after ten years of darkness, for field trials of biotech crops.? This is how a leading farm weekly magazine, ?Agrisole? starts its press release, announcing the approval of the biotech field test protocols by the State-Regions Conference?a special body of representatives from the federal government and each of the 20 Italian regions that addresses issues of mutual interest. The path to this approval has not been easy. For a number of years, both public and private institutions have not been allowed to conduct research on biotech crops in Italy. By law, approval must first come from a special committee of ten members, comprised of two representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, two from the Ministry of Environment, and six from the regions, followed by approval of the State-regions Conference.

In 2007, the Ministry of Agriculture passed a Ministerial decree, endorsed by the special committee, approving protocols to re-start biotech field trials, which had been stopped for a number of years. But the decree was opposed by the Minister of Environment, Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, who also was the leader of Italy?s Green party. Last August, the new Minister of Environment, Stefania Prestigiacomo, endorsed the above protocols, which were then approved by the State-Regions Conference. The Ministerial decree is now waiting for the final signature from Minister of Agriculture Zaia, after which it will be published in the Official Gazette. Although Zaia has publicly maintained a strong opposition to agricultural biotechnology, most observers expect him to sign the decree.

Nine protocols were approved; one each for kiwis, citrus, sweet cherries, strawberries, corn, egg plants, olives, tomatoes, and grapes. The decree leaves it up to each region to develop implementing regulations, including the authority to adopt even more restrictive measures than the original protocols in order ?to reduce the risk of contamination.? Although most Italian regions have declared themselves to be ?GM-free,? some regions appear open to the biotech trials, including Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna?all located in northern Italy.

The nine protocols all include stringent measures to prevent any ?contamination? to conventional agriculture. Examples of these measures include the required use of anti-birds nets over GM kiwi-trees, a minimum distance of 1,000 meters between biotech and conventional corn fields, hand harvesting of biotech corn, and, in some cases, sterilization of the soil and incineration of the residues. Furthermore the trial fields must remain idle for up to three years following the trials.

While the approval of these protocols may be seen by many pro-biotech observers as a positive step, most Italian scientists remain skeptical about the actual significance of this decree. In their view, too many constraints exist to make field tests practical. In fact, many research centers have abandoned agricultural biotechnology research because there is little likelihood that any farm in Italy will be able to benefit from such research any time soon.

On the other side, environmental groups have protested against the approval of the protocols, reiterating their concerns about the possible contamination



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:  CZECH REPUBLIC BIOTECHNOLOGY 2008: MOVING AHEAD, SLOWLY BUT SURELY

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Agriculture, USA

AUTHOR: GAIN Report EZ8007, by Jana Mikulasova

URL:    http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200812/146306738.pdf

DATE:   04.12.2008

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CZECH REPUBLIC BIOTECHNOLOGY 2008: MOVING AHEAD, SLOWLY BUT SURELY

Approved by: Eric Wenberg, U.S. Embassy

Report Highlights:

The Czech Republic belongs to a limited number of countries in Europe with a pragmatic and scientific based approach to agricultural biotechnology. The Czech government, including its Ministry of Environment, works hard to provide objective, factually based information to its consumers. What is remarkable is how much this approach is a benefit to that country, allowing its officials to focus time, energy, and money, on legitimate priorities such as climate change, water and air quality, and biodiversity. This open scientific approach makes the Czech Republic an attractive potential investment by biotechnology companies for vaccine and agricultural development. This year after the French government?s ban on growing GM crops, the Czech Republic became the second largest grower of Bt corn in the EU. If other biotech varieties were EU approved they would be planted in the Czech republic. The Czech?s do not plan to focus on biotechnology in their EU presidency from Jan. 1.

The Czech Republic belongs to a limited number of countries in Europe with a pragmatic and scientific based approach to biotechnologies. This year after the French government?s ban on growing GM crops, the Czech Republic became the second largest grower of Bt corn in the EU. The EU 27 biotechnology GAIN report E48137, previously released, is available at

http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200811/146306614.pdf

Acreage of Bt corn in the Czech Republic has been substantially increasing every year for the last four years, as well as number of growers. This year 171 farmers planted Bt corn on a total of 8,380 hectares. Farmers use Bt corn mainly for feeding cattle, because it produces better quality silage containing significantly lower amounts of mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are secondary metabolic products (metabolites) produced by microfungi that are capable of causing disease and death in humans and other animals. Some farmers reported that the better quality of feed brings them higher yields in milk and also in numbers of born calves. Some of the Bt corn is used for bio-ethanol production. In general, Czech farmers have had a positive experience with Bt corn and would be interested in growing other GM crops as well. Total corn area in the Czech Republic in 2008 reached 288, hectares, out of which 108,000 hectares was grain corn and 180,000 hectares was used for silage. Czech farmers sta
 rted growing Bt corn in 2005 and at that time they tested the GM crop on only 270 hectares. The following year, the acreage of GM crops grown multiplied by a factor of five, to 1,290 hectares. The development of total acreage and numbers of farmers growing Bt corn in the Czech Republic are shown in the following table:

Year     Hectares of Bt Corn     Number of Growers

2005             270                                 52

2006          1,290                                 85

2007          5,000                                131

2008          8,380                                171

Bt corn is the only GM crop approved for commercial planting in the EU. Other varieties have been waiting for approval. Several of them have also been tested in the Czech Republic on test plots, for example genetically modified flax and potatoes with a higher content of starch. Since Czech farmers have had a very good experience with genetically-modified corn, they would welcome other GM crops as well, mainly GM rapeseed, and the above mentioned GM potatoes for industrial use.

The Czech Ministry of Agriculture has been preparing an amendment to the Law on Agriculture. Part of the amendment includes planned changes to a paragraph which outlines administrative procedures connected to growing GM crops. The MoA proposed simplification of the process to reduce the administrative burden on farmers, however, this proposal is still subject to further modifications by other stakeholders participating in the amendment process, and it might actually result in changes that will not be in favor of growers. Out of the two ministries regulating genetically modified organisms in the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Environment is the less liberal one. The difference can be seen in the voting on the EU committees. The Ministry of Agriculture officials vote for approving new biotech varieties of different crops and at the same time officials from the Ministry of Environment will vote to allow other member states to keep a ban on GM crops if they wish.

Many investment initiatives are possible for biotechnology companies. Those interested in learning more about Czech biotech generally should contact jana.mikulasova@fas.usda.gov. On investment, contact U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service representative, Gregory O?Connor in Prague at greg.o?connor@mail.doc.gov

Since the situation for biotech crops in the EU has become very political and therefore fragile, the Czech Republic does not plan to promote this topic during its upcoming EU presidency.



                                  PART 3

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TITLE:  UK BIOTECHNOLOGY 2008: PURPLE TOMATOES ? BIOTECH GETS COLORFUL

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Agriculture, USA

AUTHOR: GAIN Report Number: UK8019, by Jennifer Wilson

URL:    http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200812/146306766.pdf

DATE:   19.11.2008

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UK BIOTECHNOLOGY 2008: PURPLE TOMATOES ? BIOTECH GETS COLORFUL

Approved by: Rodrick McSherry, U.S. Embassy

Report Highlights:

News of a home-grown biotech product that could deliver potential consumer health benefits has been well-received in the UK. The UK has been at the forefront of primary research, funded by European and UK entities, to develop tomatoes with high levels of anthocyanins. These are deep red pigments with antioxidant capabilities thought to protect against a range of serious diseases. Recent surveys in Europe and the UK have shown that there is an increased understanding of the role that biotech crops could play in global food security. However, it is hoped that purple tomatoes and other ?second generation? biotech products with tangible consumer benefits could encourage more consumers to accept GM.

Purple Tomatoes ? Biotech Gets Colorful

Background

The debate surrounding agricultural biotechnology continues to ebb and flow in the UK. However, there are signs that consumers are absorbing positive messages on biotechnology. A recent UK survey of 1,500 consumers  found that a substantial proportion believe biotech can provide benefits, particularly in helping to feed a growing world population. Although, food safety and environmental impacts associated with the technology remain of concern.

The UK government has been more pro-active of late in defending biotechnology as a tool needed by farmers to increase output to feed a growing global population. The government?s relatively vocal stance is also influenced by awareness of the animal feed crisis that is potentially looming in Europe.

Purple Tomatoes

A UK research center has developed a biotech food product with potential consumer benefit. The John Innes Centre in Norwich, England , has developed purple tomatoes high in beneficial anthocyanins. The antioxidant properties of anthocyanins are thought to provide protection against a range of illnesses, including heart disease and cancer. In tests, cancer susceptible mice fed on a diet supplemented with high-anthocyanin tomatoes lived longer.

Anthocyanin pigments occur naturally in blueberries, blackberries and blackcurrants, but regular tomatoes contain negligible amounts. Market research from TNS shows only 12 per cent of the UK population meet the government target of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. The purple tomato research is an exciting development as consumers are more likely to see and feel the benefit to using biotechnology in such food applications. The aim of being used to enrich food products widely and frequently consumed to deliver additional health benefits.

UK scientists worked in conjunction with peers from Italy, Germany and the Netherlands to produce high-anthocyanin tomatoes by inserting 2 genes from the snapdragon (Antirrhinum) plant into regular tomato plants. They also added promoter sections of DNA that give rise to high levels of anthocyanin pigments in the fruit, but allow plant leaves and stems to grow normally.

The research was funded under the EU?s Fifth and Sixth Framework Programs (FP5 and FP6 ), and by the UK?s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC ). It was published online in the journal Nature Biotechnology on 26 October, 2008 .

Toxicological studies will need to be carried out to ensure that the snapdragon genes have not activated production of other, less beneficial, chemicals. However, the researchers believe that anthocyanins are unlikely to change the flavor of the tomatoes.

Analysis

The advent of purple tomatoes is unlikely to cause a seismic shift in UK consumer attitudes. However, the publicity surrounding their successful trial will be helpful in strengthening the more positive side of the biotech debate.


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