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BUSINESS & SEEDS: After BT cotton, Mahyco (India) bets on genetically modified okra & rice



                                  PART 1


------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   AFTER BT COTTON, MAHYCO BETS ON GENETICALLY MODIFIED OKRA & RICE

SOURCE:  Daily News and Analysis, India (DNA)

AUTHOR:  Priyanka Golikeri

URL:     http://www.dnaindia.com/money/report_after-bt-cotton-mahyco-bets-on-genetically-modified-okra-and-rice_1567768

DATE:    21.07.2011

SUMMARY: "The genetically modified vegetable BT brinjal may be still mired in controversy but that has not deterred its maker Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co (Mahyco) from going ahead with BT okra (ladies finger) and rice. According to Usha Barwale Zehr, joint director of research at Mahyco, the company is currently conducting bio-safety tests for BT okra and rice, and once they are done, permission will be sought for field trials."

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AFTER BT COTTON, MAHYCO BETS ON GENETICALLY MODIFIED OKRA & RICE

The genetically modified vegetable BT brinjal may be still mired in controversy but that has not deterred its maker Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co (Mahyco) from going ahead with BT okra (ladies finger) and rice.

According to Usha Barwale Zehr, joint director of research at Mahyco, the company is currently conducting bio-safety tests for BT okra and rice, and once they are done, permission will be sought for field trials.

?BT okra and rice are next in pipeline. All three, including brinjal, are relevant for Indian agriculture. We are optimistic that science will prevail and the government will be a facilitator in the process and take a positive decision,? said Zehr, adding that all the three have the same protein which is present in BT cotton.

Three months ago, a 16-member expert panel set up by Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh, along with the genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC), met to discuss BT brinjal, which has been facing protests over its commercial release on safety and health grounds.

?Several members present in that meeting were in favour of a commercial release of the product in a limited manner. However, no other meeting has been planned on this matter as of now,? said Zehr.

BT refers to a gene of a bacterium, bacillus thuringiensis which produces a protein, Cry 1Ac which destroys pests that eat up the crop. Brinjal, okra and rice are genetically modified and infused with the BT gene, the technology for which has been licensed from US-based crop company Monsanto, which holds a 26% stake in Mahyco.

Zehr said the firm has already started certain bio-safety tests involving BT okra and rice to check the safety and toxicity of the products on animals like rats and rabbits, and it will take about three to six months for completion.

?Once the bio-safety tests are done, we will apply for permission with the GEAC for doing field trials to check the efficacy of the products. However, there is a delay in getting approvals for trial permission due to various factors.?

Like brinjal which gets attached by a chewing pest called fruit and shoot borer, in okra it is the fruit borer while in rice it is the stem borer that chews up all the nutrients, thereby harming the plant.

?The BT technology when infused into the plant gets eaten by the pest, which then kills the pest upon entering its body. It is good for farm yield and safe for consumers. On brinjal we have done all the necessary testing and will do the same in case of okra and rice as well,? said Zehr.

However, according to agriculture activist Kavita Kuruganti, there is no pressing hurry to release any genetically modified food crop into the market and a great degree of experimental studies and assessment is needed to check the human safety.

?Once such products are allowed, it becomes impossible to track their impact on human health.?



                                  PART 2

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   OPINION : BT, BRINJAL AND BIRIYANI

SOURCE:  The Hindu Business Line, India

AUTHOR:  Raghuvir Srinivasan

URL:     http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/article2282065.ece?homepage=true

DATE:    21.07.2011

SUMMARY: "Ram Kaundinya, CEO and Managing Director, Advanta, hardly comes across as the biotech warrior that he is. [...] Ram is genial, soft-spoken and, of course, well informed of all the arguments, for and against the use of biotechnology in agriculture. [...] We return to the contentious subject of GM and he speaks of how drought tolerance and salt tolerance genes in seeds can help India, given their dependence on the monsoon and the large 20 million hectare of saline land. But is it not possible to do this with molecular marker technology, I ask. ?GM is a more precise science and is faster compared to traditional plant breeding,? replies Ram, an agricultural sciences graduate and MBA from IIM, Ahmedabad."

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OPINION : BT, BRINJAL AND BIRIYANI

Mr Ram Kaundinya, CEO and Managing Director, Advanta.

Micro-organisms continuously evolve. It is a continuous fight against Nature.

If pests could talk they would probably convey their hatred for him and those of his ilk in language stronger than what the most vociferous anti-biotech activists can summon.

Yet, Ram Kaundinya, CEO and Managing Director, Advanta, hardly comes across as the biotech warrior that he is. Not for him the airs of a multinational?s CEO, or the aggression of a businessman in a business that many love to hate.

Ram is genial, soft-spoken and, of course, well informed of all the arguments, for and against the use of biotechnology in agriculture. We are having lunch at the Deccan Pavilion, ITC Kakatiya in Hyderabad on a leisurely Saturday afternoon. We opt for the buffet which has a lavish spread of local Andhra, Chinese, tandoori and continental cuisine.

Happy with Jairam?s exit?

So, is the biotech industry happy to see the back of Mr Jairam Ramesh from the Environment Ministry, I prod Ram, hoping to catch him off guard as he dips into his bowl of corn and potato soup. He seems to have expected the question because the response is quick and diplomatic: ?I?m very unhappy that we couldn?t convince him. We never got the opportunity. He?s a senior minister in the Cabinet and can still influence policy.? The anguish is evident.

Ram calls for pepper and salt to add to the soup which has a strong hint of ginger.

Europe?s rejection of GM

He then starts off with how scientific data is the casualty in biotech arguments which are pegged on emotional appeal and points out how the US has adapted to biotech after assessing it scientifically. But what about Europe, I ask him. Aren?t they opposed to biotech in agriculture? That sets him off on an elaborate reply at the risk of his soup running cold. European countries have no compulsion to increase food production given their small populations and smaller growth rates, while it is not the same with India, he says, rattling off figures.

India has just 0.12 hectares of arable land per head while Europe and the US have 0.33 and 0.44 hectares each per head, he points out. This means that we have to maximise yield to feed our growing population. ?India can only compare itself with China. Average incomes are so low that we cannot afford high cost food,? he adds.

?Why doesn?t Europe oppose pharma biotech,? he asks, arguing that most of Europe?s opposition to food biotech is political rather than scientific. Agri biotech was developed in the US and Monsanto is a global leader at the cost of European companies. Europe anyway uses genetically modified yeast that goes into numerous food preparations, he points out.

Ram is now sufficiently warmed up and intense but remains soft-spoken. ?Do you know that in India more than 25 medicines have genetically modified stuff in them,? he asks, ?why don?t activists insist on labelling of medicines??

We break to get our food. He recommends Hyderabadi biriyani with mirchi salan reassuring me that its vegetarian. I discover he?s vegetarian too as both of us pick up paneer kebabs, beans and carrot poriyal and gummadikai iguru. ?Its an Andhra speciality?, he tells me as I help myself to the pumpkin dish.

NGOs and their funds

Food security now assured, I try to provoke him on the subject of NGOs and their vocal opposition to anything biotech. Where do their finances come from, I ask him. ?It needs to be investigated. I have thought of filing an RTI to find out the source of funds of the major NGOs and Greenpeace in India but it is something that should be done with the backing of the association,? he replies. Ram is chairman of ABLE or the Association of Biotech Led Enterprises-Agriculture Group.

But isn?t there something to be said for organic food which is now popular in cities? ?I?m not opposed to organic food. There should be choice but it is not right to mandate it,? he says pointing out that prices of organically cultivated food will be higher because the yields are low. The biriyani tastes delicious with the salan and I?m tempted to return to the buffet table for a refill but the intense conversation and the waiter just then, emerging with rotis, together prevent me.

Ram narrates an anecdote from his public debate last year over Bt brinjal with Mr Pushpa Bhargava, former head of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and an eminent biotechnologist himself. ?I asked Mr Bhargava how being a biotechnologist himself, he was opposing Bt brinjal, the reply to which was that he was opposed to those who were providing the technology,? Ram says. That these are multinationals is more cause for opposition than the technology itself.

Educating people on biotech

I ask him if the industry has missed a trick by failing to effectively educate people on the advantages of biotech and that it is not all about genetic modification (GM) alone. Molecular marker technology and plant breeding have been practised in India for a long time and are accepted tools of biotechnology.

Ram graciously concedes that the industry may have failed to get its point across well enough and narrates an incident about how he once ran into Mr Sitaram Yechury and discovered that the latter thought biotech and GM were the same. ?If a senior member of Parliament is not clear about this, then there is something surely wrong with our efforts to educate people?, he says.

We return to the buffet for dessert now. Ram looks warily at the spread but encourages me to dive into it and I oblige by picking up a piece of chocolate cake, brioche chocolate pudding and a small cup of rabri falooda. ?At my age I have to watch what I eat but not you,? he says as I wonder if there was a touch of regret there.

We return to the contentious subject of GM and he speaks of how drought tolerance and salt tolerance genes in seeds can help India, given their dependence on the monsoon and the large 20 million hectare of saline land. But is it not possible to do this with molecular marker technology, I ask. ?GM is a more precise science and is faster compared to traditional plant breeding,? replies Ram, an agricultural sciences graduate and MBA from IIM, Ahmedabad.

Hailing from Kakinada, Ram spent more than two decades in the pesticide industry and about six years in a seeds company that was eventually taken over by Monsanto. He joined Advanta in 2006 when it was acquired by the United Phosphorus group.

Isn?t there an inherent contradiction in a pesticide company acquiring and nurturing a biotech business whose main objective is to control pesticide use? ?There are some conflicts that come, but then there are always other pests to kill!?

Is it possible that genetically modified plants lose their protection from pests due to evolution? Ram says it is quite possible: ?Micro-organisms continuously evolve. It is a continuous fight against Nature?.



                                  PART 3

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   ?THERE IS NO ZERO RISK IN AGRICULTURE?; BIOTECH IS A NECESSITY

SOURCE:  The Hindu Business Line, India

AUTHOR:  K V Kurmanath

URL:     http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/todays-paper/tp-agri-biz-and-commodity/article2156633.ece

DATE:    03.07.2011

SUMMARY: "Mr Clive James [Founder and Chairman of ISAAA] says biotechnology is not a panacea for the food problems of the world. It, he emphatically says, is a necessity. [...] You need to have biotech crops in order to feed the world. By 2050, the world would have nine billion people. The next five years would witness much faster growth of biotech crops. Indications show that the number of countries that adopted biotech in commercial agriculture would grow to 40-42 by 2015 from the present 29."

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?THERE IS NO ZERO RISK IN AGRICULTURE?; BIOTECH IS A NECESSITY

?We need to have simple, responsible regulations?

Hyderabad, July 3: Mr Clive James, who is the Founder and Chairman of ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications) is a strong votary of biotechnology in agriculture. He says biotechnology is not a panacea for the food problems of the world. It, he emphatically says, is a necessity. Mr James was in Hyderabad to address a global meet, on Demystifying crop biotechnology ? issues and concepts for mass media, recently. In an interview, he talks on the growth prospects for biotech in agriculture, challenges and on the concerns about the safety of genetically modified (GM) food.

You are arguing that biotech crops are a must to feed the world but there have been widespread apprehensions about their safety. How do you explain?

There is no zero risk in agriculture. This holds good for conventional crops as well. But biotech maize and papaya have been introduced in countries such as the US and China. BT maize, in fact, showed reduced levels of micro toxins.

You have seen reports of people getting killed after consuming food with E.coli in Germany. That is conventional technology.

I can tell you that there is no suggestion of any health risk (in biotech food).

But regulatory framework that governs biotech crops is very weak, particularly in developing countries. People are more concerned about this. How to ensure fool-proof supervision of trials?

Regulation has been there in the last 15 years to guide the growth of biotech crops. In the beginning scientists had asked whether it poses a risk. But evidence shows that it is safe. We have to use 15 years of experience (in building regulation). We need to have simple and responsible regulations. About 1,000 people are dying every hour due to hunger and malnutrition. Countries like India need biotech in agriculture.

Resistance is fast building up to technology. Also, utter disregard in sparing space for refugia too is a concern. This results in contamination and increase prospects of development of resistance.

Refugia are just one element of managing resistance. It has been 15 years of biotech in maize and cotton and resistance has not broken down yet. Also, resistance is not a problem that is limited to biotech crops. We need to use new genes that back up.

How do you see biotech in agriculture growing in the next few years particularly in the light of growing opposition from some sections?

You need to have biotech crops in order to feed the world. By 2050, the world would have nine billion people. The next five years would witness much faster growth of biotech crops. Indications show that the number of countries that adopted biotech in commercial agriculture would grow to 40-42 by 2015 from the present 29. Growth would more accentuated in developing countries in Asia and Africa.

Potential is quite huge. Maize, soybean, cotton and canola collectively represented 150 million hectares of biotech crops last year. There is a scope to reach out to 150 million more hectares.

Biotech maize and papaya have been introduced in countries such as the US and China. BT maize, in fact, showed reduced levels of micro toxins, says Mr Clive James, ISAAA Chief