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TECHNOLOGY & PLANTS: How many gene traits can Monsanto’s GE maize have?



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   HOW MANY GENE TRAITS CAN A SEED HAVE?

SOURCE:  The Indian Express, India

AUTHOR:  Sukhdeep Kaur

URL:     http://www.indianexpress.com/news/how-many-gene-traits-can-a-seed-have/843826/

DATE:    09.09.2011

SUMMARY: "At Springfields in the state of Illinois of the United States, the corn fields this year seem to be staring at a possible drought. In nearby Monmouth, field trials are on for drought-resistant corn. It will be the ninth trait after SmartStax, the genetically modified maize that has eight GM traits ?stacked? together ? six for insect resistance and two for herbicide tolerance. [...] ?In addition to the existing eight traits for insect resistance and herbicide tolerance, there may be a dozen other gene traits for improving yield, nitrogen use, nutritional value and next generation insect control,? said the chief technology officer of Monsanto, Dr Robb Fraley"

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HOW MANY GENE TRAITS CAN A SEED HAVE?

The writer was on a Monsanto-sponsored tour to the Farm Progress Show at Decatur, Illinois

At Springfields in the state of Illinois of the United States, the corn fields this year seem to be staring at a possible drought. In nearby Monmouth, field trials are on for drought-resistant corn. It will be the ninth trait after SmartStax, the genetically modified (GM) maize that has eight GM traits ?stacked? together ? six for insect resistance and two for herbicide tolerance.

As food demand soars with the growing world population, the debate at the Farm Progress Show at Decatur in the US last week hinged on how many gene traits can a seed possibly possess in the times to come. Interestingly, amid the big machines that crop and harvest 1,000 to 10,000-acre US farms, the corporates were betting big on smallest amongst all that goes into farming ? the seed.

As per the forecast of world?s biggest agri-biotech company, Monsanto, which has invested USD 1.2 billion last year on research in GM crops in 29 countries across the globe, by 2030 its GM corn may have more than 20 gene traits.

?In addition to the existing eight traits for insect resistance and herbicide tolerance, there may be a dozen other gene traits for improving yield, nitrogen use, nutritional value and next generation insect control,? said the chief technology officer of Monsanto, Dr Robb Fraley at the show.

Also in the pipeline are new gene traits in other major crop, soyabean. The new products promise weed control, zero-transfats and fungal resistance besides ensuring more beans per plant and more beans per pod. The other thrust areas for the corporates are cotton and vegetables.

The case for GM was once again argued on the basis of food security challenge.

?By 2011, there will be 7 billion people on the planet. But only 20 per cent of the world?s land is used to grow crops. The world?s population is growing by one per cent each year and food demand by 1.8 per cent. How do we grow all that food? The answer lies at the intersection of multiple technologies such as plant breeding, biotechnology and better agronomic practices,? Dr Farley said.

The Indian scene

India is among the top five countries in terms of GM crop acreage along with the US, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and China. India?s first and only commercialised GM crop so far is Bt cotton. Monsanto is currently holding field trials for its second crop in India, GM corn, in Gujarat. The other state that allowed field trials was Haryana but sowing in the 2011 kharif season could not take place as approval came late. After trials, commercial approval will be sought.

Other than Monsanto, agriculture genetics MNCs in the regulatory process are Dow Agrosciences for insect-resistant cotton and insect-resistant corn, Bayer for insect-resistant rice, Pioneer (DuPont) and Syngenta for insect-resistant and herbicide tolerant corn. Biotech research is also underway in many crops, both in private and public sector laboratories in India.

The Indian Regulator, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), had in June this year cleared applications and had since directed the companies to first get a no objection certificate from respective state governments for field trials before they get a final approval.

While states like Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Haryana have already granted approval for field trials of many of these seeds, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar have either denied or deferred decision on GM crops.

But the state approvals will not be required after the Biotech Regulatory Authority of India, a five-member body, comes into place. The BRAI bill, likely to be tabled in Parliament next session, is being awaited by the Association of Biotech Led Enterprises-Agriculture Group, a consortium of biotech companies as it will provide them a single window clearance. Currently, biotech companies have to get approvals from agriculture, environment and science and technology ministries.

?Not in public interest?

Several agriculture groups say GM crops are not in national and public interest. ?Currently, over 93 per cent of Bt cotton seed is controlled by Monsanto in India. We need to first address the issue whether Bt crops are needed, when non-pesticide management is already giving us good yields as witnessed in Andhra Pradesh. The argument that it cuts pesticide use has been disproved in a study conducted in Gujarat that found pesticide use going up in Bt cotton. We have to look at long-term solutions to depletion of productive resources besides addressing concerns of biodiversity and biosafety. We tried to present our views on the BRAI bill to the government in 2008 but the subsequent versions are getting worse. It is clearly aimed at making things easier for biotech companies by bulldozing resistance,? says Kavitha Kuruganti, national convenor, Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, a network of 400 farmers and consumer groups.

Karuganti argues that even at biotech hubs in US such as Illinois, farmers are facing herbicide resistance in the form of ?superweed?. ?It would be foolish for India not to learn lessons, ? she adds.



                                  PART 2

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

TITLE:   MONSANTO PLANS FARM TRIALS FOR DROUGHT-TOLERANT CORN

SOURCE:  Thomson Reuters, USA

AUTHOR:  Carey Gillam

URL:     http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/09/us-monsanto-corn-idUSTRE77850C20110809

DATE:    09.08.2011

SUMMARY: "Monsanto Co. will begin farm trials of its drought-tolerant corn seed next spring, marking the global seed giant?s first roll-out of seeds genetically engineered for harsh environmental conditions. The introduction comes as drought and searing heat this summer have withered crops across the U.S. South. The new biotech corn seed still needs water to grow healthy plants, but is designed to use moisture more efficiently, said Monsanto global corn technology lead Dusty Post. ?We?re not talking about being able to grow corn in a desert,? said Post. ?We?re not going to make them whole. But every bushel counts.?"

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MONSANTO PLANS FARM TRIALS FOR DROUGHT-TOLERANT CORN

(Reuters) - Monsanto Co. will begin farm trials of its drought-tolerant corn seed next spring, marking the global seed giant?s first roll-out of seeds genetically engineered for harsh environmental conditions.

The introduction comes as drought and searing heat this summer have withered crops across the U.S. South.

The new biotech corn seed still needs water to grow healthy plants, but is designed to use moisture more efficiently, said Monsanto global corn technology lead Dusty Post.

?We?re not talking about being able to grow corn in a desert,? said Post. ?We?re not going to make them whole. But every bushel counts.?

Monsanto is working to sign up about 250 U.S. farmers in the western corn belt - Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, Colorado and Texas - for planting next spring.

Acreage for the farm trials would be small, about 10,000 acres, said Post.

Monsanto is working on the seed with German chemicals giant BASF Corp and expects approval this year from U.S. regulators. Until it has export approval, Monsanto will work with producers to keep the corn out of export channels, and make sure it is used domestically as livestock feed, Monsanto officials said.

Producers are likely to welcome any product that more effectively helps them deal with adverse weather, said National Corn Growers Association spokesman Mark Lambert.

?Weather is one variable that farmers cannot control and any product that can help to manage or deal with weather extremes is going to be something farmers will take a serious look at,? Lambert said.

Monsanto?s development of genetically altered crops has largely focused on corn, soybeans, cotton and other plants designed to resist insects and tolerate treatments of Monsanto?s Roundup herbicide.

But persistent drought in recent years around the globe has left farmers eager for crops that need less water. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has pegged average annual global corn crop losses due to at least moderate drought at about 15 percent.

Research on drought-tolerant crops has taken on added urgency as scientists predict a trend of worsening drought and hotter temperatures around the globe.

Water shortages are already costing billions of dollars a year in crop shortfalls around the world, and are likely to grow more costly, according to academic and government forecasters.

Monsanto rivals are also working on crops that can do well with less water, as food demand rises around the world. DuPont?s Pioneer Hi-Bred International, started offering a drought-resistant corn this spring in the western corn belt.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam; editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid and Marguerita Choy)