GM Sugarcane: A long way from commercialisation? PDF Print option in slimbox / lytebox? (info) E-mail
Monday, 12 April 2010 12:31

Despite the best part of a decade of research and field trials, genetically modified sugar cane in South Africa remains a long way from commercial cultivation. Numerous research projects are currently under way at a number of publicly and privately funded research bodies, most of which are concentrating on increased sucrose and biomass content. Late last year the Department of Science and Technology announced the creation of a strategic sugar research platform to be overseen by the PlantBio Trust, a branch of the Department of Trade and Industry that focuses on plant biotechnology.

Internationally, both Brazil and Australia lead the way in GM sugar cane research, and both countries believe they can bring it to market commercially within the next 5 years. Under the guise of south — south co-operation, Brazil has been particularly active in extending its influence as the world's largest sugarcane producer into the African continent. Huge sugarcane for ethanol investment deals have been signed with Mozambique, while a steady succession of research partnerships have been undertaken between Brazilian and South African institutions.

The biotech industry, either through direct research and acquisitions or indirectly via a number of lobby groups, has been very active in both GM sugarcane and sugarbeet. In 2009 GM sugarbeet adoption in the US and Canada occurred at a faster rate than for any previous GM crop. The Better Sugarcane Initiative (BSI), formed in 2005, is the 'environmental round-table' of the sugarcane world (and by definition industry). Already active in South Africa, the BSI's members include some of the world's largest food, commodity, and oil companies. While their position on GM sugarcane remains publically neutral, the experience of other rountables, notably the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS), points to another potential industry conduit into the environmental policy discourse.

Finally, developments around transgenic sugarcane cannot be viewed in isolation from those around the global agrofuel drive. South Africa has had a national agrofuels strategy in place since 2007, with several massive projects already in operation around the country using conventional sugarcane. So far GM sugarcane has been kept off the agrofuel agenda, but there is no doubting the potential compatibility of the two, nor the political and economic clout of those who seek their union.

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The privatisation of Publically Funded Research in South Africa; Lessons from the US Bayh-Dole experience PDF Print option in slimbox / lytebox? (info) E-mail
Tuesday, 16 March 2010 13:42

In this paper, we present an overview of South Africa's Intellectual Property Rights from Publicly funded research and development Act, which imitates the US Bayh-Dole Act. The paper draws on the experience of the Bahy-Dole legislation in the US to show the shortcomings of the common approach aimed at facilitating the transfer of innovative research from the public to the private sector by way of IRP protection including patents. In the US, the Bayh-Dole has dramatically changed the nature of publicly financed institutions from those conducting pure research to quasi commercial entities withholding information in the quest for patent protection.

By Michelle Misaki Koyama

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African Sorghum for agrofuels: the race is on PDF Print option in slimbox / lytebox? (info) E-mail
Friday, 12 March 2010 00:00

Author: Edward Hammond

About the briefing: The interlocking problems of climate change, emissions from fossil fuels, and limited oil reserves have stimulated interest worldwide in the use of plant crops to produce fuel. Agrofuels are not a new idea. Brazil, for instance, has used them on a large scale for many years. The potential scale of production and use of agrofuels in the coming decades, however, is unprecedented.

Presently, most of the world's agrofuels are produced from common crops including maize and sugarcane (for ethanol) and soya and rapeseed (for biodiesel). But dozens of companies and public sector plant breeding institutions, funded by private and government investment, are furiously researching other crops that could be optimized for agrofuels. This is in part due to the criticism that has been levelled at production of agrofuels from edible grains, particularly maize, and its effect on food prices.

Sorghum, native to Africa and grown world-wide, is fast emerging as a leader among the "energy crops" and may play a major role in the international agrofuels industry. Seed companies are showing new interest in African farmers' varieties of sorghum, which may have characteristics useful for industrial agrofuel production. Companies and government plant breeders are making patent and other intellectual property claims over these African seeds. One such company, Ceres Inc, is profiled in this paper, along with its research collaborator, Texas A&M University.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources provides for benefits to accrue to Africa in return for use of its seeds, either housed in gene banks or recently collected in the field. Thus far, however, this Treaty does not appear to be effective in protecting African sorghum.[i]
This paper presents an overview of the basic types of sorghum and the different technologies used to extract agrofuels from them. It then examines the secretive research collaboration between the California-based Ceres corporation and Texas A&M University to commercialise agrofuel sorghum seed, which relies on African sorghum without returning benefits to Africa.

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[i] See Hammond, E. 2009. Africa's Granary Plundered. African Centre for Biosafety.

From South Africa: ISAAA's 2009 report is fundamentally flawed PDF Print option in slimbox / lytebox? (info) E-mail
Monday, 08 March 2010 09:23

On the 9th March 2010 and at a press conference in Johannesburg South Africa, the industry-sponsored International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) will announce the “phenomenal success” of GM crops in South African based on a single minded obsession with numbers: that South African farmers are growing 1.8 million ha of GM maize, soya and cotton.

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The GM stacked gene revolution: A biosafety nightmare PDF Print option in slimbox / lytebox? (info) E-mail
Thursday, 04 March 2010 10:01

Stacked GMOs are those containing more than one gene genetically engineered into a crop plant. A controversial stacked GMO, Smarstax containing 8 such genetically engineered genes, was commercially approved in the US, Canada, Japan and South Korea during 2009. Stacked gene varieties are highly complex, posing new biosafety risks that outpace the capacity of regulatory systems. Since 2005 theglobal area under stackedGMOs has nearly trebled, to just under 30 million ha. If thisrateof adoption continues,an area the size of Mozambique could be planted with them by 2015.Their research, development and ownership is also dominated by a handful of the world's largest biotech companies. This drive for stacked GMOs is ostensibly for 'climate ready' crops to improve 'food security' and 'climate adaptation'. However, the increased profit margins of stacked GMOs, and the opportunities they will afford for the unprecedented patenting of lifeforms hints at an altogether more insidious motivation.

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