WASHINGTON, July 20 (Xinhua) — China and the United States have reached certain consensus on agricultural cooperation during the first China-U.S. Comprehensive Economic Dialogue (CED) concluded on Wednesday.
U.S. regulators have agreed to a Chinese conglomerate’s proposed $43 billion acquisition of Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta on condition it sells some businesses to satisfy anti-monopoly objections.
ChemChina, also known as China National Chemical Corp., agreed to sell businesses that make an herbicide, an insecticide and a fungicide for which combined market shares with Syngenta would cause “significant competitive harm,” an FTC statement said Tuesday.
Chinese companies are engaged in a multibillion-dollar global buying spree to acquire technology and brands to improve their competitive edge as explosive growth in their home economy slows.
At the same time, the global industry that supplies farm chemicals, biotechnology and other inputs is in the midst of a shake-up as tumbling commodity prices squeeze spending by farmers.
A U.S. government national security panel approved the ChemChina-Syngenta tie-up in August despite complaints by some legislators who cited the potential for “risks to our food system.”
ChemChina subsidiary ADAMA Agricultural Solutions Ltd. agreed to sell businesses in the United States that produce the herbicide paraquat, the insecticide abamectin and the fungicide chlorothalonil to American Vanguard Corp. and its affiliate Amvac Chemical Corp.
The FTC said Syngenta owns branded versions of all three chemicals, while ADAMA is the No. 1 or 2 supplier of generic versions in the United States.
ChemChina Chairman Ren Jianxin has said he hopes to expand Syngenta’s presence in China and other emerging markets.
Ren is China’s most aggressive global dealmaker and has spent more than $60 billion on acquisitions since 2010. They include Italian tire brand Pirelli, Norwegian chemical supplier Elkem and KraussMaffei, a German industrial machinery maker.
Almost all proposed Chinese acquisitions of U.S. assets have been approved by regulators. Still, mergers consultants say the prospect of undergoing a security review has put off some potential buyers, making acquisitions in Europe and other markets look more attractive.
-Written by The Associated Press and published in Manila Bulletin. See original article link here.
A multi-institutional team led by the University of Illinois have proven sugarcane can be genetically engineered to produce oil in its leaves and stems for biodiesel production. Surprisingly, the modified sugarcane plants also produced more sugar, which could be used for ethanol production.
The dual-purpose bioenergy crops are predicted to be more than five times more profitable per acre than soybeans and two times more profitable than corn. More importantly, sugarcane can be grown on marginal land in the Gulf
Coast region that does not support good corn or soybean yields.
“Instead of fields of oil pumps, we envision fields of green plants sustainably producing biofuel in perpetuity on our nation’s soil, particularly marginal soil that is not well suited to food production,” said Stephen Long, Gutgsell Endowed Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences. Long leads the research project Plants Engineered to Replace Oil in Sugarcane and Sweet Sorghum (PETROSS) that has pioneered this work at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois.
“While fuel prices may be considered low today, we can remember paying more than $4 per gallon not long ago,” Long said. “As it can take 10-15 years for this technology to reach farmers’ fields, we need to develop these solutions to ensure our fuel security today and as long as we need liquid fuels into the future.”
Published in Biocatalysis and Agricultural Biotechnology, this paper analyzes the project’s first genetically modified sugarcane varieties. Using a juicer, the researchers extracted about 90% of the sugar and 60% of the oil from the plant; the juice was fermented to produce ethanol and later treated with organic solvents to recover the oil. The team has patented the method used to separate the oil and sugar.
They recovered 0.5 and 0.8 percent oil from two of the modified sugarcane lines, which is 67% and 167% more oil than unmodified sugarcane, respectively. “The oil composition is comparable to that obtained from other feedstocks like seaweed or algae that are being engineered to produce oil,” said co-author Vijay Singh, Director of the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory at Illinois.
“We expected that as oil production increased, sugar production would decrease, based on our computer models,” Long said. “However, we found that the plant can produce more oil without loss of sugar production, which means our plants may ultimately be even more productive than we originally anticipated.”
To date, PETROSS has engineered sugarcane with 13 percent oil, 8 percent of which is the oil that can be converted into biodiesel. According to the project’s economic analyses, plants with just 5 percent oil would produce an extra 123 gallons of biodiesel per acre than soybeans and 350 more gallons of ethanol per acre than corn.
-Published in phys.org. See original article link here.
At least when it comes to biotechnology, President Trump’s Executive Order of 20 January freezing recent regulations provides a chance to get industry regulations right.
As currently practiced, the regulatory system is functionally locked into the grossly overestimated potential for hazardous impacts perceived when the regulatory framework, titled “The CoordinatedFramework (CF) for the Regulation of Biotechnology,” was first implemented 30 years ago.
The CF was developed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). OSTP brought together representatives of the three federal agencies seeking to regulate commercial applications of biotechnology to develop this guidance document.
These were the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The CF was written before we knew much about how organisms modified by the modern molecular methods (aka biotechnology) would be different from those modified by traditional methods when they came into use outside of laboratories. People worried a lot about unforeseen hazards, so the main objective of the CF was to find ways the new products could be captured for regulatory evaluation under existing statutes.
We now have had many decades of experience with biotechnology and the resulting genetically modified organisms (GMOs). We can say with confidence that no hazards have emerged that can be attributed to using biotechnology methods. Crops modified by such molecular methods have been in commercial production for two decades with no evidence of harm to either human health or the environment, according to a last year’s report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Older overviews, including a 2010 report on a decade of EU-funded GMO research, have likewise failed to identify hazards unique to the use of the modern molecular modification techniques. By contrast, the economic and environmental benefits have been substantial.
So a restructuring of the regulations to reflect growing scientific evidence and experience was overdue. What makes this challenge especially urgent is recent rapid development of new genome editing techniques based on the CRISPR/Cas9 system and various composite enzymes, such as TALENS, that cleave double-stranded DNA at specific sequences. These can be used to create the same kinds of genetic changes (mutations) that underlie all of plant and animal domestication, blurring the distinction between natural mutations (not regulated), mutations induced by chemicals and radiation (not regulated) and mutations created by the new enzyme systems.
In 2015, President Obama requested a reexamination of the CF. The OSTP issued a memorandum to the heads of the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture titled “Modernizing the Regulatory System for Biotechnology Products.” This initiated an interagency effort that was to include the objectives of “….reducing regulatory burdens and avoiding unjustifiably inhibiting innovation, stigmatizing new technologies, or creating trade barriers.”
But that didn’t happen – and therein lies the opportunity. In late 2016, the interagency working group produced an update of the CF that – in many, many words – says which agency is responsible for which type of biotechnology product. It didn’t say anything about easing the regulatory burden in the light of evidence and experience.
And neither did the second document they produced, titled “National Strategy for Modernizing the Regulatory System for Biotechnology Products.” This one outlines ways the responsible agencies can learn about new technologies and how they can better inform the public – and potential product developers – what they need to do to comply with the regulations.
The devil, of course, is in the details – the rules – published in draft form in the Federal Register on January 19, 2017. In the new proposed rules, APHIS (the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) acknowledged that experience had taught the agency that biotechnology methods do not produce plant pests, the fear of which was their original regulatory rationale. So they have come up with a new rationale, proposing to focus on the possibility that molecular genetic modification (GM) might produce noxious weeds.
That seems reasonable for plants that start out as noxious weeds, but makes no sense at all for plants that have long been domesticated and have lost their weediness. The proposed rules apply to all plants that have been modified by any of the modern molecular methods.
So what the USDA seems to be saying is that even though biotechnology hasn’t turned a crop plant into a plant pest, we now have to worry that any kind of genetic change might turn a non-weed into a weed. No evidence. Just concerns. What they give with one hand, they propose to take away with the other.
Then there is the FDA’s draft guidance for genetically modified animals. The FDA proposes to regulate all animals with “intentionally altered genomic DNA” as new animal drugs! That is, except certain GM mosquitoes, which they’re turning over to the EPA to regulate as pesticides.
So even if the genetic change produced by a modern method is exactly like one that occurs in
nature, the animal must be regulated. Take hornless cattle. There are hornless beef cattle, but not hornless dairy cattle. Since horns are dangerous, dairy cattle are physically dehorned, a painful process. Scientists have produced hornless dairy cows by using genome-editing technology to disrupting the same gene in dairy cattle that a spontaneous mutation disrupted in beef cattle. FDA’s proposed rules would make the gene-edited dairy cattle a new animal drug. How much sense does this make? What’s the likelihood of an animal-calssified-as-a-drug making its way through the approval process?
These rules were just published or are just being published as draft guidance, so they’re subject to President Trump’s Executive order titled “Regulatory Freeze Pending Review. Might it be possible to go a step further and revamp the entire existing regulatory framework for agricultural and environmental biotechnology using the CRA (Congressional Review Act) and the new executive order mandating the revocation of two regulations for every new one adopted?
The scientific evidence of safety is in. Genetic modification by modern methods is as safe or safer than the still unregulated older methods, such as chemical and radiation mutagenesis, used for most of the last century. Existing regulations have protected us from nothing but our fears. Those fears may have been justifiable thirty years ago, but we now know them to be unjustified. Yet the original CF remains in place and is still applied only to organisms modified by biotechnology methods. This continues to cost millions of dollars, jobs, and opportunities to innovate.
The multi-million dollar cost of regulatory compliance is out-of-reach for public sector researchers and a crushing burden to private sector companies. And the time required to gain regulatory approval is outrageous. The FDA, for example, took more than a decade to approve the AquaBounty’s GM salmon and more than 7 years to approve the first trials of Oxitec’s GM mosquito (both companies are now subsidiaries of Intrexon).
Regulation must focus on the product, not the process by which it was created. And it’s time to regulate only real hazards, of which there is a small number. The vast majority of agricultural applications represent minor tweeks of well-known organisms, from grains, fruits and vegetables, to chickens, pigs and cows. These can easily be classified as GRAS (generally regarded at safe) and don’t need regulation.
Real regulatory reduction can substantially decrease the cost and time it takes to improve an agricultural organism through biotechnology. If done properly, it will unleash innovation and create jobs. GM crops, animals and microorganisms can make – and already have made – critical contributions to expanding the world’s food supply. Best of all, they can do this biologically, decreasing agriculture’s environmental footprint and making it more sustainable.
This opinion piece was first published in shortened form on AgriPulse on February 6, 2017.
Dr. Nina Fedoroff, Senior Science Advisor, OFW Law, Washington, DC and Evan Pugh Professor Emerita, Penn State University
-Published in The Genetic Literacy Project website. See original article link here.
As previously covered here, on January 19, 2017, USDA published a proposed rule to update its regulations regarding the importation, interstate movement, and environmental release of certain genetically engineered organisms in response to advances in genetic engineering and the Agency’s understanding of the plant pest and noxious weed risk posed by genetically engineered organisms. The proposed updates would represent the first comprehensive revision of the regulations since they were established in 1987.
Today, APHIS announced that it would be extending the comment period for the proposed rule to June 19, 2017. 82 FR 10312.
With a new administration at the helm, it remains unclear whether this proposed rule will move forward following the end of the comment period on June 19, 2017. Industry stakeholders are encouraged to take advantage of this additional time to prepare and submit comments to the Agency to ensure that any future Agency action as it relates to the proposed rule will result in the least regulatory burden possible.
-Published in The National Review. See original article link here.
We write to offer a dissenting opinion to that in a Forbes op-ed, “GMOs Have Had A Good 2016, But Teachable Moments Lie Ahead.” In contrast to that rosy take, we believe the food industry (in the broad sense) continues to fail to appreciate the nature of the opposition to GMOs, and thus continues to fail adequately to defend itself in the face of serious negative developments, which it also fails to appreciate.
The op-ed said 2016 was a good year because Congress passed a law preempting states from meddling with mandatory food labeling for genetically modified foods; the New York Times “corrected” itself by printing a “pro” article following a “con” article on the subject; the National Academy of Sciences came out with (yet another) favorable report reaffirming safety of genetically modified foods; the press has been generally positive about CRISPR; and President Obama said that policies must “follow the science.”
But looking a little deeper, a different picture emerges. Congress did not need to pass a labeling bill, a redundant move precipitated by anti-GMO lobbyists having pushed through a clearly unconstitutional law in Vermont. The New York Times’ editors disregarded an avalanche of expert criticism and responded by raising the status of the “con” article to an editor’s pick. The National Academy report wrongly stated there is a lack of yield benefits from using GMO seeds, a claim contradicted by the papers it cited. And President Obama’s defense of GMOs was tepid at best, while his administration overall had a poor record when it comes to following the science on GMOs.
And let’s also consider some items the rosy view left out:
- The Non-GMO Project now certifies over 36,000 products.
- The organic food community forbade the use of plants and animals improved through CRISPR (the current organic prohibition of GMOs and supporting propaganda campaign have been key factors leading to current public skepticism about GMO safety).
- The possibility of state label requirements in the United States was laid to rest, but now countries around the world have passed or are considering unfounded labeling laws, thus ensuring that multiple labels will be needed anyway for most exported products.
- Sonoma County, California passed a GMO ban of dubious significance (the major, legal crops in the county are not yet GM); and Boulder County, Colorado ignored expert testimony and the pleas of its own farmers, to embrace an ideological rejection of 20th-century agriculture contradicted by its own internal review and condemned by the local paper.
- The New York State Parent Teacher (NYS PTA) organization abandoned the state’s proud history of leadership and achievement in education to adopt a profoundly misinformed resolution stating that “Until GMO and GE food safety is conclusively supported by good science, NYS PTA proposes acting with caution and keeping these products out of school-provided food and drinks.” The NYS PTA somehow managed to miss that the verdict of science has long been clear on this issue, and regularly reaffirmed, despite persistent denial by some ideologues.
- The Obama administration’s regulatory reform efforts have so far simplified nothing, and instead have proposed more worrisome regulations that would disincentivize innovation and expand scientifically indefensible regulation to gene-edited and CRISPR-derived products.
- Compared to the larger numbers of years past, only two genetically modified food products were “deregulated” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a potato and an apple, suggesting the major players are giving up hope of ever getting new transgenic products approved.
- Major export markets for U.S. genetically modified crops are moving in the wrong direction on this issue, including a new labeling law in Korea (third-largest importer of U.S. corn), a ban on GMOs in school lunches in Taiwan (the fifth-largest market for U.S. corn and sixth-largest for U.S. soybeans) and a new requirement for an (undefined) environmental health risk assessment in the Philippines (the largest market for U.S. soybean meal).
The opposition to GMOs transcends borders. Several weeks ago, the inmates ran the asylum agenda at the Biodiversity Convention/Biosafety Protocol meeting called MOP8 in Cancún, México. Established in 1992 to preserve the world’s biodiversity, the Convention’s self-declared greatest accomplishment has been to establish an international treaty to protect biodiversity from GMOs. Of all the substantial threats to biodiversity, GMOs are simply not on the list, and to the extent their higher yields help reduce the pressure to convert more wild lands to agriculture, they are in fact a clear boon. Nevertheless, anti-science NGOs attempted to force adoption of a dysfunctional environmental risk assessment guide that, despite being 10 years in the making, disregards decades of experience and mountain ranges of data. At the same meeting there were demands to place moratoria on synthetic biology, gene drives and editing techniques that hold high promise to address some of the gravest threats to biodiversity in the world. These counterproductive attempts fell short, this time, but make no mistake: They will be back. And, if GMOs are any precedence, most countries will nevertheless ban these new technologies based on the premise they do not know how to properly regulate them.
The cooler heads that prevailed at MOP8 did not prevail in Washington. On December 27, the EPA closed the year by releasing the recommendations of its scientific advisory panel for the regulation of RNAi. While GMO RNAi is considered to be one of the safest control measures ever developed, the EPA panel ignored everything that is known about plant genomes and toxicology, and came out with a series of cost-prohibitive, non-science-based recommendations guaranteed to prevent most products from ever reaching the marketplace, and thus another promising technology faces an imminent crib death.
As to the op-ed’s teachable moment that “[t]he promise of GMOs is abundant, but without clear facts that connect with people’s values, it can be lost in the din of simplistic, polarizing arguments. It is up to science communicators, health professionals, journalists and educators to cut through the clutter,” (emphasis added) we disagree profoundly.
We believe the primary responsibility for such education lies with the purveyors of genetically modified products. While the technology providers (a.k.a. biotech seed companies) have mounted several efforts, they have been hampered by messengers that are inherently not credible to the consumers that most need to be reached; it doesn’t matter how good the material is if the source is dismissed as unreliable before he/she says a word. Where have the food companies been? It is their brands most directly being attacked following a script laid down years ago for a massive propaganda campaign sustained over many years. Why have they not defended the use of the safest ingredients in history, developed with the most precise, predictable, efficient and safe breeding techniques in history, thereby safeguarding their own future freedom to innovate and to operate? The data are spectacularly one-sided in their favor; all they need to do is tell the story.
Quite frankly, while we will defend the technology all we can, why should we defend an industry that will not speak up for itself, and whose members are tripping over each other to tout their new GMO-free products? Instead, food industry actions continue to complicate and negate the work of communicators, health professionals, journalists and educators.
Last year was not, however, a complete bust. The opposition special interests are more and more being seen with clear eyes, which is the essential first step towards resisting their propaganda. But if 2016 was a good year, let us hope we are spared any more like it.
-Written by Wayne Parrot and Val Giddings in Forbes. See original article link here. Dr. Parrot is a professor at University of Georgia. Dr. Giddings is senior fellow at Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
DES MOINES, IOWA, U.S. — Origin Agritech Ltd., an agricultural biotechnology trait and seed provider, has signed a definitive agreement with DuPont Pioneer, the advanced seed and genetics business of DuPont (DD), under which Origin will gain access to non-GM corn seed products from DuPont Pioneer. Origin said it expects to have commercial seed products available for sale in the U.S. market for spring 2017 planting.
Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
“This agreement with DuPont Pioneer is a critical first step toward launching Origin’s North America strategic Pillar III, focused on serving the non-GM/organic markets,” said Bill Niebur, chief executive officer of Origin. “We look forward to offering these products to U.S. farmers through a novel, digitally-enabled route to market while building a platform from which Origin can continue to grow.”
The transaction is Origin’s second business agreement with DuPont. The companies in April 2016 agreed to a commercial agreement to jointly develop new seed technologies in China for Chinese farmers.
“We are pleased with the opportunity to continue to do business with Origin,” said Bart Baudler, commercial unit lead, PROaccess. “Through this agreement, Origin is strengthening its ability to diversify its genetic and product choices for farmers.”
Origin recently released advances in its Pillar I and II growth platforms, and the Jan. 3 announcement supports progress in the launch of the company’s Pillar III: North America non-GM/organic growth platform.
“Today’s announcement helps advance our business model of creating value by connecting growers and end users — while providing services along the value chain,” said Christine Bobst, business director for Origin North America. “We are looking forward to serving the non-GM/organic markets in new and different ways as we pursue a full slate of agricultural products, technology and service offerings.”
Founded in 1997 and headquartered in Zhong-Guan-Cun (ZGC) Life Science Park in Beijing, China, Origin Agritech Ltd. specializes in crop seed breeding and genetic improvement, seed production, processing, distribution, and related technical services. The company’s phytase corn was the first transgenic corn to receive the Bio-Safety Certificate from China’s Ministry of Agriculture, and over the years, Origin has established a robust biotechnology seed pipeline, including products with glyphosate tolerance and pest resistance (Bt) traits. Origin operates production centers, processing centers and breeding stations nationwide with sales centers located in key crop-planting regions. Product lines are vertically integrated for corn, rice and canola seeds.
DuPont Pioneer develops and supplies advanced plant genetics, providing high-quality seeds to farmers in more than 90 countries. The company provides agronomic support and services to help increase farmer productivity and profitability and strives to develop sustainable agricultural systems for people everywhere.
-Written by Eric Schroeder in World Grain News. See article link here.
US had first-mover advantage, blockbuster drugs appeared soon, and the industry scaled up, writes Sir Geoffrey Owen
Of all the new technologies that have emerged since the Second World War, biotechnology is notable in the extent to which US-based firms, having taken the lead at the start, continue to dominate the world market. Why has it been so difficult for other countries to catch up?
Biotechnology in this context refers to a set of techniques, based on advances in molecular biology, genetics and immunology, which came to the fore in the 1970s. They opened up new approaches to drug discovery that were radically different from the chemistry-based methods on which the pharmaceutical industry mostly relied. Partly because of its novelty, the established pharma companies were slow to appreciate the importance of biotechnology, and left the field open to new entrants.
European scientists had been responsible for several of the discoveries which paved the way for new commercial opportunities. But American entrepreneurs were much quicker to exploit the new techniques than their European counterparts. The most successful of the pioneers, Genentech, was founded in 1976 and launched its first drug, a genetically engineered version of insulin, in 1982. It was followed by a host of imitators, many of which listed their shares on the stock market.
The success of these firms owed a great deal to the ingenuity and vision of their founders, but the US had other advantages which supported the growth of the sector. Biomedical research was funded on a very large scale by the Federal government, contributing both to advances in knowledge and to the supply of well-trained scientists. American universities were well equipped, especially after the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, for transferring the results of academic research into industry. The US had a venture capital industry which had experience in nurturing early-stage firms, especially in electronics, and could apply the same skills to biotechnology. The safety and efficacy of new drugs were regulated in the same way as in Europe, but there were no government controls over prices; the US market was not only much larger than any single European country, but also more rewarding for innovators.
Among European countries the UK seemed well equipped to follow the US lead, not least because of its strength in biomedical research. A missing ingredient was venture capital, and that was part of the rationale for using public funds to support the establishment of Celltech, the UK’s first biotech firm, in 1980. But Celltech was soon followed by a stream of wholly private-sector firms, and by the mid-1990s a sizeable biotech sector, well supported by local investors, was taking shape. Then came a series of setbacks, as failures in clinical trials exposed the over-optimism of some of the most highly valued firms. The result was an investor retreat. From the early 2000s the inflow of capital dried up, and several of the best firms either were acquired or moved to the US. Despite a partial recovery in 2014 and 2015, the gap between the US and the UK is probably wider today than it was at as the start of the new millennium.
Some observers believe that the failure of UK biotech to build on its apparently promising start was due to short-termism, the reluctance of institutional investors to back high-risk, science-based firms whose research may not pay off for ten years or more. Yet countries such as Germany which have a more patient, long-term approach to the financing of companies have been no more successful than the UK in biotechnology. The lag behind the US is a European, not a purely British phenomenon.
How did the US do so well? First-mover advantage is part of the answer, coupled with the fact that (alongside numerous failures) several of the pioneers produced blockbuster drugs within very few years of their foundation. These star performers attracted investor support to what came to be a seen as a high-risk but potentially high-reward business. As more scientist-entrepreneurs entered the market, the increasing size and sophistication of the investor community committed to biotech meant that promising firms could access capital on a scale that was not available in Europe.
The sheer scale of the US biotech sector, much of it being concentrated in Boston and San Francisco, is a huge competitive advantage, and there are other features of the US health care system which are difficult or impossible for European countries to imitate. For example, there is no way in which the European Union, with or without the UK, can match the amount spent by the US National Institutes of Health on biomedical research. Nor, given the determination of European governments to keep control of their national health care arrangements, is there is any possibility of a genuinely integrated European market for medicines, let alone one in which drug companies have the same pricing freedom as in the US. Even if that freedom is curtailed under the next US administration, American leadership in biotechnology is unlikely to be seriously challenged.
This post appeared originally at the LSE Department of Management’s blog, and is based on the author’s book Science, the State and the City: Britain’s struggle to succeed in biotechnology (2016) co-authored with Michael Hopkins.
The post gives the views of the author, not the position of LSE Business Review or the London School of Economics.
Sir Geoffrey Owen is a visiting professor in the Department of Management. Before joining the department he was a deputy editor of the Financial Times and a non-executive director of Laird Group. He was knighted in 1989. He is the author of three books – “The rise and fall of great companies: Courtaulds and the reshaping of the man-made fibres industry”, “Industry in the USA” and “From Empire to Europe: the decline and revival of British industry since the second world war.” He has contributed to several management journals.
–Written by Geoffrey Owen in The London School of Economics and Political Science. See article link here.