2.The biotech cradle is ready to rock
NOTE: The first article reports on how the United Nations has lauched a new network - the International Industrial Biotechnology Network (IIBN) - to target "developing countries wanting to make more of their biotechnology resources". We're told that among other things, IIBN "plans to target Africa for collaborations later this year." (item 1)
The IIBN network we are told "will be co-ordinated by the Institute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries [IPBO], Belgium." According to its website, "[IPBO] is an initiative of Ghent University". IPBO is situated "near the Ghent Biotech Valley, Europe's largest plant biotech cluster, IPBO is a central node of an international network for R&D in plant biotechnology." It "was founded by Prof. Em. Dr. Marc Van Montagu on June 13, 2000."
Marc Van Montagu is a GM pioneer - the first scientist to co-develop a GM plant (1983). He is also a keen lobbyist for GM crop acceptance with strong industry links. He is President of the European Federation of Biotechnolgy (EFB), which has an extensive corporate membership of around 100 public and private companies, including Monsanto Europe. EFB also has a number of national bio-industry associations as members, including the US's major trade body for biotech - BIO, and the association of German biotech companies (VBU), of which Bayer is a member.
Van Montagu was also the cofounder of Plant Genetic Systems. PGS Inc. was regarded as one of Europe's most successful biotech companies and went on to be bought by AgrEvo/Hoechst which was later incorporated into Aventis which, in turn, was taken over by Bayer. Van Montagu was also involved in founding the biotech firm CropDesign, of which he was a Board member from 1998 until 2004. CropDesign was later acquired by BASF Plant Science.
Van Montagu is also a member of the industry linked pro-GM lobby group, the Public Research Regulation Initiative (PRRI).
Interestingly, Van Montagu also has close links to Suzy Renckens, the former leading European Food Safety Authority bureaucrat at the centre of a major scandal after she moved directly from overseeing GM regulatory affairs at EFSA to working for Syngenta, where she's Head of Biotech Regulatory Affairs for Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Nearly all Renckens scientific publications were co-authored with Marc Van Montagu.
EXTRACT: Ghent is moving ahead with an initiative similar to the University of Guelph Research Park, except all about biotechnology. It's driven by startup companies that have been squirreled away, working diligently on advances in the likes of functional foods and nutraceuticals, waiting for their own market to open up. (item 2)
1.UN launches biotech network for developing countries
SciDev.net, 22 April 2010
Developing countries wanting to make more of their biotechnology resources are the target of a network launched by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).
The International Industrial Biotechnology Network (IIBN) will help local universities and small-to-medium enterprises to develop and improve existing biotechnology products. It will also encourage further bio-prospecting.
George Tzotzos, IIBN programme co-ordinator, told SciDev.Net that the network would provide biotechnology support and access to high-level technologies for developing countries wanting to make better use of their existing biological resources.
"In Bahia [Brazil] this could mean taking a fresh look at a plant like the castor bean, which is used for medicinal and industrial purposes and is being considered as a potential source of bio-fuel for local use," he said.
Tzotzos added that a major hurdle for developing countries that wish to sell biotechnology products in Europe is meeting the European Union's stringent safety standards and maintaining a high product quality.
"Many products from the developing world are produced using low grade technology and, because of this, their full potential [in market share] is never realised," he said. "Often quality is not maintained between shipments of a product, and consumers eventually lose confidence in the product.
"It is at this point that we can help, by making connections and establishing mutually beneficial partnerships.
"This programme will help the developing world access existing markets and build [capacity] to ensure maximum return for their effort," he added.
Ivan Ingelbrecht, project manager for the IIBN and based at Ghent University, Belgium, said the network would serve as a catalyst for establishing North South and South South partnerships.
"There is a biotechnology skills base in Flanders [Belgium] that we can tap into immediately. The role of the network is match-making and, if needed, co-ordination," he said.
The IIBN ”” launched in Austria last month (29 March) ”” is funded by the Flemish Ministry for Innovation, Public Investment, Media and Poverty Reduction, in Belgium. The ministry is providing core funding of US$1.66 million (EUR 1.25 million) over the next five years, but network members will be asked to contribute as well. Already, Brazil's Bahia state has pledged to donate a further US$3.5 million.
The network will be co-ordinated by the Institute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries, Belgium, and supervised by a scientific and technological advisory panel and a steering committee.
Initial members include organisations from Belgium, Brazil and Israel. China and Peru are still discussing their partnerships with the network, and IIBN plans to target Africa for collaborations later this year.
2.The biotech cradle is ready to rock
Guelph Mercury [Canada], April 26 2010
Canadians spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to crack the lucrative European market for agriculture and food products. After all, there's about 825 million Europeans, a huge consuming public. Canada is committed to expanding its trading parameters, so it doesn't have to rely so much on the U.S. That makes Europe, where many of our roots lay, a big drawing card.
Europeans, though, aren't big fans of biotechnology. They never embraced it the way North America did. And despite about 20 years of apparently safe production and consumption here, some people still aren’t convinced.
But don't tell that to the good people of Ghent.
Ghent is popularly called Europe's Cradle of Biotechnology. Tucked away in north Belgium, it's distinguished by numerous biotechnology initiatives including the Institute Agriculture and Fisheries Research, a Flemish scientific institute.
Last week, a small army of scientists from the institute were more than happy to crawl out of bed on a sunny Sunday morning, and come into work to enthusiastically explain their biotechnology-based feed-the-world activities to a group of 120 agricultural journalists from around the world. I was among them, visiting as part of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists annual congress, held this year in Belgium ”” and next year in Canada, in Guelph and Niagara Falls, in September.
The Belgian researchers are singing from the same hymn book as Guelph scientists, and, indeed, researchers everywhere. They say we need to double our efforts to feed the world. The global population is growing so much that there’ll be millions more people for farmers to look after.
But at the same time, world wealth is growing too, as is the hunger for protein. Simultaneously, alternative feedstocks for biofuels are needed so food crops aren't diverted for energy. And on top of it all, climate change in some form is likely going to alter the way farmers grow crops and raise livestock. It's all adding up.
Biotechnology is part of the answer. It's at the forefront of science in Ghent, driven by a mercurial figure of near legendary status in Europe and among plant scientists, Dr. Marc Van Montagu. He's credited with significant contributions to the likes of transgenic corn and tobacco, and he holds a crowd spellbound when he steps up to the microphone.
"There is not the slightest danger for health or environment with all the genetically modified plants out there now," he says. "We need them badly."
But in Europe, policy-makers are unconvinced. They say safety is still in question, despite documented facts to the contrary. As a result, the researchers sometimes feel like they’re chasing their tails. "We are spending a lot of money checking the safety of something we already know is safe," says Dr. Marc De Loose, a research scientist at the institute.
However, biotechnology supporters are pretty sure there's change in the wind. Although the European public still waffles about accepting biotechnology, Ghent is moving ahead with an initiative similar to the University of Guelph Research Park, except all about biotechnology. It's driven by startup companies that have been squirreled away, working diligently on advances in the likes of functional foods and nutraceuticals, waiting for their own market to open up.
It will take a brave political party to make that happen. But Van Montagu is right. New answers are needed to meet emerging needs. New technologies can help, and with the advantages biotech crops offer ”” resistance to diseases, insects and drought, along with higher production ”” it's just a matter of time before Europe opens up.
Owen Roberts teaches agricultural communications.