In This Issue

January 14, 2011


• CBU's Subscribers Now Total 1 Million (and Still Growing) 
• Experts Take on Global Food Security Debate 

• Mali IER Board OKs GM Cotton Research 
• Nigeria Gets Improved Cassava Varieties 

• Donald Danforth Plant Science Center Receives $70M Grant 
• Gene Helps Plants Use Less Water Without Reducing Biomass 
• Wildflower Colors Tell Butterflies to Prevent Sterile Offsprings 
• Genome Study Identifies Key Maize Genes for Increased Yield 
• Study Analyzes Marginal Land for Biofuel Production 
• US$40 M Research Grant to UC Davis 
• Development of Hardier Varieties of Flax for Canada 
• Peruvian Biologist's Defamation Conviction Overturned 

Asia and the Pacific
• Choudhary Gets COMSTECH 2010 Award 
• University of Southern Mindanao Conducts Seminar on Bt Eggplant 
• Scientists Discover Genes' Battle Over Sex Determination 
• Three Years More for GM Clover Release 
• Local Government of Cotabato, Philippines to Exercise Informed Decision on Bt Eggplant 

• European Agriculture Polices Need Overhaul in Light of Food Price Shock 
• EC-JRC Notification for Field Trial of GM Sugarbeet 

• GM Cottonseed Analyzed for Ruminant Feeding 
• Overexpression of Ethylene Response Factor Confers Cold Tolerance in Rice Seedlings 
• Stacked Genes Enhances Drought Tolerance in Maize 

• Borlaug Fellowship Program 2011 
• Plant Protection and Plant Health in Europe 
• 5th World Congress of Conservation Agriculture 

Document Reminders
• EFSA Newsletter on Plants 




The Crop Biotech Update (CBU) now reaches 1,000,624 subscribers in 200 countries. Through a "Go for Gold" Knowledge Campaign launched by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), people were urged to enroll potential subscribers who in turn confirmed their interest to be part of a growing number of recipients. In addition, Biotechnology Information Centers that form part of ISAAA's information network, also did their individual campaigns to solicit more subscribers.

The Knowledge Campaign for "A million healing hands to help a billion hungry" was dedicated to Dr. Norman Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Peace laureate who was the founding patron of ISAAA. With his full support and initiative, ISAAA established the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology in 2000 in the Philippines with active nodes called Biotechnology Information Centers in 24 countries. ISAAA has institutionalized the sharing of knowledge on crop biotechnology by creating and distributing a weekly email-based newsletter CBU which summarizes the latest world developments in agriculture, food and crop biotechnology relevant to developing countries.

Lucky subscribers of the bronze duplicate of the Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Congressional Gold Medal and the grand prizes of an Ipod and netbook have been posted in previous issues of CBU.

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Agricultural science is taking the center stage in the debate on global food security. Lloyd Le Page, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers, says that "science is rapidly rising" to new challenges like climate change and water scarcity, "with the benefit of more powerful tools and stronger partnerships for putting new knowledge to work."

Gerald Nelson, senior research fellow at the CGIAR's International Food Policy Institute (IFPRI), suggests that a 40 percent increase in the growth of cereal productivity is needed to contain growth in cereal prices by 2050. He questions whether technological innovation can deliver such increases and if investments will be made to support it. Juergen Voegele, Director of Agriculture and Rural Development at the World Bank, calls for "very significant investments in agriculture R&D," and "a sustained global effort" to reduce rural poverty."

Read more about "Science on the menu for a food secure world" at

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The Board of Directors of the main institution in agricultural research in Mali, the Institut d'Economie Rurale (IER), recently authorized the institute to conduct research on genetically modified (GM) cotton. In a meeting held on December 23, 2010, the Board recommended that IER will work with the Compagnie malienne pour le développement des textiles (CMDT), the Malian Company for Textile Development to undertake research in this area in accordance with the provisions of the Biosafety Law and its implementing regulations.

A draft decree laying down detailed procedures for testing GMOs was adopted by the Cabinet on December 1, 2010. Founded in 1974, the Malian Company for Textile Development is a mixed enterprise company, which manages the chain of cotton production in Mali. IER is responsible for cotton research through its two main cotton research centers at Sikasso CRRA and Ntarla stations.

For more information on biotech updates in Mali, contact Dr. Mohamed N'diaye of the Institut d'Economie Rurale, Bamako–Mali at

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Four improved cassava varieties (NR 01/0004, CR 41-10, TMS 00/0203, and TMS 01/0040) were released recently by the Nigerian government. TMS 00/0203 and TMS 01/0040 were bred by scientists from Ibadan-based International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA); while NR 01/0004 and CR 41-10 were bred by Umudike-based National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) and the Colombian-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), respectively.

These varieties performed well in terms of yield and pest resistance in on-farm prerelease trials in eight states in the country. The average yield observed was 31 tons per hectare, compared to the 26 t/ha yield of the local varieties. "The release of the varieties is good news for Nigerian farmers in particular and African farmers in general," says Dr. Peter Kulakow, IITA Cassava Breeder.

More on this news can be seen at

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Danforth Foundation is giving its last grant of $70 million to Donald Danforth Plant Science Center to advance plant science research. This follows the announcement of the foundation in 2003 that "it would expend the majority of its remaining assets on the development of the plant and life sciences in the St. Louis area."

"It could not be more fitting that our final grant is being made to an institution whose mission is to improve nutrition and help feed the hungry," announced Danforth Foundation president John C. Danforth.

Dr. James C. Carrington, the next president of the Center said: "The grant will enable us to add critical expertise and new technologies to the Danforth Center, and then to train scientists how to solve some of the longstanding problems that limit agricultural productivity. We will focus on addressing some of the major unanswered problems in plant science, such as how genes interact with changing environments to control crop yield, growth and resistance to stress."


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Scientists at Purdue University discovered a genetic mutation in plants that would enable survival in drought without reduction in biomass. Stomata are structures on the leaves and stems of plants for the entry of carbon dioxide and exit of water vapor during transpiration. During drought, the stomata close to reduce water loss but this also affects carbon dioxide intake, leading to disrupted photosynthesis and growth.

"The plant can only fix so much carbon dioxide. The fewer stomata still allow for the same amount of carbon dioxide intake as a wild type while conserving water," said Purdue scientist Mike Mickelbart. "This shows there is potential to reduce transpiration without a yield penalty."

The researchers found out that mutation of GTL1 gene in Arabidopsis caused reduction in the number of stomata so there is 20 percent reduction in transpiration but carbon dioxide intake remains the same. The biomass of these mutated plants is just the same with that of wild type plants. Due to genetic mutation, GTL1 stops working but SDD1, another gene that controls the stomata, becomes overexpressed resulting to production of lesser number of stomata.

For more details, visit

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Time and separation are two major factors to restrict gene flow and to evolve a new species. However, in Texas wildflowers, a gene for color-coding prevents formation of new species as discovered by Robin Hopkins, a graduate student from Duke University.

Wildflowers with periwinkle blue blossom are called Phlox drummondii, while Phlox cuspidata have light blue petals. Both have blue flowers however, P. drummondii are darker and some are almost red in color. Since butterflies have color preferences, some land only on blue flowers, some on red, thus cross between the two species is prevented. Because when this happens, the cross would produce an offspring that is nearly sterile, causing the next generation to be a genetic dead end. This phenomenon of preventing "two similar proto-species moving apart by discouraging hybrid mating" is called reinforcement.

"There are big questions about evolution that are addressed by flower color," said Hopkins, who successfully defended her doctoral dissertation just weeks before its publication in Nature journal.

Read the original article at Subscribers of the Nature journal can access the research article at

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A genome-wide association study on maize was conducted by researchers from the Cornell University, USDA's Agricultural Research Service, and North Carolina State University. They found 1.6 million sites in the maize genome that could differ in every individual.

The study also led them to the genes related to leaf angle, an important trait that enables plants to be planted closer to each other. This trait is responsible for the eight-fold increase in yield of maize since the 1900s. The genetic change in ligule, the initial thick portion of the leaf that attaches to the stalk, caused more upright leaves, thus maintaining access to sunlight in crowded plots.

The genomewide association study helps scientists to predict a trait with 80 percent accuracy.

"This method will allow the intelligent design of maize around the world for high-density planting, higher yields and disease resistance," said Ed Buckler, a USDA-ARS research geneticist in Cornell's Institute for Genomic Diversity and the project leader of the study.

Read the news release at

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University of Illinois professor Ximing Cai and graduate student Xiao Zhang performed a global analysis of marginal land that could be used to produce biofuel crops. To address the debate that biofuels compete with the land used for food crops, they computed marginal land, which are those with low inherent productivity and cannot be used for planting food crops. Results of their analysis showed that if biofuel crops would be planted on these available marginal land areas, then half of the world's current fuel consumption will be produced.

"We hope this will provide a physical basis for future research," Cai said. "For example, agricultural economists could use the dataset to do some research with the impact of institutions, community acceptance and so on, or some impact on the market. We want to provide a start so others can use our research data."


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University of California (UC) Davis received $40 million in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop climate-change-tolerant plants and new bioenergy sources. US Davis scientists will lead research teams from more than 50 universities.

The grant will enable the development of new varieties of wheat and barley as well as sequence the genomes of loblolly pine and two other conifers. "Each of these projects features transdisciplinary, regional, integrated teams, including scientists from institutions that represent underserved populations." Roger Beachy, director of the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, said. "This approach represents a new paradigm in how USDA science can best solve critical issues facing agriculture today."

Details of the news are available at

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Flax, a source of edible oil and more importantly, biofuels will be developed to better adapt to the northern prairie region of Western Canada. The government of Canada and other public and private partners: Viterra, Alberta Innovates - Technology Futures, the BC Grain Producers Association, the Agriculture Development Fund and the Western Grains Research Foundation will be providing funds to the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission.

Flax will be developed to enhance its tolerance to seeding in cold soils, resist flowering after autumn rain, and rapid drying to facilitate harvest. "Just as canola went from a relatively unknown crop to an extremely popular product through the development of hardy varieties, so too can flax," said Neil Ketilson, Chair of the Agriculture Council of Saskatchewan (ACS).

For more on the news, see details at

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The case of Peruvian biologist Ernesto Bustamante Donayre, which has attracted attention in the global science community, has ended with the overturning of his conviction.

The conflict started in 2007 when Antonietta Ornella Gutiérrez Rosati published a report about the presence of GM maize in Peru, where there were still no regulations on planting GM crops. In response to Gutiérrez' report, Bustamante submitted an opinion article that stated Gutiérrez' reports to be "absurdly improbable" and based on "gross procedural errors." He also asked Gutiérrez to submit the report for peer review. This led Gutiérrez to file a defamation case against Bustamante, where he was comdemned guilty last April 2010.

The National Institute for Agrarian Innovation (INIA) in Lima tried to replicate Gutiérrez's study but has failed to find GM maize, despite examining 162 samples, more than 3 times the amount of samples in Gutiérrez' study.

Last month, Bustamante's convinction was overturned because the appeal judge found that a lower court had not demonstrated that Bustamante had sufficient motivation to harm or defame his alleged victim.

Read the complete story at

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Asia and the Pacific

Prof. Dr. M. Iqbal Choudhary, director of the Pakistan Biotechnology Information Center and concurrent director of the International Center for Chemical ad Biological Sciences at Karachi University (ICCBS), was given the COMSTECH Award 2010 in recognition of his services in the field of chemistry. Dr. Choudhary received his award from Prime Minister of Pakistan Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, on Tuesday, January 11, 2010, during the 14th meeting of the OIC Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) in Islamabad.

COMSTECH is a Ministerial Standing Committee established by the ministers of science and technology of more than 57 Muslim countries. The mission of COMSTECH is to strengthen the science and technology policies and their implementation through mutual cooperation, collaboration, and networking of resources between Islamic countries. To promote agri-biotechnology in OIC member countries by creating an institutional mechanism for dissemination of information and training of stakeholders, a project entitled, "Promotion of Applications of Agriculture Biotechnology in OIC Member Countries by the Establishment of Biotechnology Information Centers (BICs)", was approved by COMSTECH. The first BIC under this project is the Iran Biotechnology Information Center in Tehran.

For details of the award email, Dr. Sammer Yousuff at

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The Philippines' University of Southern Mindanao (USM) president Dr. Jesus Antonio G. Derije said that the university is involved in education, research, extension, and resource generation. Thus, they have partnered in the multi-location field trial of the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) resistant Bt ‘talong' (eggplant) project. He pointed out that research is necessary to confirm if the allegations against Bt 'talong' are true or not. The USM President gave these remarks during a "Seminar on Understanding the Science, Safety, and Benefits of Bt Crops Technology" last January 13, 2011 which was co-organized with the Provincial Government of Northern Cotobato. In this activity, experts and stakeholders of crop biotechnology discussed the science, regulation, and experiences on biotech crops.

In the seminar, Dr. Emma K. Sales, a faculty in USM, said that biotechnology is "a word of hope" for informed people because they know it could help in solving diverse health, environment and food supply problems. She encouraged the students to be aggressive in learning the science so that they would be able to understand the issues surrounding the technology and appreciate more its benefits and potentials.

Ms. Merle Palacpac, Chair of the Biotech Core Team of the Bureau of Plant Industry, meanwhile, assured that the biosafety regulation are in place and the Philippines is being considered as a model in successfully implementing its science-based risk assessment procedures, and thus able to approve GM/biotech crops for commercial use.

Currently, there are several biotech corn events approved for commercial propagation in the country, and Filipino corn farmers have been planting it since 2003. Rosalie Ellasus, biotech corn farmer from northern part of the Philippines shared her first-hand experiences in planting biotech crops and assured the participants that it has benefited her in terms of improving her life and making corn farming a safer and more sustainable livelihood.

The seminar was part of the continuing consultation and education activities to inform the public and key stakeholders on the issues, concerns and facts related to the Bt 'talong' project. The activity was attended by students, academics,  farmers, legislators and media practitioners from the Cotobato province.

For more information about the seminar, e-mail or visit the SEARCA BIC website,

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Researchers from the University of Western Australia discovered a battle that has been happening since over a million years ago between the plant nucleus and the mitochodria for sex determination of plants.

Mitochondrion, the organelle responsible for energy production, has been believed to have descended from a bacterium that entered into a cell, billions of years ago. The organelle contains genes of its own that code for proteins that can transform a hermaphrodite plant into a female by blocking the development of male plant parts.

However, plant's defense mechanism alters this occurence. Restorer to fertility (Rf) genes code for proteins that block the genes from the mitochondrion through binding with the RNA they produce.

Research leader Professor Ian Small said that: "Our analysis of the evolution of Rf genes not only strongly supports their role in sex determination, it also gives us clues as to exactly how they work. The ability to silence destructive products in the cell has obvious possibilities in agricultural science and in medicine. The potential to control the sex of a plant is also important in commercial crop breeding."

Read the original article at

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The Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) started in 1998 the field trials of genetically modified (GM) white clover with resistance to alfalfa mosaic virus. According to DPI researcher German Spangenberg, the earliest possible release of the GM pasture could be three years from now. It still has to go through more trials, regulatory approval, and farm management and livestock performance work before it can be released in the market. It could take more than three years if more traits would be added to the GM crop such as prolonging the life of its leaves and increased phosphate uptake from soils.

Spangenberg also said that the next five years would be critical especially in educating farmers and the rest of the supply chain on GM pastures.

At present, GM soy and cottonseed meal are commercially available in Australia for dairy cattle feed.

Visit for more information.

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Listening to "both sides of the coin" is the best action to be taken by North Cotabato (Philippines) provincial government when it comes to the field testing of the fruit and shoot borer (FSB) resistant Bt ‘talong' (eggplant), said the province's vice governor Emmanuel Pinol in a briefing with the provincial council last January 12, 2011.

The North Cotabato provincial government has invited proponents of Bt ‘talong' from the University of the Philippines Los Banos to hear the science behind and research results of Bt 'talong'. Similarly, the Philippine biotech regulation and experiences on biotech corn adoption were also imparted to the members of the local government units.

"The best way in discerning things is to get back to how these things came about through scientific method," said Pinol. "As a politician, I tend to listen to the emotions of the people. And yet as an engineer, I also have to listen to the scientific results. It is not a bad idea to see and hear both sides. The provincial council has to listen to all sides, and then decide on things that would be beneficial to the people of North Cotabato."

North Cotabato provincial agri-council chair Vicente Sorupia, citing the local government code, said in his opening message in a Bt crops seminar conducted the following day that it is the policy of the state to require the local government to hold consultations with all concerned sectors before implementing a project. Hence, the province plans to conduct consultative activities in the following weeks, hoping to hear the concerns of other sectors, and come up with an informed conclusion on Bt 'talong' field trial.

The University of Southern Mindanao, situated in Kabacan, North Cotobato, is one of the approved testing sites for the multi-location field trial of Bt 'talong'. Initial research results from the field trials which have been conducted in other places in the country showed the high resistance of Bt 'talong' to the target insect pest, FSB. It is expected that this Bt technology will improve the marketable yield of eggplant and provide positive impact to the environment and health of farmers due to significant reduction in pesticide use.

For more information about the biotech developments in the country, e-mail, or visit SEARCA BIC website,

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The recently released OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook for 2010-2019 reports positive projections for food production growth rates for the USA, Canada, Australia, China, India, Russia and Latin America. Growth rates ranged from 15 to 40% which is in contrast to the less than 4% rate projected for Europe. With Europe's population growth, consumption demand would only be met with imports and the current strategy of expanding crop land in the developing world. This is expected to increase commodity prices, disrupt supply, and would destroy rainforests and other natural habitats.

Director General of the Environmental Crop Protection Association Friedhelm Schmider in a press release commented that, "Europe should be looking to its own policies, regulations and incentives to protect Europeans from high food prices. The key will be to promote productive, efficient agriculture here in Europe and reduce dependency on imports for crops that can be grown here. This is true food security." He further added that this can only be achieved "through wise use of the innovative technology available and more agricultural research and innovation."

The original article can be seen at

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The European Commission-Joint Research Center released a summary notification for field trials with Rhisomania resistant SBVR111 sugar beet, glyphosate tolerant H7-1 sugarbeet and staked SBVR111 x H7-1 sugarbeet. The trials will be conducted in three sites in the Czech Republic , namely Troubelice, Nosislav, and Unkovice, between 2011 and 2014 on a maximum area of 3,600 square meters.

Rhizomania is a disease in sugarbeet induced by the Beet Necrotic Yellow Vein Virus. SBVR111 sugarbeet expresses a gene which confers resistance to the disease through interaction with the reproductive system of the virus.

See the application dossier at

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Genetically modified (GM) cotton with insect resistance genes from Bacillus thuringiensis is now planted to 90% of the total area for cotton production in India. Farmers in developing countries are using the cottonseed, a by-product of cotton, to feed dairy cows and buffaloes. Thus, Ranjan K. Mohanta of the National Dairy Research Institute, and colleagues, conducted an experiment to compare the composition and fermentability of cottonseeds from Bt cotton and non-Bt cotton.

Chemical composition and minerals of Bt cottonseeds and non-Bt cottonseeds were both found to be in normal range. Both also exhibited similar results in the analyses of total gas production and ammonia nitrogen concentation. Cry1C protein from Bt cottonseeds were also degraded in the digestive system of the ruminants - same fate as with the other proteins that they have ingested.

Results show that cottonseeds from Bt cotton could possibly be used for feeding ruminants.

The original paper is available at

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Cold or low temperature is one of the factors that affect production of rice (Oryza sativa L.), a warm-season plant. Previous studies have shown that overexpression of ethylene response factor (ERF) could induce cold tolerance in genetically modified tobacco and tomato. Thus, Yun Tian of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and his team tested the effect of overexpression of protein TERF2, a member of the ERF family, on cold tolerance of rice.

Results showed that overexpression of TERF2 gives a lot of benefits to rice plants. The protein increased the build-up of chlorophyll and decreased reactive oxygen species (ROS) and malondialdehyde (MDA) level, which are indicators of oxidative stress that can cause damage to cell structures. TERF2 also stimulated the expression of several cold-related genes regardless of whether the transgenic plant is exposed to cold or not. These findings suggest that TERF2 could be used for the improvement of cold tolerance of rice.

Read the research article at

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Genetic engineering is constantly being used to develop stress resistance genes for crops. Previous studies have shown that genes betA and TsVP are effective sources of tolerance to drought. betA encodes choline dehydrogenase, a key enzyme in the production of glycine betaine which is a natural compound used by plants for protection against drought stress; while TsVP encodes for V-H+-PPase or vacuolar H+ pyrophosphatase, an enzyme that directly transduce the energy for tonoplast transport. AiYing Wei from Shangdong University, China, together with other scientists, crossed two transgenic maize lines, one with betA gene, while the other with TsVP gene to produce a maize offspring with both drought tolerance genes. Analysis confirmed the expression of the two genes in the offspring.

The maize offspring produced higher glycine betaine levels and H+-PPase activity, compared to the parental lines. Furthermore, less cell damage was observed in these plants and exhibited higher yields than parental lines when exposed to stress.  This research open possibilities in the development of stress tolerance in other crop varieties.

 Read the abstract at

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The Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program (Borlaug Fellowship Program) is now accepting applications for fellowships serving 34 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. The application deadline is January 31, 2011.

Download application form at For more information, visit the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service website at

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A Symposium on Plant Protection and Plant Health in Europe will be held on May 21, 2011 at the Bundesforschungsinstitut für Kulturpflanzen in Berlin, Germany. The symposium aims to identify components which are discriminating plant production strategies and help to design specific guidelines, collect definitions of crop-groups and sectors, compare the strategy of EU member states, and integrate the different stakeholders in the process of guideline development.

Full details are available at

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Australia hosts the 5th World Congress of Conservation Agriculture and 3rd Farming Systems Design Conference in Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Center at Queensland, Australia on 30 September 2011. The co-location of WCCA and FSD provides a great opportunity to explore the application of conservation agriculture practices and principles in a systems context. The common objective is the design of more productive, economic, and sustainable farming systems to meet the challenges of expanding population, global change, and environmental degradation.

Full details at can be seen at

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Document Reminders

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has released "EFSA in focus: Plants." It features latest scientific activities in the areas of plant health, genetically modified organisms, and plant protection products.

Download a copy of the newsletter at

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