In This Issue

March 23, 2012


• GM Foods In Animals Safe Says International Consortium Study 
• FAO Director-General: New Approach in Ending Hunger 

• Saving Kenya's Maize Crop 
• Minister of Agriculture Launches Vitamin A Cassava in Nigeria 

• New and Much Cheaper Genomics Technique Takes Off 
• Field Crops Insects Respond to Strange Weather 
• U.S. Gov't Reaffirms Support of Agri-biotech 
• Quadruple Stacked GM Corn Receives Approval in Argentina 

Asia and the Pacific
• Biotechnology Plays Key Role in Virus Disease Management, says Philippine Professor 
• Pakistan NBC Approves Bt Corn Trial 
• Philippine Study: Corn Borer Populations Remain Susceptible to Bt Corn 
• Australian OGTR Issues License for Environmental Release of GM Wheat and Barley 
• 31st FAO Conference Decisions for Vietnam and the Region 
• Malaysian Scientists Develop Superior Red Rice BANGI 

• Aberystwyth University and Ceres Complete Full Genetic Map of Miscanthus 
• Botanists Use DNA and English in Describing New Plants Species 
• Use of Crop Protection Products Improves Carbon Footprint 
• Scientists Explain Why Flowers Bloom Earlier With Climate Change 
• Artificial Soils From Sewage Sludge and Metallurgical Waste 

• How Rice Blast Fungus Achieves Full Virulence 
• Overexpression of BB-CBF Enhances Cold Tolerance in Blueberry 
• Scientists Map Water Saving Traits in Pearl Millet 

Beyond Crop Biotech
• CSIRO Book Uncovers Nature's Nano-secrets 
• Good Genes: Secret to Better Skin 

• World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing 
• Nominations for Borlaug Global Rust Initiative Gene Stewardship Award 

Document Reminders
• Conclusions of the EU Council and the Member States on the Strategy towards the Int'l Plant Protection Convention 

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Over three years of research by Austrian, Australian, Norwegian, Irish, Turkish, and Hungarian scientists report no harmful health effects of GM foods in animals. The European Commission Framework 7-funded GMSAFOOD consortium announced this key finding in a press conference on March 8, 2012 in Vienna, Austria.

The scientists investigated potential long-term risks associated with feeding genetically modified Bt maize MON810 and a GM pea to pigs, salmon and mice. They hope to find suitable biomarkers that can be used as more sensitive indicators to detect effects of authorized GM foods in humans.

The consortium proposed a "clustering and neural network"-type machine-learning framework to identify potential biomarkers capable of detecting unforeseen health risks. This method, in addition to meta-analysis of data within a prospective public repository, would significantly complement current pre-market testing procedures.

The original news is at

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Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General José Graziano da Silva called for sustainable increases in farm production and fairer and more inclusive food and agricultural systems during the Organization's Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific in Hanoi, Vietnam on March 12-16, 2012. Over 300 delegates from 39 countries attended the conference.

"Our first global challenge is to eradicate hunger and improve food security. That means that we need to have better access to food and also increase the production of agriculture, forestry and fisheries while ensuring sustainable ecosystem management, adaptation and mitigation of climate change, and building on the many promising examples that already exist," he said.

Da Silva also called upon countries to formulate national policies to address food security and improve nutrition. Participants requested FAO to coordinate a regional rice strategy and help address key challenges to increase agricultural productivity, promote value chain development, reduce post-harvest losses, manage natural resources and respond to food price volatility.

View the FAO media release at

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Farmers in Kenya are waiting for a new high-yielding maize variety resistant to herbicides to be released by the end of March 2012. The crop, developed to survive against Striga weed infestation, has been developed by a team of research scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Weizmann Institute, and BASF-Chemical Company.

The new variety, called "UaKayongo" (Swahili for "kill the Striga weed") is resistant to the herbicide Imazapyr, the most effective herbicide used by farmers to kill the Striga weed. A three-way cross hybrid, UaKayongo has demonstrated to yield up to five tons per hectare, a welcome relief to farmers who have nearly quit planting maize due to huge losses in the past.

For years, maize farmers in Kenya lose around 70-100% of their harvest due to Striga weed, a parasite that infests maize, sorghum, millet, and sugarcane fields. In Kenya's Western Province, where maize is the main cash and food crop, Striga affects 250,000 hectares of maize. The new maize variety will be distributed by the Kenya Seed Company when it is released.

For more details about this new development in Africa, visit

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Cassava has been known for its ability to withstand various stresses brought about by climate change. Aside from being a "tough" crop, it also has high nutritive value. HarvestPlus and its partners have developed vitamin-A rich cassava which was formally launched in Nigeria on March 16, 2012. HarvestPlus, together with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and National Root Crop Research Institute of Nigeria (NRCRI), will distribute the biofortified cassava to 50,000 Nigerian households.

During the launch, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, commended the efforts of the research institutions and the federal government in addressing the vitamin A deficiency in the country.

"Cassava used to be a subsistence crop. It is highly adaptable and well-suited for addressing the challenge of climate change, due to its high tolerance to drought. A crop that allows you to make starch, high quality cassava flour, dried chips for export and livestock feed, and ethanol, is not a poor man's crop, but a rich man's crop," the minister said.

For more information, read the articles at and

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The genotyping-by-sequencing (GBS) technology developed by the Institute for Genomic Diversity (IGD), Cornell University has gained popularity as it allows researchers to generate huge amounts of genetic information that can be used in various genomic researches in plants, animals, and humans. The GBS is a unique technology that allows users to collect data of up to 384 individuals in a single sequencing lane using a protocol with only four basic steps from DNA to data, and at a cost of about one cent for every 50,000 data points.

The technology has attracted international attention and requests for trainings. "The aspect of GBS that is most appealing is that it produces tens to hundreds of thousands of genetic markers," said Sharon Mitchell, IGD research and laboratory manager. "Most plant and animal breeders are interested in using this plethora of markers to speed up the breeding process in a big way."

For more on this news, see

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Entomology and crop science extension coordinator Mike Gray has published in the University of Illinois' College of Agricultural Consumer and Environmental Sciences News the list of insect pests that would be affected by the wild winter and high temperatures in the Corn Belt of the United States this March. Gray said that insects would be affected depending on whether the insect pests spend the winter in Corn Belt or whether they migrate into the Midwest from more southerly latitudes.

Gray said, "The mild winter will very likely improve the survival of some insect species, such as corn flea beetles, bean leaf beetles, soybean aphids, and white grubs that overwinter in Illinois." For other overwintering species, the mild winter may be a neutral factor. "Many insect species, such as European corn borers and western corn rootworms are superbly adapted to survive even the most severe winters, especially if snow cover is present," he added. Predicting insect behavior before the planting season can help plan strategies for their control.

See the article at

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In a short video released by the U.S. government on March 16, 2012, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jose Fernandez reaffirmed the government's support to agricultural biotechnology as tool for food security. Fernandez stressed that biotech can help produce more food using resources such as land, water, fertilizer and pesticide.

"Agricultural biotechnology has already shown it can increase crop yields dramatically," said Fernandez. "Just to give you an idea of how dramatically: Over the past 15 years, agricultural biotechnology has enabled the production of 229 million more tons of food, feed, and fiber."

Fernandez also mentioned that the U.S. works with other governments around the world to promote science-based regulatory systems. The U.S. will also put initiative on public outreach to prevent and eliminate misinformation on agri-biotech.

Watch the video at

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The Secretary of Agriculture of Argentina has recently approved Syngenta's genetically modified corn MIR604 and quadruple corn stack Bt11 x MIR162 x GA21x MIR604 also called Agrisure Viptera® 4 for cultivation.

"Agrisure Viptera® 4 corn seed sets new standards in insect control by combining Syngenta's corn rootworm trait with the outstanding performance of Agrisure Viptera® against lepidopteran pests," said John Atkin, Syngenta Chief Operating Officer. "These technologies will play an important role in our development of an integrated offer including market-leading seed care and crop protection."

See the press release at

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Asia and the Pacific

Biotechnological approaches are essential for effective virus disease management in major crops in the Philippines, said University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) Associate Professor  Dr. Filomena Sta. Cruz, of  the Crop Protection Cluster, UPLB during her Centennial Professorial Lecture at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) last March 20, 2012. "In terms of virus disease management, the biggest role of biotechnology is on variety development and on the identification, characterization, and diagnosis of virus diseases," said Dr. Sta. Cruz.

Some of the viruses that cause significant damages to major crops in the Philippines are the rice tungro virus, papaya ringspot virus, abaca bunchy top virus, and the tomato leaf curl virus. She explained that current management practices for virus diseases are not usually effective in the long term. "By nature, virus diseases are quite difficult to control. Once the plant is infected with the virus, it will remain infected throughout its growth. There are no anti-viral chemicals which can control or prevent systemic infection, and so that is the challenge for virus disease management," she said.

Dr. Sta. Cruz said that biotechnology is an answer to control virus diseases and that it should complement other conventional approaches. Among the feasible biotech approaches that may be applied to virus disease management are marker aided breeding (gene mapping and molecular marker development) for abaca and virus variability (genome sequencing and strain identification) in papaya.

For more information about the lecture, visit or e-mail

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Pakistan's Technical Advisory Committee of the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) has allowed Monsanto to conduct a field trial of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn.

The first GM crop planted by Monsanto in Pakistan was cotton in 2010. "Agricultural and environmental research is something which always requires local testing to validate domestic performance," NBC officials said.

Check out for the full story.

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Asian corn borer (ACB) pest populations in the Philippines continue to be susceptible to the insect resistant Bt corn, reported Dr. Edwin Alcantara, University Researcher at the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology - University of the Philippines Los Baños (BIOTECH-UPLB). In his lecture titled Monitoring Cry1ab Susceptibility in Asian Corn Borer on Bt Corn in the Philippines for the BIOTECH Monthly Seminar,  Dr. Alcantara said that so far, no field-evolved ACB resistance has been detected after almost ten years of Bt corn adoption.

In the study of Dr. Alcantara and colleagues, the baseline susceptibility of several ACB populations to the protein Cry1ab was first estimated. From the baseline bioassay data, they then identified and validated a diagnostic concentration to several populations of ACB. This concentration is currently being used to monitor development of ACB resistance in eight biotech corn-producing provinces in the Philippines. Alcantara said that monitoring of resistance in ACB to Bt corn is part of responsible stewardship of the transgenic technology.

For more information about biotech corn in the Philippines, visit or e-mail

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The Australian Office of Gene Technology Regulator  (OGTR) has issued a license for the application of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) to conduct the limited and controlled release in the environment of GM wheat and barley that contain altered gene composition and nutrient utilization efficiency.

The release of the 118 lines of GM wheat and 40 lines of GM barley will be conducted in the New Genes for New Environments (NGNE) facility, Western Australia, on a maximum area of 1.0 ha per year between May 2012 and June 2015. The trial aims assess whether the respective genetic modifications result in increased biomass and yield of the GM plants with respect to unmodified plants.

See the announcement and the dossiers at

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The 31st United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Conference for the Asia-Pacific wrapped up on March 16 in Hanoi. Addressing the closing ceremony, Hiroyuki Konuma, Chief Representative of FAO in Asia-Pacific highlighted the importance of the event for the future of agriculture and rural development in the region. He said the conference provided FAO with much valuable information and experiences on a number of important policy issues as well as other issues related to agriculture and food security. 

Konuma also provided a summary of the conference discussions that included recent development trends, initiatives and policies at both regional and national levels, and highlighted the two technical presentations related to the strengthening of sustainability and diversification of agricultural crop plants, the development of value chain and reduction of post harvest losses for farmers.

The five-day conference was participated by hundreds of delegates from over 40 FAO member countries, observers from seven UN organizations, six inter-governmental organizations, 28 civil society groups and special observers from Singapore, Brunei, and the Holy See.

Decisions and recommendations adopted at this conference are considered the foundation to help FAO build priorities in the future, programs and action plans, policy advice and technical assistance to its member countries.

See the news at For news on biotechnology in Vietnam, contact Hien Le at

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Scientists at The National University of Malaysia (UKM) with the cooperation of Malaysia Agricultural Research and Development Institute's (MARDI) research officers have successfully produced a variety of rice which not only can increase padi yield but also has a low glyceamic index suitable for diabetics. 

Dr. R. Wickneswari Ratnam, plant genetics and biotechnology expert from the Faculty of Science and Technology, assisted by some 14 other scientists from UKM, MARDI, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), Malaysia Nuclear Agency (MNA) and University of Malaya had been doing research on this since 2002 and have succeeded in producing the new padi variant "G33" named "UKMRC9" which can increase local red rice production. Wickneswari described it as a superior red rice developed through conventional breeding involving controlled cross-breeding between cultivar MR219 and wild rice Oryza rufipogon. It involved the transfer of genes of the wild type to the common paddy produced by MARDI now extensively cultivated in the country.

For more information, please go to

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Researchers from Aberystwyth University in Wales and Ceres, Inc. in the United States have successfully completed the first high-resolution and comprehensive genetic map of miscanthus, a promising energy crop. This development provides important breakthrough towards advanced bioenergy production.

The long-term collaboration between Aberystwyth University's Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) and Ceres involved mapping all 19 chromosomes of miscanthus, a towering, cane-like grass, used as a feedstock for advanced biofuels, bio-products and biopower. The project also included the generation and analysis of 400 million DNA sequences to create a blueprint of the genetic alphabet of the plant.

Iain Donnison, head of the Bioenergy team at IBERS says the mapping project has provided greater insight into how the miscanthus genome compares with other well-understood crops, as little has been known about its genetics. Ceres Chief Scientific Officer Richard Flavell says that the rapid improvements in breeding made possible by this mapping project are needed for miscanthus to be more widely used as an energy crop.

For more information about this new breakthrough, go to

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Starting January 1, 2012, important changes in naming new plants have been used by scientists, leading to the descend of Latin language usage for descriptions and diagnoses of new species. With the new rules, botanists and mycologists can now use sequences of short DNA regions that will amplify easily, even if the DNA comes from old specimens. Such sequences can serve as "barcodes" that can be used to confirm a suspected new species given that the related species with a given scientific name would also be sequenced for the same DNA region. Since there is no Latin vocabulary for describing DNA barcoding, English is now freely used to describe the new species.

Botanist Natalia Filipowicz from the Medical University of Gdańsk in Poland and co-authors published the first English-language diagnosis of a new species Brunfelsia plowmaniana that relies exclusively on DNA information.

Get more information about B. plowmaniana at

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Climate Change and Plant Health, a study conducted by Agripol, a Berlin-based agency, shows that the use of crop protection products is sustainable and may contribute in the mitigation of climate change. The study presented during the 31st International Cotton Conference in Bremen, Germany provided important data about the impact of pesticide use on carbon foot print or CO2 balance in growing cotton.

The research investigation was conducted in 14 crops in 16 countries. Taking cotton as an example, grown in the three most important growing countries, data shows that the plant absorbs many times more carbon dioxide than is released by the use and protection of the crop protecting agents by a factor of 25 to 50. A case on cotton farming in India was cited where the repeated use of pesticides to control insect infestation leads to an additional consumption of 49.9 kgs of CO2 , compared to the untreated field where 1.9 kgs more is converted per hectare.

See the original article at

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Scientists at John Innes Centre have identified the control gene that functions like a switch that speeds up flowering time in response to temperature. According to one of the researchers, Dr. Phil Wigge, temperature alone is able to exert specific and precise control on the activity of the gene (PIF4). With warm air, PIF4 activates the flowering pathway, but with cold air, the gene is unable to act. Flowering occurs when the gene binds to the flowering molecule called florigen.

"Our findings explain at the molecular level what we observe in our gardens as the warmer temperatures of spring arrive," said Wigge. "It also explains why plants are flowering earlier as a result of climate change."

In previous studies, PIF4 has been found to be involved in plant responses to warmth, but this is the first time that it has been found to be involved in flowering. The research team hopes that their findings will help other scientists develop temperature-resilient crops in the future.

Read the original article at

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Technosoils or artificial soils from sludge, ash and barley straw have been developed by Fenxia Yao and mentors Drs. Marta Camps and Felipe Macías of the University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The development of technosoils hope to serve as an alternative to peat, which is a non-renewable organic material in soils.

The formulated soil contains various components at proportions: 5% of foundry sand, 10% of Linz-Donawitz slag, 2% of barley straw, 23% or 33% of combustion ash, and 60% or 50% of sewage sludge. Three different types of sludge were employed: anaerobic, aerobic, and lime-treated aerobic sludge. Results show that Technosols made from mixtures in which anaerobic sludge was used as the organic component yielded the highest plant material compared to the other treatments. They also found that nutrient availability is highest and bioavailability of heavy metals has been decreased in this treatment .

See the original article at

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Plants use pattern recognition receptor to protect themselves from microbial pathogens. When the receptors recognize pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs), they activate signaling pathways that promote immunity. For instance, rice has a receptor called chitin elicitor binding protein (CEBiP) which recognizes the complex sugars excreted from the cell walls of fungal pathogens. However, some pathogens have mechanisms to get away with this front line of defense.

University of Exeter scientist Nicholas Talbot and colleagues found out that rice blast fungus (Magnaporthe oryzae) secretes a protein Secreted LysM Protein1 (Slp1) when invading rice cells. Their findings showed that Slp1 builds up between the fungal cell wall and the rice plasma membrane. The protein can also bind to chitin and block chitin-induced immune reactions. They also showed that Slp1 competes with CEBiP for binding in the complex sugars. Thus, Slp1 is important for rice blast fungus for full virulence including tissue invasion and lesion expansion.

Based on the results, the researchers suggest that Slp1 sequesters the complex sugars in chitin to prevent immunity in rice. Read the abstract at

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Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) is an economically important small fruit with an annual wholesale value of over half a billion dollars in the U.S. However, blueberry cultivars have the tendency to get freezing damage during winter and early spring. Aaron Walworth of Michigan State University and colleagues conducted a study to better understand the genetic mechanisms involved in freezing tolerance of woody plant blueberry.

Walworth isolated the gene that induces the expression of other genes linked to cold acclimation and freezing tolerance from a cold-tolerant cultivar called Bluecrop. The isolated gene (BB-CBF) was introduced to Legacy (cold-sensitive cultivar) using Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. Out of the 57 transgenic lines produced,  29 lines were evaluated and showed freezing tolerance in the mature leaves, dormant buds, and/or flowers.

The team also found out that C-repeat binding factor (CBF)-mediated cold-response pathway functions in the cold acclimation of blueberry, which implies that overexpression of BB-CBF could help reduce crop losses caused by damaging freezes in winter or early spring.

Read the research article at

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Low rate of transpiration in pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) under fully irrigated conditions could reduce plant water use and increase water availability during grain filling stage as well as during the terminal drought tolerance stage. Scientist Jana Kholova and colleagues at International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) developed 113 recombinant inbred lines from a cross between a terminal drought-sensitive cultivar (H77/833-2) and a terminal drought-tolerant cultivar (PRLT2/89-33) to map the transpiration rate, organ weights, leaf area and thickness, and investigate the interactions of these water saving characteristics.

The scientists found out that the water saving traits co-map with a complex genes involved in terminal drought tolerance. Thus, various models for plant water use are present or could be made based on specific allele combinations that lead to specific physiological characteristics for adaptation to a range of terminal drought conditions.

Get more details of the study at

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Beyond Crop Biotech

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) released a new book titled Nature's Nanostructures edited by CSIRO scientists Drs. Amanda Barnard and Haibo Guo. The book explains how nature's own laboratory has been producing advanced nanomaterials for millions of years. Thus, the book brings together studies in the fields of entomology, geology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, molecular biology, and health to create a complete picture of nanotechnology occurring in nature. According to Dr. Barnard, such studies would help scientists develop similar nanomaterials in the lab and explore possible applications in science and industry.

"I think it is generally assumed that nanomaterials are a relatively new phenomenon but some nanoparticles have been present in animals and minerals for millions of years and are a natural occurrence," says Dr. Barnard.

Read the media release at

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DNA might dictate how skin changes with age, said Duke University professor Dr. Zoe Draelos during the annual meeting of the Americal Academy of Dermatology in San Diego.

"There is groundbreaking research underway to determine the differences between old and young genes," Draelos said in an academy news release. "The hope is that by understanding how to make old genes act younger and how to keep young genes from getting old, we can better advise our patients on caring for their skin."

Researchers are also investigating the effect of diet in gene expression. In one study, black-haired pregnant mice were fed with a diet lacking folic acid. This changed the expression of the gene responsible for hair color in their offspring, producing blond-haired offsprings. "This study demonstrated, quite remarkably, how some genes are turned on and off by what you eat," Draelos explained.


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The 2012 World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing will be held at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center, Orlando, Florida, USA on April 29 to May 2, 2012.

This year's week-long event marks the ninth World Congress and is expected to have more than 1,000 attendees. For more details about the 2012 Congress, go to

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The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative Gene Stewardship Award is open for nominees. It is given to recognize a researcher or team of researchers serving a national breeding program or other nationally based institution. Specifically, award recipients are those who demonstrate excellence in the development, multiplication and/or release of rust resistant wheat varieties.

Send nominations to Sarah Davidson Evanega by June, 2012 at Details of the award are available at

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Document Reminders

The Council of the European Union released the conclusions on the strategy towards the International Plant Protection Convention. The conclusions were made by the Council and the representatives of different governments during the 3155th Agriculture and Fisheries Council Meeting in Brussels on March 19-20, 2012. Download a copy of at

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