Genetically Modified Biofuels

Scottish historians can correct me on this : was it Robert the Bruce or William Wallace who first coined the phrase “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” ?

Well, it seem the “life sciences” industry, producing genetically modified organisms, is doing just that, this time in the fields of Energy and Climate Change.

But they’re being really, really sneaky, in my opinion, and have virtually rebranded what they’re doing. Here are some of the new buzzwords from the GM “biosciences”, working to improve biofuels :-

“crop transformation”

“develop novel strains”

“synthetic biology”

“genetic improvement”

“bioaugmentation”

“sustainable agriculture”

You’ve probably already encountered the spurious claim that “GM Crops can Feed Africa” in the face of Climate Change :-

http://www.practicalaction.org/?id=gm_wont_feed_africa
“Why the GM route won’t feed a hungry Africa : by Eric Kisiangani and Katherine Pasteur, Practical Action : Presented by Katherine Pasteur to the Feeding the World Conference, London, November 12th 2008 : This paper argues that GM crop technology is not a solution to a hungry Kenya and Africa in general. Building on Practical Action’s work experiences with small-scale farmers in Kenya and Zimbabwe and drawing lessons from the failed “green revolution” in Africa the authors call into question the overall value of GM crops to Africa’s food security situation and to local farmers in particular…”

It seems that the focus of concentration has now shifted to Energy, where BioFuels are a natural fit, with strong North American and European directives on including percentages of green fuels in motorised vehicles.

http://royaldutchshellplc.com/2009/07/15/exxons-algae-to-join-biofuel-push
“ExxonMobil and Craig Venter, the pioneer of human genome research, have set up a $600m partnership to research the potential for making biofuels from algae. Mr Venter told the Financial Times that the joint venture was “critical for the whole world” but warned that commercial deployment could be 10 years away. “There has been so much hype and hope about the potential for algae that this announcement should act as a reality check for everyone,” said Mr Venter…But while Mr Venter, like other biotech entrepreneurs and big oil companies including Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron, has been able to produce small amounts of oil from algae, no-one has yet managed to demonstrate the process at a large enough scale or a low enough cost…Mr Venter said he expected that the algae used would have to be genetically modified. Over time, engineered products will be essential to this project, said Mr Venter. “It’s the only way we can change the yield far beyond nature, and make the algae resistant to virus attacks and so on.”…”

In the United Kingdom, this work is being funded directly by Central Government, as witnessed by the tiny little footnote in the Low Carbon Transition Plan published on 15th July 2009 :-

http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/publications/lc_trans_plan/lc_trans_plan.aspx

http://www.decc.gov.uk/Media/viewfile.ashx?FilePath=White%20Papers\UK%20Low%20Carbon%20Transition%20Plan%20WP09\1_20090715190000_e_@@_DECCWPUKLCTransitionPlan.pdf&filetype=4

page 143
footnote 10
“This includes £20 million investment to launch the Sustainable Bioenergy Centre; £6 million for the Advanced Bioenergy Directed Research Accelerator investigating the potential of algae for biofuels; and an intention to provide financial support for the creation by industry of a biofuels demonstration plant, which would use organic waste material to produce bioethanol and renewable power.”

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm090212/text/90212w0002.htm

“12 Feb 2009 : …the Government have recently announced £20 million of funding for the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) new Sustainable Bioenergy Centre. This is a £27 million initiative aiming to build UK capacity in bioenergy research. Among other things, it will target research on the development of second generation bioenergy and biofuels. Last autumn the Government also announced that the Department anticipates contributing up to £3 million per year over the next two financial years to the Carbon Trust’s Advanced Bioenergy Directed Research Accelerator. This will allow the Carbon Trust to further increase its advanced bioenergy research and development activities.”

What are these organisations ?

Sustainable Bioenergy Centre

Advanced Bioenergy Directed Research Accelerator

What’s to say that this Genetically Modified next generation of biofuels is going to be any better than the first ?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2009/jul/22/biofuels

Of course, I’m slow off the mark : John Vidal is already on the case :_

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/19/gm-crops-aid-uk-funding

Keep up with the fun. Visit the new free and legal GMWatch for continued updates :-

http://www.gmwatch.org

Climate Change is no excuse for genetic pollution in my view.


http://www.gmoafrica.org

http://www.fourwinds10.com/siterun_data/science_technology/dna_gmo/news.php?q=1236135792

“Union of Concerned Scientists Says No to GMO Corn for Biofuel : March 3, 2009 : Corn-based ethanol has fallen from favor in the past year amid reports that corn ethanol has a heavier carbon footprint than originally thought. Now a new debate looms over whether the U.S. should allow genetically altered corn to be grown for use as biofuel. The Union of Concerned Scientists says no, arguing that genetically modified corn will inevitably mix with and contaminate corn grown for food products. Syngenta, a multi-national company that has readied a new genetically modified corn intended for ethanol production, has already applied for permission to sell its corn seed in the U.S., telling officials that it would control where the crops are grown so the GMO corn would not mix with the food supply. Their newly developed “Corn Amylase” contains a protein that breaks down corn starch under high temperatures and could reduce the cost of ethanol production. The new protein has not been present in the food system, and would not have to be approved for human consumption. If Syngenta’s voluntary methods of keeping the corn out of the food supply fail, people could be unwittingly exposed to the new protein, which is derived from organisms living near hot sea vents. For these reasons, the Union of Concerned Scientists has urged the USDA to ban outdoor production of the new corn, as well as “any other food crop genetically engineered to produce pharmaceutical or industrial substances.””

http://biofuelsdigest.com/blog2/2009/07/16/monsanto-shifts-into-wheat-with-acquisition-of-westbred-for-45-million/

“July 16, 2009 : Jim Lane : Monsanto shifts into wheat with acquisition of WestBred for $45 million : In Missouri, Monsanto announced that it will acquire WestBred, a wheat breeder, for $45 million. The company is expected to ramp up in terms of providing higher-producing wheat strains, in competition with Dow and Syngenta. The Motley Fool commented, “As energy producers like BP and ExxonMobil figure out that inputs other than corn might be better for producing biofuels, having one more crop to fall back on should help Monsanto if corn production shifts elsewhere…”

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20090731&filename=croc&sec_id=10&sid=1

“Nature cure from India : Biofuel from India key to de-addict oilholic American economy : In February 2009, India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (mnre) signed a memorandum of understanding (mou) with the US Department of Energy (doe). The memorandum formalizes “cooperation in the development of biofuels” between the two countries. For the US the focus on biofuels is part of a strategy to de-addict its oiloholic economy. It is estimated the world’s most energy guzzling country will require approximately 60 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2030. The Obama government signed the biofuel cooperation agreement with India two weeks after it was sworn in. The memorandum makes mention of sugarcane varieties with high sugar content, sweet sorghum, sugar beet and cassava. DuPont, a US company looking to expand sugarcane plantations in India, is most likely to cash in on this. The US transnational Monsanto has plans to develop a genetically modified (GM) variety of sugarcane by 2015. Syngenta AG, a Swiss pesticide and seeds major that has bought up a substantial part of the North American corn and soybean business, is also working with the Vasantdada Sugar Insitute in Pune to develop pest-resistant sugarcane varieties. Syngenta Seeds Inc is already in collaboration with Tamil Nadu Agriculture University to develop Tropical Sugar Beet (tsb) varieties in its bid to popularize them…”

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