Jerry Pommer: Livestock Biotech Conference Preview

BIOtech Now visited with Jerry Pommer, Director of Animal Regulatory Compliance and Quality Assurance for Hematech, Inc. in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Jerry is a member of the program steering committee for BIO’s first-ever Livestock Biotech Summit, which  will provide participants with three days of cross-cutting discussions among industry, academic and government leaders on the care and use of animals in research and the many possibilities in the realm of GE animal research, regulation, and funding within the biotechnology industry. Jerry discusses the unique draw and expectations for the conference, in addition to the GE animals that will be spotlighted – including:

  • Pigs that have been genetically engineered to produce human compatible donor tissues, cells and organs;
  • Cattle that have been genetically engineered to produce human antibodies that can help prevent and/or treat a wide variety of human health conditions and diseases;
  • Cattle that have been genetically engineered to be “prion-free” and therefore resistant to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or “mad cow disease”); and
  • Goats that have been genetically engineered to produce a spider silk fiber in its milk.  With its strength and elasticity, the spider silk has a variety of applications such as providing artificial ligaments and tendons, eye sutures, and for jaw repair. The silk could also have industrial applications in bulletproof vests and improved automobile airbags.

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The Livestock Biotech Summit is Coming!

Don’t miss your chance to get the special early-bird registration rate for the 2010 Livestock Biotech SummitRegistration is now open, and our early-bird discounts will expire on Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 11:59 pm Eastern Daylight Time.

 The first-ever Summit of its kind, scheduled for September 28-30, in Sioux Falls, S.D., will provide participants three days of cross-cutting discussions among industry, academic and government leaders.

Program highlights include:

-A unique workshop tailored specifically to the care of agricultural animals in research as well as an interactive presentation on the newly revised Ag Guide.

– Lively sessions focused on genetically engineered animals and around such topics as real life case studies of products weaving their way through the regulatory process, food and biomedical applications, and funding opportunities for animal biotechnology research.

– W.R. Gomes, Ph.D., Vice President Emeritus of the University of California, will speak on developing global solutions through animal biotechnology.  Gomes recently retired from the University of California, where he served as Vice President of Agriculture and Natural Resources for the university-wide system, Director of the California Agricultural Experiment Station, and Director of California Cooperative Extension. 

Bruce Knight, Principal and Founder of Strategic Conservation Solutions, will give an overview of animal agriculture focusing on the increasing importance of animal care.  Formerly the Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at USDA and Chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Knight is a nationally recognized expert on conservation, agriculture, and the environment.  He is currently a consultant focused on conservation and environmental issues related to agriculture.

– Dr. John McGlone of Texas Tech University will be coordinating the workshop on the care and use of livestock in biomedical and agricultural research.  Dr. McGlone speaks globally on topics of animal welfare, sustainable animal production, animal behavior, stress physiology and humane animal care.

– Panels of experts speaking on the “Case Study on the First Success Story on the U.S. Road to Regulatory Approval”, the “BIO GE Stewardship Program”, “New Products in the Pipeline”, “Funding Research on GE Animals”, and “Challenges for the Future”. 

BIO’s first-ever Livestock Biotech Summit is co-sponsored by: AAALAC International; Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Animal Care – USDA; Exemplar Genetics, Hematech, Inc.; Sigma-Aldrich; South Dakota Biotech Association; South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development; South Dakota State University; Trans Ova Genetics; University of Illinois; and ViaGen, Inc. 

For more information on the Livestock Biotech Summit – including updated program information and registration instructions – go to, or contact David Edwards, BIO’s Director of Animal Biotechnology, at

CONVENTION UPDATE: Agricultural Biotechnology – Providing Economic and Environmental Benefits

By Michael J. Phillips
Further evidence was provided at BIO 2009 on the many benefits of agricultural biotechnology.  Graham Brookes, Director of PG Economics (UK) released key findings from its Global Impact Study that showed that farmers around the world are growing more biotech crops with significant global economic and environmental benefits. Key highlights of the report include:    

  • Biotech crops contribute significantly to reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices – mainly from less fuel use and additional soil carbon storage from reduced tillage.  In 2007, the reduction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by biotech crops was equivalent to removing nearly 6.3 million cars from the road for one year;
  • Biotech crops reduced pesticide use (1996-2007) by  359 million kg (-8.8 percent), and as a result, decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to biotech crops by 17.2 percent;
  • Herbicide tolerant biotech crops have facilitated the adoption of no/reduced tillage production regions – especially South America;
  • There have been substantial net economic benefits to farmers amounting to $10.1 billion in 2007, and $44.1 billion since 1996.  Of the $44.1 billion, 46.5 percent ($20.5 billion) was due to increased yields and the rest to reductions in the cost of production. 

The report countered a recent Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report that attempted to make the case that biotech crops have not significantly increased yields since their introduction 1996.  However, the UCS report suffers from a very flawed, superficial and inconsistent analysis.  

The UCS report is very selective in the data it chose to use and does not account for variation in yield, country and region. The UCS report does – in fact – state that Bt corn has increased yields in the United States, but states just the opposite in its executive summary. In addition, the report did not take into consideration the significant decrease in costs of production from biotech crops that are just as important to farmers as yield.  And, the report did not include canola and cotton that have had significant yield increases over the past decade. 

In contrast, the PG Economics report is global in its analyses, uses the same rigorous methodology that has been peer reviewed in previous reports, and the results have been published in peer-reviewed journals.  The conclusions reached in the report are very solid and will stand up to a rigorous review.  They show very conclusively that agricultural biotechnology contributes to both environmental and economic sustainability.  Without a doubt, agricultural productivity and environmental protection can be and – in fact – are very compatible. 

*Note:  The Pg Economics report, “GM crops: global socio-economic and environmental impacts 1996-2007” is posted online at   

Michael J. Phillips, Ph.D. was BIO’s Vice-President for Food and Agriculture until he retired in 2007.  He is currently President, MJ Phillips and Associates LLC, an agricultural consulting firm – specializing in biotechnology.

CONVENTION UPDATE: Agricultural Biotechnology – Improving Farmers’ Lives

By Michael J. Phillips
At the BIO Internationa Convention, this session featured three farmers from different regions of the world that have had substantial experience with agricultural biotechnology, and they provided testimony as to how the technology has improved their lives.

Rosalie Ellasus from the Philippines began farming in 1995 when her husband died leaving her with three small children to raise and educate. The office worker took a gamble and bet all her savings on purchasing a 1.3 hectare rice and corn farm.  She had no farming experience and faced repeated buyer rejections as her corn was affected by mites, disease and fungi producing toxins.  Rosalie persevered, and after joining an Integrated Pest Management program, she was introduced to Bt corn.

The Bt corn performed well on her farm, and in 2002.  From her first efforts in 2001 to 2008, yields rose from 3.5 to 7.9 tons per hectare.  And her success continued in 2009 – when her now 10 hectares – produced 8.9 tons per hectare.  The success on her farm has allowed Rosalie to send her children to college and provide financial security for her family.  Rosalie actively shares benefits of her success through local and international organizations.

Terry Wanzek, a fourth generation North Dakota farmer, raises corn, soybeans, wheat, dry edible beans, and sunflowers on 9,000 acres.  But Terry is more than a farmer.  He was elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives in 1992.  He became a member of the North Dakota Senate from 1994 to 2002, and was re-elected to the State Senate in 2006.  He has been Chairman of the Senate Ag Committee and has led the efforts to defeat a proposed moratorium on biotech wheat and led a study on biotechnology and renewable fuels. 

Terry considers the benefits of growing biotech corn and soybeans to be 1) allows use of no or minimal till methods; 2) conserves soil moisture and reduces erosion; 3) increases yield; 4) decreases herbicide costs ($84 vs $18/acre);  5) enhances wild life habitat; 6) improves soil organic matter; 7) produces more high-value crops;  8) increases production efficiencies leading to more family time; and 9) has made Terry’s farming operation more productive and profitable.

Gabriela Cruz manages a 500 hectare farm in Portugal that has been in their family for over 100 years.  Her farm produces maize, wheat, barley, and green peas.  Gabriela has grown biotech maize since 2006.

The potential for severe soil erosion is very real on her farm.  With the adoption of Bt corn, it has allowed her to use no or minimum till methods and significantly reduced any real threat of soil erosion. Also, Gabriela cites increased soil productivity, decreased fuel costs, reduced labor costs, and decreased water consumption for irrigation as additional benefits.

The testimonies provided by these three farmers from different parts of the world provide eye witness accounts that agricultural biotechnology can increase productivity and protect the environment. 

Michael J. Phillips, Ph.D. was BIO’s Vice-President for Food and Agriculture until he retired in 2007.  He is currently President, MJ Phillips and Associates LLC, an agricultural consulting firm – specializing in biotechnology.



The Value Proposition for Next-Generation Energy Crops:  Value Chain and Business Model Considerations
By Val Giddings

Food & Ag sessions got off to an interesting start on Tuesday as three companies told their very different tales of sailing turbulent economic waters over the past two  years in search of profitable harbors. 

With oil at $140/barrel, it looked like a game almost anybody could play.  With oil at $50/barrel things are a lot more competitive. 

Mike Edgerton (Monsanto) described the very different economics and logistics related to corn stover feedstocks.  A much less mature sector, with 2 million producers (as opposed to ~400 for cane in Brasil) makes vertical integration much more complicated and challenging for stover. Calculating how much organic material can be used for biomass fuel without damaging soil carbon or exacerbating erosion and water quality is a delicate and variable calculus.  But with due attention to the myriad variables and disciplined analysis, both corn stover and cane can sustain profitable enterprises – particularly for the sellers of improved germplasm!  

Jack Kiser (Sustainable Oils) described a very different approach, working with Camelina sativa, an oilseed related to canola.  High in omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated oils, Camelina oil can be used to produce biodiesel while the meal can be used for animal feed.  Although transgenics promise numerous opportunities for improvement, classical and mutation breeding have so far barely been used, by no means fully harnessed.  

Take home message from the session:  competition is stiff and success is complicated, but there are many possible paths to a green future.

Giddings is a genetics PhD and  biotech consultant with nearly 30 years regulatory, media, and policy experience.  He was a Vice President for BIO Food & Agriculture from 1997 to 2006. He can be reached at


CONVENTION UPDATE: Focus is on Yields, Technology and Supportive Policy Environment to Meet Food & Fuel Demands

By Val Giddings

When Joachim Schneider (Head of Life Sciences for Bayer Crop Science and BIO’s new Chairman for Food & Ad) opened the panel on “Agricultural Production:  Meeting the Sustainability Challenge,” he made it clear that today’s challenge is to increase productivity and while dealing with climate change. 

Will future production keep pace with demand?  How can we meet food and fuel challenges?

“We need to marry global science with global scale to produce global increases in yield,” says

John Pierce of Du Pont Life Sciences.  DuPont/Pioneer thinks yields will need to increase no less than 40 percent over the next 10 years for both corn and soybeans.

We need a second green revolution.  We need government, society, industry and academia to work together, and we need to use all technologies available.  Biotech is an essential tool in the toolbox.

Biotech presents the greatest opportunity to improve crop yields in Africa, Brazil, East and Southern Asian.  But biotech acceptance must remain a global effort.  Global food security remains an objective, not an accomplishment.

For biofuels production, the United States has an advantage in land area and technology.

The next generation of biofuels will improve existing ethanol production by increasing feedstocks yields.  New fuels (including cellulosics, advanced cellulosic from corn stover and switchgrass) will improve performance.  And technological- driven improvements will help increase crop yields.  We’ll see massive improvements over the next five years, and we’ll need predictable policy to ensure progress.

Giddings is a genetics PhD and  biotech consultant with nearly 30 years regulatory, media, and policy experience.  He was a Vice President for BIO Food & Agriculture from 1997 to 2006. He can be reached at

Countdown to Convention (part II)

Hosted by BIO, the global event for biotechnology will take place May 18-21, 2009, at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Ga., and is expected to draw 15,000 industry leaders from around the world.

The convention program will feature more than 150 sessions in 21 breakout session tracks highlighting the latest information and the newest opportunities for executives, investors, scientists, policy leaders, and media from around the world. More than 1,000 speakers will share breakthroughs in medicine, diagnostics, the environment, energy production, food and agriculture and more.  For more information, visit our convention website at

As BIO heads to Atlanta for its 2009 International Convention, we highlight below the key Food and Agriculture sessions:

  • Leadership Summit: Biotechnology and Sustainability Meeting Tomorrow’s Food and Fuel Needs (Monday, May 18, 1:00pm – 5:00 pm) This special session considers the unique challenges of sustainability in the 21st century and the solutions that modern biotechnology can offer towards meeting increasing demands for food and fuel.
  • The Value Proposition for Next-Generation Energy Crops: Value Chain and Business Model Considerations (Tuesday, May 19, 2009, 8:00am – 9:30am) Representatives from both development and commercial-stage energy feedstock companies will share lessons learned and possible solutions to develop a sustainable business model for their products.
  • Global Product Stewardship (Tuesday, May 19, 2009, 10:00am – 11:30am) This facilitated round table discussion and working session will cover successes, challenges and forward looking initiatives, including Excellence Through StewardshipSM, in agricultural biotechnology. 
  • Public-Private Partnerships in Agricultural Biotechnology: Going Beyond Development Impact (Tuesday, May 19, 2009, 2:00pm-3:30pm) This session will focus on how to structure public-private partnerships in agricultural biotechnology so as to maximize their development impact and technology adoption while also increasing the likelihood that private partners will want to participate.
  • Saving Harvests, Lives & Livelihoods: Breakthroughs in Plant Stress Tolerance Technologies (Tuesday, May 19, 2009, 4:00pm – 5:30pm) This session will spotlight innovative abiotic stress tolerance researchers who are uncovering new ways biotechnology can help protect valuable yields and offer novel solutions across crops and around the world.
  • Ag Biotech – Improving Farmers Lives (Wednesday, May 20, 2009, 8:00am – 9:30am) This session offers first-hand perspectives from growers around the world who will talk about the impact of biotechnology on farms of all sizes.
  • Press Conference:  Environmental and Socio-Economic Benefits of Biotech Crops (Wednesday, May 20, 2009, 10:00am – 11:00am) At this BIO press conference, Graham Brookes, Director of PG Economics Ltd. (UK) will present some of the key findings of its latest global impact study. Three growers from around the world will be on-hand to give a first-hand perspective on biotech’s benefits to farmers.
  • Genetically Engineered Animals (Livestock) and Public Health (Wednesday, May 20, 2009, 10:00am – 11:30am) This session features scientific experts who will explain the potential of genetically engineered livestock to transform public health through biomedical, food and environmental applications.
  • Challenges and Solutions in Commercializing Genetically Engineered Animals and their Products (Wednesday, May 20, 2009, 2:00pm – 3:30pm) This session will highlight current and future challenges that face the animal biotechnology industry and identify solutions towards commercializing these beneficial products and technologies.
  • Advances and Opportunities for AgBiotech in Latin America (Wednesday, May 20, 2009, 4:00pm – 5:30pm) The panel will present an update on recent research, industrial and regulatory advances in agricultural biotechnology in Latin America with the purpose of identifying substantial opportunities.
  • The Bio-Based Economy is Now (Thursday, May 21, 2009, 8:00am – 9:30am) From food, to fuel, to packaging, clothing and cosmetics, materials derived from biotech are beginning to have a positive effect on our economy and the environment.  This panel will discuss the benefits of bio-based products as well as the challenges and misinformation that could dampen government and societal support.
  • Plant Science Technologies:  Recent Advances That Will Change Our World (Thursday, May 21, 2009, 10:00am – 11:30am) This session will explore recent developments in plant made pharmaceuticals, plant science technologies for food and fuel production, and how to best leverage our agricultural resources for strategic options in the future.
  • Environment, Economy and Society: Plant Biotechnology’s Role in Advancing Sustainable Development (Thursday, May 21, 2009, 2:00pm – 3:30pm)  This panel will explore how current and future agricultural biotechnology varieties used to produce food, fuel, feed, and fiber crops globally help reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture, and where there is room for improvement.
  • Legal and Regulatory Threats to Agricultural Biotechnology in the United States (Thursday, May 21, 2009, 4:00pm – 5:30pm) This panel will examine recent legal and regulatory developments (e.g., lawsuits under the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act) that threaten to undermine agricultural biotechnology in the United States.

Look for our convention coverage on our website at or on our new BIOtech Now site at!