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February 15, 2009

Gene-modified rice may be on the market by 2010

by Lyn Resurreccion

Biotech rice—the insect resistant variety and Golden Rice—will lead the new genetically modified crops for commercial use in the second wave (2006 to 2015) of market availability, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA).

Dr. Randy Hautea, ISAAA global coordinator and its SEAsiaCenter director, told reporters that Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)-resistant rice from China “may be available within 24 months,” or between now and 2010, and Golden Rice by 2012.

Hautea made the disclosure last week at the press conference on the global launching of the 2008 Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM (Genetically Modified) Crops report authored by Dr. Clive James, founder and chairman of ISAAA board of directors.

Bt rice is “extensively field tested in China and awaiting approval by the Chinese regulatory authorities” for commercialization, the report said.

Golden Rice—or genetically biofortified rice with beta carotene that produces vitamin A—is being field-tested at the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, Laguna. Its adoption for the Philippines is being done by the Philippine Rice Research Institute with two other traits incorporated in the rice—tungro virus and bacterial blight resistance.

The ISAAA report recognized biotech rice as “the most important of the new biotech crops that are now ready for adoption.”

This development is of great significance because rice is the most important food crop in the world, especially for the poor, aside from answering the current food security problem, James said.

“[More than] 90 percent of rice is grown and consumed in Asia by some of the poorest people in the world—the 250-million Asian households whose resource-poor rice farmers cultivate on average a meager half a hectare of rice,” the ISAAA report said.

Bt eggplant may be available as the first biotech-food crop in India within the next 12 months, the ISAAA report said. India is the fourth-largest producer of biotech crops with GM cotton planted in 7.6 million hectares.

Other crops that are expected to be available in the market before 2015 are potatoes with pest and/or disease resistance and modified quality for industrial use; sugar cane with quality and agronomic traits; and disease-resistant bananas.

Biotech vegetable crops—such as tomato, broccoli, cabbage and okra—that would require reduced amount of insecticides are being developed, along with propoor biotech cassava, sweet potato, pulses and ground nut, the report said.

Hautea noted the significance of 2015 as the end of the second decade when new biotech crops are available, because it is the target year under the Millennium Development Goals when a secure supply of affordable food is ensured and poverty and hunger have been reduced by 50 percent.

James said in the report that 2 billion acres or 800 million hectares were planted to biotech crops from 1996 to 2008, and that 13.3-million farmers in 25 countries planted biotech crops in 125 million hectares last year.

Among the notable developments, the report said, was the adoption of biotech crops in the African countries of Egypt (700 hectares of Bt corn) and Burkina Faso (8,500 hectares of Bt cotton), joining South Africa in biotech farming which, since 1998, has planted biotech cotton, corn and soybean.

“...Africa is considered the ‘final frontier’ for biotech crops as it has perhaps the greatest need and most to gain,” ISAAA said.

In the Philippines, 200,000 small farmers planted about 350,000 hectares of Bt corn farms in 2008.

A socioeconomic impact study cited by ISAAA said that small farmers in the Philippines earn an additional income of P7,482 a hectare in the dry season and P7,080 in the wet season from Bt corn in crop year 2003-2004.

Multiawarded biotech corn farmer Lydia Lapastora of Isabela province said in the same media briefing she netted P11,021 a hectare from planting GM corn compared with the traditional varieties.

Bt corn is the only transgenic crop commercially planted in the Philippines. However, 46 other products with GM traits, such as soya and canola, are allowed to be imported into the country, said Dr. Emil Javier, president of the National Academy of Science and Technology, in the same briefing.

Javier said in a speech that in order for the Philippines to hasten the development of biotech crops, it should “sharpen [its] focus” on transgenic traits already commercialized by other countries and apply them in local crops so that it could “reap the full benefits of plant biotechnology with the resources and opportunities at hand.”

He cited as example the development of Bt eggplant, and ring-spot virus-resistant papaya and delayed-ripening papaya in the country.

“We must put in more resources and speed up and scale up their testing and commercialization,” he urged.

He also raised the need for more lawyers and technical people with “business savvy” that would sort out the legal and financial applications of biotech technologies that could be applied in the country.

He said almost all of the country’s agribiotech research and development experts are in public hands but they do not have this kind of expertise in house.

“We must explore new ways of sourcing these expertise from the private sector to free our scientists from these roles they have no aptitude for, in the first place. We need lawyers and ‘techies’ to negotiate with foreign technology owners as well as with domestic private investors who will put up the capital and manage the enterprise,” Javier said.

Besides the 25 countries growing biotech crops, Hautea said, 30 countries are not growing but importing such products, and three to four countries “unofficially” (not legally sanctioned by their governments) grow GM crops.

The countries planting biotech crops are (according to hectarage): United States covering 62.5 million hectares with soybean, corn, cotton, canola, squash, papaya, alfalfa and sugar beet; Argentina, 21 million (soybean, corn and cotton); Brazil, 15.8 million (soybean, corn and cotton); India, 7.6 million (cotton); Canada, 7.6 million (canola, corn, soybean and sugar beet); China, 3.8 million (cotton, tomato, poplar, petunia, papaya and sweet pepper); Paraguay, 2.7 million (soybean); South Africa, 1.8 million (corn, soybean and cotton); Uruguay, 700,000 (soybean and corn); Bolivia, 600,000 (soybean); Philippines, 400,000 (corn); Australia, 200,000 (cotton, canola and carnation); Mexico, 100,000 (cotton, soybean); Spain, 100,000 (corn);

Those planting biotech crops in less than 100,000 hectares are Chile with corn, soybean and canola; Colombia (cotton and carnation); Honduras (corn); Burkina Faso (cotton); and Czech Republic, Romania, Portugal, Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Egypt with GM corn.

By 2015, the ISAAA projection is that from the current 25 countries 40 more will plant biotech crops with 20 million or more farmers involved in about 200 million hectares.

Business Mirror

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