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Stories

Are GMOs Fuelling the Brazilian Future?


With the current rise in petrol prices, and in light of the threat of global warming, the use of crops for the production of bioethanol recently has attracted increasing attention. Historically the most experienced, Brazil also is one of the leading countries producing ethanol from the saccharose of sugar cane.

Second only to the US as largest ethanol producer worldwide, Brazil generated over 15 billion litres in 2005. The country’s knowledge base also includes the use of biofuel: in 2005, cars capable of using ethanol comprised more than 50 % of the Brazilian market for new vehicles. To enhance the country’s biofuel production, local scientists are working on the development of new GM plants to provide heightened sugar yields or other improved characteristics.

Bioethanol represents an alternative for petrol.

GM sugar cane by end of decade

In this regard, the Cane Technology Center (CTC), a private firm based in the state of Sao Paulo, made a great step forward in February 2007 by obtaining approval from the Brazilian authorities for field trials with three varieties of genetically modified cane. According to the organisation, these GM plants have been modified to exhibit sucrose levels 15 % higher than those of ordinary sugar cane – for now, under laboratory conditions. However, if field trials are successful, the company may bring these plants to market by the end of the decade. Nonetheless, some scientists expect that progress may be delayed through opposition from environmental groups.

The development of CTC’s high-sucrose GM plants builds on the success of the Brazilian Sugar Cane EST Genome Project (SUCEST). This project was funded by FAPESP, the Sao Paulo State research agency, and was carried out by several Brazilian universities between 1998 and 2003. Scientists used project results to establish one of the most comprehensive databases integrating genome sequences for this crop. Subsequently, with cooperation of the Cane Technology Center (CTC), the Lucelia Central Alcohol Distillery, and various Brazilian universities, a new project was launched to analyse more than 2,000 genes of sugar cane. Researchers found and patented 200 target genes related to the accumulation of saccharose in the plant.

Other biotech companies also are interested in the potentially large market of GM sugar canes. The local company Allellyx is such an example, and still is awaiting approval from the Brazilian authorities to conduct field trials with several sugar cane varieties. Equally, the governmental linked agricultural research firm EMBRAPA, as well as the US multinational company Monsanto, also newly have expressed interest in stepping up research in this area.

In 2005, Brazil generated more than 15 billion litres of ethanol from sugar cane

New Funding Paves the Way

In February 2007, the federal government announced plans to fuel Brazilian biotechnology by investing 3.5 billion EUR in this area over the next decade. The budget will be used to fund biotechnological research, including the development of a new strain of sugar cane that is resistant to drought. By developing canes with this characteristic, Brazil may be able to expand crops into areas which are substantially drier than the south-central region, where currently almost 90 percent of Brazil’s sugar and ethanol are produced.

Brazil’s struggle with GMOs

Brazil has been the last major exporter to ban GMO food crops for a long time. The first GM plants in Brazil were Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans, imported illegally from Argentina. This crop was legalised only in 2005 – at which point already 30 percent of the soybean plants were genetically modified – and now comprise two-thirds of soy production.

The Bollgard Bt cottonseed is the only other biotech crop approved for cultivation. Although Brazilian authorities approved the planting under several safety prerequisites, the Ministry of the Environment, as well as NGOs, still oppose the planting due to the possibility of crossing with native cotton species.

New governmental funding, as well as scientific progress on the development of GM plants, have the potential to push forward the Brazilian biofuel production. However, since bureaucracy and popular opposition to GM products may slow down the progress, some experts say that the government may fall short of its goals.

 

 


An EU Research Project

What are the risks of growing GM crops?

What are the benefits?

Numerous studies have addressed the potential impacts of genetically modified (GM) plants. Yet the existing evidence on the effects of GM plants is often contradictory and the quality of scientific research varies widely.

Therefore, the GRACE project will establish new tools for assessing the quality of existing studies and will conduct comprehensive reviews to identify health, environmental and socio-economic impacts of GM plants.

More information

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Are GMOs Fuelling the Brazilian Future?
Latest Eurobarometer: Yes to Biotech – No to GM Food
Barley, Beer and Biotechnology
Farm Fresh Pharmaceuticals
Study: GM Soy Dangerous for Newborns?
Safety evaluation: GM peas in Australia with unexpected side-effects
The western corn rootworm: A pest coming to a maize field near you
Plants for the Future
Crops and Cereals
Gm Plants: Cultivation and Futur Projects
Soybeans
Maize
Rape Seed
Cotton
Sugar beet
Wheat
Potato
Rice
March 8, 2007 [nach oben springen]

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