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TITLE:  Monsanto sees Asia warm to bio-crops for food security
SOURCE: Dow Jones News, by Joyce Teo, jteo@ap.org
DATE:   June 30, 1999

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Monsanto sees Asia warm to bio-crops for food security

SINGAPORE (Dow Jones) - Asia is warming to genetically modified
organisms in agriculture and will step up usage of such
technology over the next few years, said Charles Martin, vice
president for corporate communications at Monsanto Far East Ltd.
While debate rages in Europe on the merits of GMO's, Asia has
been relatively untouched by the controversy, with concerns about
such crops tempered by the need to increase yields to achieve
food security, Martin said in an interview with Dow Jones
Newswires. Monsanto Far East is a division of Monsanto Co., a
U.S. life-sciences company and the world's leading distributor of
genetically modified seeds. Its main GMO products are soybeans,
corn, canola and cotton.

GMO foods may still be very new to Asian consumers, but all Asian
countries are importing foods containing them. A large amount of
Asian food imports come from the U.S., where "more than half of
the U.S. soybean crop and 40% of the U.S. corn crop are GMO's,"
said Martin, who is based in Beijing. While already eating these
crops, not all Asian countries are growing them. Asian
governments are "at various stages of refining their regulations
as to what you have to do in terms of testing, the safety
requirements (and) environmental requirements in order to grow
these crops in the country," he said. "In the U.S., (GMO crops
have) been approved for planting and in Asia, the only country
that has planted GMOs is China," he said. In Europe, nine GMO
crop varieties have been approved for planting, he said.

At the moment, Monsanto is selling its Bacillus thuringiensis, or
Bt, cotton seed only to China, the world's largest cotton
producer. Bacillus thuringiensis is an insect-killing soil
bacteria used in Bt cotton seed, which was commercialized in 1998
after four years of testing, said Martin. Monsanto is now
conducting field tests on Bt corn in China, Thailand and
Indonesia, and will target the Philippines later this year, he
said.


Sales of GMO cotton seed in China rising

Testing and obtaining approval to develop and sell the seeds will
take two to three years, Martin said. However, the success of the
crops will depend a lot on market acceptance, on "whether the
farmers like the technology," he said. He noted that GMO crops
have clear benefits for Asian nations concerned with food
security. He highlighted two specific areas: lower food prices
through lower production costs and reduced usage of pesticides,
which are both expensive and can kill a lot of insects
unnecessarily. "This technology can help them to produce more and
help their farmers make more income, just like in China. Our
sales there are increasing because farmers there know that it
makes sense," said Martin. Monsanto is authorized to sell its Bt
cotton only in China's Hebei province. There it has this year
raised its coverage by 10% from one million mu in 1998, its first
commercial year. One mu is 0.067 hectare. The Philippines is also
keen on using genetic engineering to keep production costs down
and to maintain food security, he said. "They have very high
imports, particularly in corn," Martin said. Also, "the price for
corn is much higher domestically than in the international
market, so they need to get their production costs down and they
need to get their imports down."


Philippines tests to start soon; problems in India

Tests will soon start on Bt corn, which resists the Asian corn
borer, a pest that is greatly reducing corn productivity and
yields in the Philippines, he said. The Asian corn borer is
responsible for 10% - 30% of the country's annual corn harvest
losses. "We're hoping we're going to get upwards of a 20% yield
increase," and that would mean higher farmer incomes, said
Martin. India is another country which would greatly benefit from
reduced pesticide use, but it also happens to be the only Asian
country where strong opposition to GMO's is felt, he said.
Indeed, the future of Monsanto's Bt cotton field tests in India,
the world's third largest cotton producer, is now in the hands of
the Indian High Court, said Martin. Last year, some 300 Indian
farmers committed suicide because they didn't have an effective
insecticide to kill the bollworms. The farmers had ended up with
no crops and huge debts, said Martin. But a "hysteria" has been
created by a very small group of people, said Martin. These non
government groups want to block the cotton seed, he said, adding
that they "have to bear responsibility for what they are doing to
the poor farmers." "There's a small minority, very vocal, that's
imposing their will on the majority and its anti-science," he
said, adding these groups had burned a number of Monsanto's test
plots.

The debate in India over GMO crops centers around the fear that
the GMO seeds contain "terminator" genes whereby the crops
produced are infertile and of no use for new planting. Such
terminator technology is banned in India. Monsanto and
Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Co., in which Monsanto has a stake, deny
that they are testing such seeds. Mahyco is conducting the tests
in India for Monsanto. Also, Indian environmentalists have
accused Monsanto of planting 40 GMO cotton trial sites in five
Indian states without getting approval from the appropriate
government ministry. India's Andhra Pradesh state, where many
farmers committed suicide, stopped the Bt cotton field trials
late last year.


Looking to Singapore as a model

Science, Martin stressed, will set things right in future. He
said scientists are mostly supportive of genetic engineering. "If
you look at it from the scientific point of view, the research is
all positive news," he said. "Generally, the governments in the
region have been supportive. There have been negative articles in
the press, but it's usually anti-biotech NGOs (non-government
organizations) making their views known." In Europe, the strong
debate brewing over GMO's is "only a crisis of regulators," said
Martin. "There is a mistrust of regulators...We don't think there
is any scientific basis for what's happening in Europe," he said.
"The mad cow disease happened to coincide with the introduction
of GMOs. I think there is a tendency to generalize and to see all
as part of just 'the unknowns.' Europe's main focus is on
labeling...the key is for them to work out a way to segregate
GMO's from non-GMO's."

"Monsanto is in favor of labeling...The most practical way of
labeling is to label those foods that are free of GMOs," said
Martin. A supermarket would thus have a GMO-free food section,
just like an organic food section. The rest of the foods would
contain GMO products, he said. In Asia, the Genetic Modification
Advisory Committee, set up in Singapore in March this year, will
come up with a set of recommendations on labeling and
biotechnology regulations by the year-end, said Martin. Martin
said that, because Singapore is viewed as a model for Asia, the
outlook for GMO crops and food products looks very promising.




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