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2-Plants: Synganta seeks approval for GE rice for dialysis patients

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TITLE:  Swiss Company Seeks Approval for GM Rice To Benefit Kidney
SOURCE: Financial Times, UK/Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, USA
DATE:   Aug 20, 2002

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Swiss Company Seeks Approval for GM Rice To Benefit Kidney Patients

In a new tack for its controversial genetically modified products, 
Syngenta, the world's largest agrochemicals group, is seeking marketing 
approval for a genetically engineered rice designed to improve the diet of 
kidney dialysis patients, reports the Financial Times of London.

The new strain of rice has been altered to remove a protein responsible for 
allergic reactions. Aimed at the Asian market, it promises to improve the 
lives of kidney dialysis patients, who cannot eat rice because of an 
intolerance to the cereal's high protein content. Although the sales 
potential is not significant, approval by Japanese regulators would mark a 
new strategy for Syngenta - formed last year by the merger of AstraZeneca's 
agrochemical concerns with those of its Swiss rival Novartis. As with its 
US rival, Monsanto, it has been forced to scale back its ambitions for GM 
crops in the face of widespread opposition in Europe and Brazil.

Syngenta has learned from Monsanto's climb-down after it failed to persuade 
European consumers that crops altered to produce their own insecticides, or 
to become resistant to weedkillers, were safe. The company is spearheading 
its GM effort outside the US with crops that have clear benefits to 

Michael Pragnell, Syngenta chief executive, believes such crops will force 
regulators and customers to change the way they look at the GM issue, 
focusing on the risk-benefit ratio of individual products rather than the 
technology as a whole. "It's a niche market, but it's a latch-lifter, the 
regulators either have to become less fastidious or deny benefits to 
patients," Mr. Pragnell said in an interview with the Financial Times.

"We are pursuing these markets not because we will make a fortune, but 
because it will introduce some regulatory tension." David Evans, head of 
research, is under no illusion about the difficulty of winning over 
European consumers to the benefits of GM.

"The challenge is convincing the consumer it's safe. The second rung of the 
ladder is demonstrating real consumer benefits," he said. "But we need to 
be able to do the trials and you can't do trials in Europe right now."

Syngenta's $2.5 billion in revenues from GM seeds are just a tenth of those 
of Monsanto, but analysts say Syngenta has one of the most impressive 
technology platforms in the industry.

Last year, Syngenta beat Monsanto and the public-sector International Rice 
Sequencing Project in the race to decode the genome of rice, the world's 
most important cereal crop. Larger than the human genome, and sharing much 
in common with other cereal crops, rice will provide a map for altering the 
genome of a wide variety of staple foods.


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