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TITLE:  Transgenic rapeseed oil may stifle coconut oil
SOURCE: The Hindu Business Line, India, by G. K. Nair
        http://www.blonnet.com/2003/01/25/stories/2003012500221100.htm
DATE:   Jan 25, 2003

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


Transgenic rapeseed oil may stifle coconut oil

KOCHI, Jan. 24 - TRANSGENIC rapeseed oil is expected to become a serious
competitor for coconut oil in the global market as it is grown in
countries of temperate climates and will produce oil of constant long
quality and availability.

This rapeseed produces oil (Laurical - R) with high amount of lauric
acids (37 per cent) that is comparable to that of coconut oil (49 per
cent), according to senior agricultural experts.

"Although coconut oil still plays the role as a source of high-lauric
oil, competition for the lauric oil market is no longer restricted to
palm kernel," they said. With the advent of gene technology in plant
breeding, transgenic plants with modified quality have been produced
during the last couple years. Among these modified crops, transgenic
rapeseed has been approved and deregulated in the US as a commercial crop
since 1995.

However, they said, Laurical-R cannot compete with the price of coconut
oil, in the long run transgenic rapeseed oil is expected to substitute
for coconut oil in the chemical industries which uses high-lauric oils in
the production of detergents, pharmaceuticals and other products.

Mainly, in the industrial sector, coconut oil is used to make soaps,
shampoos, shaving cream, tooth paste, lubricants, paints, hydraulic
fluid, margarine and in ice cream. Besides, the contribution of coconut
to the total edible oil pool in the country is around six per cent.

India is one of the major producers of coconut in the world with an
estimated production of 12,252 million nuts from an area of 17.55 million
hectares. Of this 42 per cent is utilised for edible, religious and other
purposes; 40 per cent for the production of milling copra; 15 per cent as
tender nuts and the remaining three per cent is utilised for the
production of non-traditional products.

In fact, more than 10 million families directly and indirectly depend
upon coconut for their livelihood. Coconut's share to the GDP of the
country is over Rs 7,000 crore, they said.

According to them, the coconut oil production in the country is estimated
at three lakh tonnes and of which one third goes for edible purposes
while the rest is absorbed by the cosmetic and toiletry sector. The
current sales turn over of hair oil is around Rs 630 crore per annum.
Coconut methyl ester (CME), a product from coconut oil, was used as 100
per cent fuel for running an Asian utility vehicle equipped with an
ISUZU-C 240 diesel engine for 25,000 km, the experts pointed out. They
said production of CME was highly feasible in areas where the price of
copra is cheapest and diesel is expensive.

The vegetable oil markets are highly volatile and prices of coconut
products fluctuate generally in line with movements in other vegetable
oils. Of the four coconut products, coconut oil tops in international
trading, others being copra, copra meal and desiccated coconut.

They said the downward trend in real oilseed prices over the long term
were due to three factors--
growing production of oilseed products within the European Union;
increase in productive capacity for palm oil in Indonesia and Malaysia;
and expansion of soyabean cultivation.

To cope with the newly developed situation in the regime of WTO, the
coconut palm still remains a major agricultural crop in inter-tropical
areas. Its importance is due to its role in oil production that in turn
provides cash and subsistence to small holders in spite of several
problems which affect its productivity, particularly the use of
unimproved planting material, old-age of existing plantations in the
country and various pests and diseases, for which no definite chemical
treatment is currently available, they said.

Given the possible competition from the transgenic rapeseed oil in the
near future, special emphasis has to be given to research and development
aimed at meeting the challenges ahead.