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7-Business: Argentina's biotech industry no threat to giants



-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Argentina's biotech industry no threat to giants
SOURCE: Reuters, by Hilary Burke
        posted by Checkbiotech, Switzerland
        http://www.checkbiotech.org/root/index.cfm?
fuseaction=newsletter&topic_id=2&subtopic_id=9&doc_id=10967
DATE:   10 Aug 2005

------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------


Argentina's biotech industry no threat to giants

BUENOS AIRES - Argentina's conflict with Monsanto over biotech soy
royalties has some farmers worried they will lose out on new
technologies, but the government says local labs will take up the slack.

Biotech experts and many others reject this argument. While Argentina's
nascent industry is growing, local companies would be hard-pressed ever
to compete with giants such as Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta or Pioneer.

"It's unrealistic for Argentina to aim for self-sufficiency in
technology," said Gerardo Bartolome, president of local seed company
Asociados Don Mario, which makes seed varieties using multinationals'
biotechnology under license.

Argentina is the world's No. 2 producer of genetically modified (GMO)
crops and a top exporter of corn, soybeans and wheat.

Monsanto and Argentina have been struggling to devise a more effective
royalty system for biotech crops, with the understanding that the U.S.
company will not introduce new technologies unless an agreement is reached.

Agriculture Secretary Miguel Campos has downplayed this, saying Argentina
will have its own GMOs to offer in two to three years.

But investment in biotechnology is a costly, long-term endeavour. And
while Argentina has qualified researchers and a proven system for
evaluating new GMOs, only a few firms have gotten in the game so far.

These biotech projects focus on crop developments of local interest, such
as virus-resistant corn and potatoes, alfalfa that vaccinates cattle
against foot-and-mouth disease, and GMO sunflower seeds and strawberries.

Private firm Bioceres is working to develop genes for soy, corn and wheat
that withstand drought and cold temperatures.

"We don't have any technical limitations, and we have excess scientific
capacity. But probably the lack of commercial know-how could limit local
efforts," said Moises Burachik, head of the government's biotechnology office.

Gustavo Grobocopatel, president of Bioceres and Argentina's so-called soy
king, agrees.

"There are many findings in our laboratories, but the real challenge lies
in taking things from the lab to the fields," Grobocopatel said.

The first locally developed GMOs will hit the market in five to seven
years, experts say.

In Europe, many environmental and consumer groups fiercely oppose biotech
crops because they say their safety has not been proven. But there is
little controversy in Argentina, where farmers have embraced cheaper and
easier-to-tend GMOs.

Shaky royalty system

Monsanto and other seed companies want to charge technology fees, or
royalties, on GMO soybeans. The current system, whereby fees are embedded
in seed prices, is unworkable because many farmers buy their seeds on the
black market.

After months of fruitless talks, Monsanto in June took its fight with the
government to European courts, filing a patent infringement suit in
Denmark against importers of Argentine soy containing the company's
Roundup Ready gene.

"For there to be projects, there must be respect for intellectual
property. If Argentina wants to be a player in modern biotechnology, it
first has to fine-tune the legal framework," said Bartolome of Asociados
Don Mario.

Bioceres, together with Biosidus and the government's research arm,
CONICET, are building a biotech research-and-development center in
Rosario called INDEAR, where 150 scientists will set to work in the next
two years.

The idea is to develop GMOs for Argentina's 25 million to 30 million
hectares of farmland. Later on, the centre could license technology to
other firms and sell it abroad.

"Out of ten projects, there may be one that allows us to recoup our
investment and make a profit," said Victor Trucco, vice president of INDEAR.

The government has said it will send to Congress a bill to promote local
investment in biotechnology, offering a series of tax breaks. Economy
Minister Roberto Lavagna said Argentina has a big competitive advantage
as one of the only developing nations to boast Nobel prize winners in
this field.

Argentina recently adopted a ten-year "strategic plan" for developing
agricultural biotechnology and has joined the United States and Canada to
challenge Europe's de facto moratorium on GMO crops at the World Trade
Organization, in a bid to force open markets.

But Burachik, head of the biotechnology office, said the state's efforts
still fall short.

"The state is not doing enough to promote technology in general, because
it spends very little of GDP on research and development. It should
invest three times more than it does to reach Chile or Brazil's levels,"
Burachik said.



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