Brazil approves world's first commercial GM sugarcane: developer CTC

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil has approved commercial use of a genetically modified sugarcane, setting a milestone for the country’s highly competitive sugar industry as this is the first time such permission has been granted anywhere in the world.

Authorization was obtained by CTC Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira SA, which developed the technology and made the application seeking approval in December 2015, Chief Executive Officer Gustavo Leite told Reuters in an interview.

CTNBio was not immediately available to comment on the approval.

Leite said it would take at least three years for the first shipments of sugar produced from GM crops to reach export markets because of the pace of propagation of new cane varieties.

Brazil has about 10 million hectares of sugarcane fields and potential to plant GM cane in up to 15 percent of this area, Leite said.

Given the characteristics of the crop, this may take 10 years to achieve, he said.

Brazil exports sugar to about 150 countries and some 60 percent of them do not demand regulatory approval to import sugar made from genetically modified organisms.

“Approval from CTNBio is crucial for the ones which do,” Leite said.

CTC has made applications to clear sale of sugar made from GM cane in the United States and Canada. It will seek regulatory approval in China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and Indonesia.

CTC said the new variety is resistant to the insect Diatraea saccharalis, known locally as ‘broca-da-cana’ (cane borer), one of the main plagues in Brazil’s sugarcane fields, with an estimated 5 billion reais ($1.52 billion) of annual losses to producers. The GM cane contains the gene Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), widely used in other crops.

In the future CTC, majority owned by firms including Copersucar SA and Raízen Energia SA, intends to introduce traits that will make sugarcane tolerant to another insect and a herbicide, Leite said.

Sugar industry officials hailed the approval, but said adoption is likely to depend on each company’s commercial strategy.

Jacyr Costa, Brazil director for Tereos, said the country will profit from increased productivity of its cane fields, adding science is instrumental to achieve this.

“The adoption of GM cane is an individual decision by each company, but it is great to have this option,” he said.

Fábio Venturelli, chief executive officer of São Martinho, said producers will consider potential consumer backlash against GM products before switching to GM cane.

($1 = 3.28 reais)

Reporting by Ana Mano and Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Grant McCool