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Battered Gene Giants Seek to Conquer Asia

Battered Gene Giants Seek
to Conquer Asia

The Hindu (India)
January 19, 2002
GM FOOD FIRMS HEAD FOR ASIAN MARKETS

BY: Harichandan A.A.

BANGALORE, JAN 18. Opposition to genetically modified (GM) food is
strong in the European Union and is gaining ground even in the U.S., which
accounts for close to 70 per cent of all GM crops grown, owing to concerns
on effects on health and environment, says GeneWatch, an NGO in the U.K.,
which is for more open debate on GM technologies.

So, are agri-biotech companies focussing on Asia to expand markets?
Yes, says Sue Mayer, Director, GeneWatch, and member of the Agriculture
Environment and Biotechnology Commission. Dr. Mayer, who was part of
the British delegation which participated in the recently-concluded India-U.K.
Science Festival, spoke to The Hindu on the developments in the E.U. and
the U.S. that have a bearing on the future of GM crops in Asia.

While no new GM foods were given approval for cultivation, import, or
consumption in the year 2000 in Europe, India will soon see large-scale
commercialisation of Bt cotton (Monsanto's transgenic cotton variety,
said to have pest resistance).

India is strategically important'' to Monsanto for cotton, says Dr. Mayer.
India, Indonesia, China and Thailand are among the Asian countries that
are very important to GM food companies.''

While GM crops are selling well in the U.S., there is evidence that
resistance is growing, especially in the absence of a strong monitoring
system. This was demonstrated when StarLink, a GM maize variety
from Aventis, was found in taco shells, meant for human consumption
while it was approved only for animal feed. Starlink also contained a
toxin that shared characteristics with many human allergens. Public
distrust of governments in the EU has been stoked by the fact that the
governments have been dominated by an unquestioning commitment
to biotechnology as a key driver of industrial competitiveness.''

Yet, the slowdown in large-scale cultivation is apparent from the fact that
in 2000, the cultivation of commercial GM crop grew by 11 per cent globally,
compared to 1999 when cultivation had increased at a rate of 44 per cent
from 27.8 million hectares in 1998 to 39.9 million hectares in 1999. The
trend continued in 2001.

Finding markets in Asia then, would take priority.

The fact that there is little informed public debate on such issues is
perhaps another reason that India is strategic to the GM crops companies.
In the E.U., for example, concerns about health have led to a demand for
labelling of GM food and ensure traceability - knowledge of where a GM
food product was coming from and where it was going. There is a demand
now to include derivatives'' too - for example, soyabeen oil, which by itself
contains no GM material but could have been extracted from GM soyabeen.
The GM crop companies have lobbied hard to make use of GM food a
consumer choice.


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