MECAS(10)05 - GM Beet and Cane: Prospects in a New Market Environment


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Genetic modification is now a mature and widely applied technology and allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between nonrelated species. This technology, primarily championed by large multinational companies based in the United States and Europe, has led to the commercial release of genetically modified (GM) crop plant species, such as genetically modified maize, soybean, oil-seed rape, cotton varieties and also one sugarbeet variety. These GM crops have special characteristics, such as: resistance to herbicides, pests and diseases; improved yields; and enhanced quality. Farmers in 25 countries planted 134 mln hectares of GM crops in 2009, an increase of 7% over the 2008 level.

Only the United States and Canada have commercialised GM sugar crops - Roundup Ready sugarbeet. GM sugarbeet achieved a remarkable 95% adoption in these 2 countries in 2009, in only its third year of commercialization. This made it the fastest adopted GM crop globally, to-date. In Europe, transgenic beet awaits approval for commercial planting. Roundup Ready sugarbeets are just the beginning of biotechnology in the sugarbeet industry. Many more traits will likely be introduced, possibly disease resistance, insect resistance, nematode resistance, higher sucrose content, drought tolerance and cold tolerance, amongst others. Several key cane sugar producing and exporting countries have embraced gene transfer technology to varying extents, but commercial varieties remain at least 3-5 years away. Both the beet sugar and cane sugar industries perceive that access to genetically modified varieties will be essential to improving productivity and lowering their costs of production. Even so it remains crucial to convince consumers in some countries that sugar from transgenic sugar crops is the same as sugar produced from conventional varieties and that there are no negative impacts for the environment from widespread cultivation of GM
beet and cane crops.

This paper identifies and assesses the key issues surrounding transgenic sugar crops from a producer and consumer perspective. The key factors impacting the potential for further commercialisation of GM beet and cane in major sugar producing countries, not only for sugar production but for energy production and alternative products such as bioplastics are examined. The need for an industry wide proactive strategy to facilitate the introduction of GM sugar crops is highlighted.





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