Monsanto hails GM launches as ‘game-changers’

Launches of genetically modified crop traits in North America mark the beginning of an explosion of high-impact products, leading biotech firm Monsanto says.

“This year you will see the first of those game-changing products delivering on the farm,” Robb Fraley, Monsanto chief technology officer, said announcing that 11 biotech projects had moved closer to commercialisation.

The firm described two of them as its largest ever commercial product launches, with Roundup Ready 2 Yield soya beans, its second-generation version of the herbicide tolerant trait, expected to be grown on 8-10m acres this spring.

In addition, around 4m acres of SmartStax maize, developed in conjunction with Dow AgroSciences, are expected be grown. SmartStax stacks eight herbicide and insect-tolerance traits into one product for US and Canadian farmers.

Monsanto is also working on a version of SmartStax that will allow growers to plant just a single product in fields. Currently a proportion of the field has to be planted with a non-insect-protected variety to minimise the risk of target pests developing resistance.

By combining biotech and 5% refuge seeds in one bag, growers won’t need to plant a separate, potentially lower yielding refuge, the firm claimed. The refuge-in-a-bag product has been sent for regulatory evaluation by the US Environment Protection Agency, with aim for first sales in either 2012 or 2013.

The firm is at a similar stage with its first biotech product with a direct consumer dietary benefit. SDA omega-3 soya beans offer a land-based source of SDA that converts to the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil.

Last year the US Food and Drug Administration issued a “Generally Recognised As Safe” notice allowing the resulting oil could be used in a variety of foods. Food companies can now formulate and test the oil in food products for future launch.

Monsanto, in conjunction with BASF, is also working on drought-tolerant maize and higher-yielding soya beans.

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