GM traits | Brazil’s market share is expanding due to faster approval times, says Syngenta official
CALGARY — Brazil is gaining market share in global grain markets at the expense of the United States because of faster approval times for genetically modified crops, say seed technology companies.
“It’s an example of doing it right,” David Morgan, North America regional director for Syngenta Seeds, told the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference 2013.
“They’ve made huge leaps in agricultural exports because of their efficient biotechnology approval.”
Brazil has approved 23 new GM varieties in the past five years.
“The U.S. government has eked out only seven in the same time frame,” said Morgan.
Syngenta’s products are increasingly getting approval in Brazil before the U.S.
“Is it really a surprise that Brazil’s share of the agriculture export market has doubled in the last decade from five to nine percent?” he said.
Eric Sachs, regulatory scientific and policy lead for Monsanto, said average approval times that were once eight years in Brazil have dropped to one year.
It’s the opposite in the U.S., where approval times have risen to three years, almost triple what they used to be. Meanwhile, the list of products awaiting approval is rising.
The amount of biotech products in the research and development pipeline slated for approval between 2011 and 2020 exceeds all of the products that received approval before 2011. And yet approval times have more than doubled in the U.S.
“That’s a hurdle. That’s a real barrier that we face every day as we try and bring new technologies to the market,” said Sachs.
Anti-GM groups have successfully sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture for not taking a hard enough look at data supplied by seed technology companies.
To avoid more lawsuits, the USDA is requesting more data from seed developers and spending more time scrutinizing the data. In some cases, it has conducted lengthy environmental impact statements.
“Part of what USDA is doing is trying to make a decision that will stand and be defensible in the face of the attacks that they’re facing,” said Sachs.
In Brazil, there is the political will to speed approval times.
“I would say there is probably much more emphasis on the issue of growing their agriculture sector in Brazil than perhaps the U.S. The U.S. has got more distractions,” said Sachs.
The result is that Brazilian farmers have access to the latest technology, leading to improved yields and more crops available for export.
Sachs said there is a growing recognition within the USDA that the status quo is unsustainable.
“They acknowledge that their process has gotten longer than they’re satisfied with, and so they have been putting a lot of effort to make their decisions faster,” he said.
Approval times fell in 2012, which Sachs said is an encouraging sign.
Seed developers see Canada in a favourable light. It takes an average of 20 months to get approval to cultivate a GM crop in Canada, which is two to three times shorter than the average time in the European Union and China.
China is a particularly frustrating market for seed technology companies. Morgan said the government uses its regulatory system as a political or economic weapon.
Syngenta’s Agrisure Viptera trait has been approved in most of the world’s major markets except China, where the dossier has sat for two years with little to no progress.
“Something strange and something wrong there,” said Morgan.
Sachs hopes a new technology that companies are using to create powerful microbials will avoid the headaches experienced in the GM crop approval process.
RNA interference uses RNA molecules to target specific genes in pests that wipe out the bugs without harming crops or beneficial organisms.
“Because we’re applying them topically and we’re not using GM techniques, we’re hopeful that they’ll go through a regulatory path that is shorter in getting that technology to the farmer and to society quicker,” said Sachs.
The average time to get a microbial product approved is 18 months to two years compared to three years or more for GM crops.