ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

21 August 2002


Syngenta are trying a new tack to get round GE opposition.

Note the following: "Itís a niche market, but itís a latch-lifter".

"We are pursuing these markets not because we will make a fortune, but because it will introduce some regulatory tension."

Since it's being touted as a medical product, perhaps it should be regulated as such.


Syngenta tries rice in fight for GM approval

By David Firn in Basle
Financial Times, August 19 2002

In a new tack for its controversial genetically modified products, Syngenta, the world's largest agrochemicals group, is seeking marketing approval for a genetically engineered rice designed to improve the diet of kidney dialysis patients.

The new strain of rice has been altered to remove a protein responsible for allergic reactions. Aimed at the Asian market, it promises to improve the lives of kidney dialysis patients, who cannot eat rice because of an intolerance to the cereal's high protein content.

Although the sales potential is not significant, approval by Japanese regulators would mark a new strategy for Syngenta - formed last year by the merger of AstraZeneca's agrochemical concerns with those of its Swiss rival Novartis. As with its US rival, Monsanto, it has been forced to scale back its ambitions for GM crops in the face of widespread opposition in Europe and Brazil.

Syngenta has learned from Monsanto's climb-down after it failed to persuade European consumers that crops altered to produce their own insecticides, or to become resistant to weedkillers, were safe.

The company is spearheading its GM effort outside the US with crops that have clear benefits to customers.

Michael Pragnell, Syngenta chief executive, believes such crops will force regulators and customers to change the way they look at the GM issue, focusing on the risk-benefit ratio of individual products rather than the technology as a whole.

"It's a niche market, but it's a latch-lifter, the regulators either have to become less fastidious or deny benefits to patients," Mr Pragnell said in an interview with the Financial Times.

"We are pursuing these markets not because we will make a fortune, but because it will introduce some regulatory tension."

David Evans, head of research, is under no illusion about the difficulty of winning over European consumers to the benefits of GM.

"The challenge is convincing the consumer it's safe. The second rung of the ladder is demonstrating real consumer benefits," he said.

"But we need to be able to do the trials and you can't do trials in Europe right now."

Syngenta's $2.5bn revenues from GM seeds are just a tenth of those of Monsanto, but analysts say Syngenta has one of the most impressive technology platforms in the industry.

Last year, Syngenta beat Monsanto and the public-sector International Rice Sequencing Project in the race to decode the genome of rice, the world's most  important cereal crop. Larger than the human genome, and sharing much in common with other cereal crops, rice will provide a map for altering the genome of a wide variety of staple foods.

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