UNICA: CTC’s genetically modified sugarcane approved

By UNICA | June 14, 2017

The Comissão Técnica Nacional de Biossegurança (CTNBio - National Biosafety Technical Commission) has approved the commercial use of the first genetically-modified sugarcane (Bt Sugarcane) developed by the Brazilian sugarcane breeding and technology company Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira (CTC). The Bt Sugarcane variety was submitted to CTNBio, which considered the safety of the biotechnology-derived variety for the environment and human and animal health. This is the first genetically-modified sugarcane approved for marketing in the world.

The new variety, CTC 20 BT, is resistant to crop damage caused by the main sugarcane pest in Brazil, the sugarcane borer (Diatraea saccharalis). According to a survey carried out by agricultural experts, damage caused by the sugarcane borer results in approximately R$5 billion per year, due to losses in sugarcane yield and quality, lower grower insecticide use and costs, and impacts on processors of sugar and ethanol. The helpful Bt gene (Bacillus thuringiensis), found in CTC 20 BT, has been used widely in both Brazilian and global agriculture for over 20 years in biotechnology-derived crops like soybean, maize, cotton, among others.

“The Bt Sugarcane approval by CTNBio is a great achievement by CTC and the national sugar-ethanol sector, “ said Gustavo Leite, CTC CEO. "In the next years, we plan to expand the portfolio of varieties resistant to the borer, adapted to each of the producing regions of Brazil. Further, CTC plans to develop other varieties that are resistant to other insect pests and also tolerant to herbicides,” Leite said. He adds that, “in addition to the economic gains from CTC 20 BT, producers can both simplify their logistics and improve their operation’s environmental management.”

The extensive scientific dossier, which evaluated the genetically-modified sugarcane (GM), was submitted to CTNBio at the end of 2015 for the assessment of health and environmental safety using internationally-accepted standards. Processing studies proved that the sugar and ethanol obtained from the new variety are identical to those products derived from conventional sugarcane. Studies additionally showed that both the Bt gene and protein found in CTC 20 BT sugarcane are completely eliminated from sugarcane derivatives during the manufacturing process. Further, environmental studies did not find any negative effects on soil composition, sugarcane biodegradability, or insect populations, with the exception of the target pests (mainly the borer).

Following final approval and registration, CTC will work closely with producers, starting with CTC 20 BT seedling distribution and followed by closely-monitored field planting. Leite explains that “the seedling propagation process will proceed like any conventional new variety introduction, with a planted area growth rate that increases gradually, as new plants are replanted to expand cultivated area and not used in sugar production. This process is aligned with the schedule for obtaining international approvals for the sugar produced from the GM sugarcane,” Leite said.