[CAIRO] Egypt has approved the cultivation and commercialisation
of a Bt maize variety, marking the first legal introduction
of genetically modified (GM) crops into the country.
A report last month (16 April) from the US Department of Agriculture,
noted that the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture had "approved
decisions made by the National Biosafety Committee and Seed
Registration Committee to allow for commercialisation of a
genetically modified Bt corn variety".
The endorsement was based on a series of field trials conducted
between 2002 and 2007 for the variety MON 810, produced by
biotechnology company Monsanto. Bt crops produce a toxin that
guards against pests.
The variety to be distributed, Ajeeb-YG, is a cross between
MON 810 and an Egyptian maize variety with resistance to three
corn borer pests, developed by Monsanto scientists in South
Africa — currently the only African country planting
GM crops commercially.
Cairo-based company Fine Seeds International is partnering
with Monsanto to distribute the variety in Egypt.
Ahmad Yaseen, an agricultural engineer at Fine Seeds, says
the seeds will be available this month to farmers in ten Egyptian
Yaseen said the seeds will initially be imported from South
Africa, but "starting from next year, Ajeeb-YG will be
produced in Egypt".
Amr Farouk Abdelkhalik, an Egyptian biotechnologist and regional
coordinator of the Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa,
says the new variety "points to the potential agronomic
and environmental benefits of Bt maize in Egyptian cropping
systems and accordingly the reduction of the massive use of
"We should develop our own GM plants using our genes
and technology to protect small-scale farmers," he added.
Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a plant biotechnologist at the National
Research Centre in Cairo, expressed concerns about the long-term
effects of the crop.
He says research on the issues surrounding GM crops "must
be conducted in Egypt, and an in-depth assessment must be carried
out to examine the impact of GM plants on small-scale farmers".
Egypt currently has no official biosafety legislation, though
a regulatory framework exists. Hisham El-Shishtawy from the
National Biosafety Committee secretariat told SciDev.Net that
the existing framework follows the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
and encompasses ministerial decrees regulating the registration
of GM seeds.