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Egypt Egypt approves commercialization
of first GM crop by Wagdy Sawahel
13-May-2008 SciDev Net View
[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
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 pesticides".
"We should develop our own GM plants using our genes
and technology to protect small-scale farmers," he
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
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.
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