Non-GE Canola (Rapeseed) Will Replace GE Varieties in EU

Genetically Modified rapeseed (canola) heading for agronomic scrap heap?
New high performance non-gm OSR lines from Syngenta
(the address of this page is )
May 2001

Despite the huge controversy over the UK farm scale GM crop trials, it looks
increasingly likely that their main element - Aventis's herbicide tolerant
oilseed rape - may never be deployed commercially due to major advances in
conventional plant breeding by rival seed company Syngenta (it is already
clear that GM sugar beet will not be commercialised in the UK due to a
market embargo by British Sugar).

As reported by Farmers Weekly 4 May (see article below) Syngenta is set to
take nearly half the UK oilseed rape seed market this year despite having
less than 1% of the market five years ago. Syngenta's anticipated move into
poll position is thanks to new non-gm varieties that have been developed
using marker assisted breeding or 'MAB' (for more on 'MAB' see:
Although Syngenta have substantial genetic engineering capabilities Farmers
Weekly reports in a supplementary article that it is unwilling to deploy GM
technology outside of laboratory conditions because of European seed purity
standards and the attendant risk of seed contamination if GM varieties are
released into the environment.

According to Syngenta's Dr Stephan Pleines, head of plant breeding at the
firm's Bad Salzuflen station in Germany: "A level of absolute zero gives us
no possibility of growing GM crops even in trials. No producer can guarantee
that level of purity.... We have the advantage of not having been involved
in trials here in Europe so we do not have the risk of in-house

Organic and conventional farmers wishing to remain GM-free are likely to be
impressed by Syngenta's approach to due diligence and quality standards in
this area - an approach which other companies like Aventis have yet to
follow. Ironically the more restrained approach of Syngenta looks likely to
prove a more effective business strategy. Substantial financial dividends
are in the offing for Syngenta as the use of MAB promises to provide
varieties whose overall agronomic performance appears likely to be
significantly ahead of transgenic lines coming out of the Aventis stable.

Although complete information on Aventis's current breeding programme is
difficult to come by there have been prior indications that there are
potential problems with the agronomic performance of their transgenic
herbicide tolerant varieties. These stem from a number of factors:

* it is well-known that genetic modification methods can be sensitive to
background genotype meaning that they cannot always be directly applied to
the best breeding lines. It is also known that genetic modification can
disturb other aspects of genome function resulting in damaged agronomic
performance - as in the case of Roundup Ready soya beans, for example (for
more on this see: )

* earlier work by ADAS and the Scottish Agricultural College revealed
that mean yields from Aventis GM varieties were lower than those of
conventional hybrids, Synergy and Pronto (for more on this see: )

* Synergy and Pronto are now outclassed in terms of yield by other
hybrids, and Syngenta's new varieties now outyield those as well

* the peer reviewed ADAS work showed that Aventis GM rape did not provide
a positive financial margin over herbicide costs, so there is little chance
that any savings in costs from reduced herbicide applications (if indeed
there are any - for more on this see:
are going to make up for any reduced crop yields.

It is clear that the anticipated changes in Syngenta's commercial fortunes
in the European seed market are in large part due to its move away from
varieties incorporating recombinant DNA (i.e genetic modification) towards
modern conventional varieties developed through the use of MAB.

According to Farming News, May 3, Syngenta's oilseed rape breeding arm,
NK, "is making extensive use of marker breeding technology to speed up the
breeding process." Farming News also quotes Dr Pleines on the subject:
"Marker-assisted breeding was a dream 20 years ago, but now the technology
is being developed quickly".

Farming News reports that in addition to current yield improvements Syngenta
is also working on improved oil content, disease resistance and harvesting

Syngenta's successful use of MAB techniques and its commitment to avoid
releases of genetically modified varieties into the environment means that
it is increasingly unlikely that GM oilseed rape will gain a commercial
foothold in Europe. In the process Syngenta itself looks likely to become
one of the most successful breeding houses for oilseed rape in Europe. If so
their innovative and more responsible approach will have paid handsome
dividends - literally as far as shareholders are concerned.

These developments follow Syngenta's earlier announcement that it has
stopped its trials of GM sugar beet in Europe. Combined with its latest
successes in oilseed rape breeding Syngenta is now well placed to capture
both the moral and financial high ground in the agbiotech sector.

Syngenta is the world's largest agribusiness group born out of the merger of
the UK's AstraZeneca and Switzerland's Novartis. To what extent Syngenta
continues to capitalise on its new approach to plant breeding and to use its
powerful position in the market place responsibly remains to be seen.

Meanwhile the justification for the UK government's persistence with the
farm scale GM trials is increasingly being brought into question on
agronomic grounds (in addition to ongoing environmental and social
objections) as a result of the MAB work being carried out by Syngenta and
other agricultural scientists.

Farmers Weekly 4 May 2001
Pair of chart-topping varieties lead Syngenta's market plans
Plant breeder Sygenta Seeds has big plans for the oilseed rape market.
Andrew Swallow visited its German breeding headquarters to find out more
SYNGENTA Seeds, a relative newcomer to the oilseed rape seeds market, could
take nearly half the business this summer thanks to two new chart-topping

"If everything goes swimmingly we could have 40-45% market share this year,"
says UK sales and marketing manager, Nigel Padbury.

"Five years ago we had less than half of 1%."

At the heart of that prediction are his hopes for new UK Recommended List
varieties Royal and Recital. "We have enough Royal for 8-10% of the market
and Recital could take 15-17%," he says.

Royal, as the hybrid list leader at 111% of control yield, outyields
previous top hybrid Gemini by 7% and outstrips CPB's debutant Disco by 3%.
Price has been set at £55/ha (£22/acre), based on a recommended 60 seeds/sq
m sowing rate with iprodione/thiram seed treatment. "It is a premium price
which reflects its position on the list," says Mr Padbury.

Recital is a conventional variety with a yield score of 105, more in tune
with the hybrids than previous conventional list leaders Escort and
Fortress. Seed will be sold in 22kg/ha packs at a price which, based on
Syngenta's recommended 5.5kg/ha, works out at £45/ha (£18/acre).
"It really is a Madrigal mark two," says Mr Padbury, who accepts some of
Recital's market share will be at the expense of that variety and Fortress.
But their market share should still be 5% and 15%, respectively, he

[NLPWessex footnote: Farming News also reports on Syngenta's new rape hybrid
'Spirit' with a yield of 109% relative to control varieties]

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