In December, 2016, Gustavo Leite, Sugarcane Technology Center (CTC) CEO, stated that the first variety of transgenic sugarcane would be released commercially in the first half of 2017.
Six months later, as reported by Reuters on June 8, 2017, it’s here.
Reuters also reports that the variety of genetically engineered sugarcane approved “is resistant to the insect Diatraea saccharalis, known locally as ‘broca-da-cana’ (cane borer)” and that this variety of GM cane contains the Bt gene widely used in other crops including corn, cotton, eggplant, potato and yet to be commercially available tomato and soybean.
The prospect for genetically modified sugarcane is much bigger than the advantage of pest resistance. As reported in the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), “Scientists find sugarcane as an ideal plant for the co-production of certain substances for medical and industrial applications.” In respect to using sugarcane as a biofactory, they warn that “the potential has drawn scientific and business interests, but its release for commercial use would be a huge regulatory challenge, especially if it is intended for open field cultivation.”
To this point, opponents of genetically engineering crops have been safely buying products that contain sugarcane knowing that a genetically engineered version of the plant was not commercially available.
In 2011, Coca-Cola Co. and H.J. Heinz Co. announced it will produce ketchup bottles using Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle packaging. As reported by Greenhouse Management, “The PET plastic bottles are made partially from plants and have a lower reliance on non-renewable resources compared with traditional PET plastic bottles.” In PET plastic, 30% of the material is made from plants by using sugarcane ethanol from Brazil.
Before BPA was linked to heart disease, it was deemed safe to use for packaging. Will they be using genetically engineered sugarcane ethanol from Brazil in their PET plastic bottles? What components of this new PET packaging will eventually affect human health and the environment? What other industrial applications will be implemented?
In the future CTC “intends to introduce traits that will make sugarcane tolerant to another insect and a herbicide.” It appears as if future versions of genetically engineered sugarcane will pave the way for more herbicide use. What will be the health impact to Brazil’s sugarcane field workers of increased herbicide use?
Ironically, in 2017, Brazil, the world’s second largest producer of GM crops in the world, “officially joined the growing list of countries that are refusing GMO imports from the United States.” The country “originally banned GM products in 1998, but amended it in 2003 to include measures to regulate sales through the use of warning labels.”
Paradoxically, in the U.S., President Obama signed a bill being described as the “Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act“ in 2016. This was a blow to transparency surrounding our food and also preempted state’s rights to enact similar legislation requiring GMO labels on food packaging like those that were in effect in Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and Alaska.