Brazil’s National Biosafety Technical Commission (CTNBio) approved on 8 June the commercial use of the world’s first genetically modified (GM) sugarcane strain, developed by Brazilian sugarcane firm Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira (CTC).

The new CTC 20 BT sugarcane variety is resistant to crop damage caused by the Diatraea saccharalis sugarcane borer, which is the main sugarcane pest in Brazil, according to the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA).

D. saccharalis is said to cause around 5bn reals (US$1.5bn)/year worth of damages due to losses in sugarcane yield and quality and insecticide costs.

The BT gene found in CTC 20 BT has been used in both Brazil and globally for more than 20 years in modified crops, including soyabean, maize and cotton.

CTC CEO Gustavo Leite called the approval of the crop a “great achievement” for the Brazilian sugar-ethanol sector.

He said that the CTC 20 BT would not only add to producers’ economic gains, but it could also simplify logistics and improve sugarcane operations’ environmental management.

“In the next years, we plan to expand the portfolio of varieties resistant to the borer, adapted to each of the producing regions in Brazil. Further, CTC plans to develop other varieties that are resistant to other insect pests and also tolerate herbicides,” said Leite.

The scientific dossier accompanying CTC 20 BT was submitted to CTNBio for approval in 2015 and processing studies proved that the sugar and ethanol produced from the strain were identical to those from conventional sugarcane, with both the BT gene and protein being completely eliminated in the manufacturing process.

In addition, no negative effects were found regarding soil composition, sugarcane biodegradability or insect populations, with the exception of the target pests.

CTC now planned to start distributing the CTC 20 BT seedlings to producers, followed by a “closely monitored” field planting.

“The seedling propagation 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,” Leite said.

The distribution process was aligned with the schedule for obtaining international approvals for sugar produced from the modified strain.