Brazilian sugar mills are preparing to plant an initial 400ha of the world’s first genetically modified sugarcane variety, according to its developer Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira (CTC).

About 100 sugar mills were working with the GM sugarcane, developed using genes from the Bacillus thuringiensis bacterium that made it resistant to the cane borer, an insect that cost Brazilian sugar producers approximately 5bn reals (US$1.5bn)/year in crop losses and insecticide costs, wrote Reuters on 2 March.

According to CTC, developing new modified varieties was key to improving sugarcane yields, reducing production costs and increasing profit margins as the sugar industry wrestled with globally low prices.

Brazil approved the commercial use of CTC modified sugarcane last year, the first country in the world to do so.

Reuters said environmentalist groups were opposed to insect-killing modification in plants intended for mass cultivation as they feared these GM crops could cause imbalances in ecosystems.

CTC hopes to expand the planting area of the new GM sugarcane to 1.5M ha by 2021.

CTC is the world’s largest sugarcane research centre and has also developed sugarcanes resistant to another pest insect, known locally as ‘bicudo’ (bollard) and to the herbicide glyphosate.