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INTERVIEW-Monsanto starts India GM corn trials, eyes Indonesia
* Monsanto starts GM corn field trials in India
* Plans to apply for trials in Indonesia
* GM corn boosts output in the Philippines
* To launch new generation soybeans in U.S.
By Naveen Thukral and Sambit Mohanty
SINGAPORE, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Monsanto (MON.N), the world's biggest seed company, has started field trials for genetically modified corn in India, but it could take a few years for the seeds to be ready for a commercial launch, company executives said on Tuesday.
The company is also optimistic of getting an approval for trials in Indonesia, after the gene-altered corn boosted yields in the Philippines since its launch in 2003.
"We are just starting field trials process on insect protected corn and it is the same trait that is already in field in the Philippines," said Jerry Steiner, executive vice president of corporate affairs.
Most countries in Asia -- where governments are under pressure to boost food production to feed rising populations -- use conventional seeds for growing grains and yields are well below the output levels in U.S.
India first introduced GM cotton in 2002 but, mired in field trials and political debate, the farm-dependent nation has made little headway in launching gene-modified seeds.
Steiner said that governments across the world from Africa to Asia were now taking a more pragmatic approach.
"If we were having this discussion five years ago versus now, the new news is that today there is just an ever enlarging circle of proof that these things work," he said on the sidelines of a global grains summit in Singapore.
"Secondly, the environmental concerns that have been raised have largely been answered. I think the evidence really matters in this case and we are seeing more and more governments moving forward."
CORN OUTPUT IN THE PHILIPPINES
Monsanto officials said GM seeds have improved corn yields by between 15 and 50 percent in the Philippines and nearly half of the corn area in the country is now planted with insect- and weed-resistant seeds.
"The adoption rate is just tremendous. Just a few acres or hectares in 2005 to 40 percent in the Philippines," said Brian Uken, Monsanto's vice president for Asia Pacific.
"The range with which it has improved (yields), because it depends on pest pressure and locations, is anywhere between 15 to 50 percent gain," he added.
The Philippines was the first Asian country to commercialise GM corn and corn output has risen 46 percent to 6.7 million tonnes in 2007 from 4.6 million tonnes in 2003.
In Indonesia, where the government is in the process of setting up a regulatory framework, Monsanto is hopeful of getting approval for field trials.
"They are currently close to setting up a bio-safety council ...we think it will all happen in the next several months," said Uken.
"We will then take our gene and apply. We are optimistic."
In the United States, the world's biggest producer of grains, Monsanto is launching a new generation on soybean seeds which could improve yields by 7 to 11 percent.
"What is most interesting that has been happening in soybeans is that we are launching new generation roundup ready to yield, so it's (the) second generation biotechnology soybean trait in the U.S.
"We have seen 4 years of very consistent performance and this time thousands of farmers are going to get a chance to see it themselves." (Editing by Guy Dresser)
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