WASHINGTON _ The United States Department of Agriculture(USDA) has awarded non-regulated status to Asgrow SeedCompany's genetically engineered virus-resistant yellow crooknecksquash, known as ZW-20. The move allows Asgrow to sell thehybrid squash seed on the U.S. market.

Like other foods produced using biotechnology, ZW-20 has jumpedthrough numerous regulatory hoops to reach the marketplace. In thefour years since the "transgenic parent" for the squash line wasproduced in 1990, Asgrow has submitted to a voluntary consultationwith the FDA (completed last month) and has argued for and won aproduct-specific exemption from the Environmental ProtectionAgency. That agency had jurisdiction over the ZW-20 due to itspesticidal properties _ the plant has been modified to carryresistance to the watermelon mosaic virus 2 and the zucchini yellowmosaic virus.

ZW-20 squash seeds will be marketed under the trade name,Freedom II. According to spokesman Tim Oliver, Asgrow intends totarget farmers who manage the approximately 40,000 acres in thesoutheastern U.S. that encompass the prime geographical andseasonal conditions for the ZW-20 to thrive. "We need to positionthis product with farmers who can best take advantage of thetechnology," explained Oliver.

Oliver noted that it takes about one-and-a-half pounds of seed toplant the 7,500 to 8,000 squash plants that fill a typical acre. Currentpopular hybrid yellow squash seeds _ none of which are virus-resistant _ sell for between $30 and $35 per pound. Asgrow plans tocharge a premium for ZW-20 seeds, although the price has not yetbeen determined. "Farmers won't pay a premium unless they realizea value from the seeds," acknowledged Oliver. "They will save onfuel and production costs due to reduced numbers of trips across thefields to fight pests."

The ZW-20 will likely be sold first in Georgia, where watermelonmosaic viruses and zucchini yellow mosaic viruses are a significantproblem, according to Oliver. However, in Florida, another majorproducer of yellow squash, the papaya ringspot virus is a devastatingpest. Oliver said that Asgrow hopes to engineer a new seed line inthe future with resistance to that virus, as well as to the cucumbermosaic virus.

Asgrow, based in Kalamazoo, Mich., is a subsidiary of The UpjohnCompany, also of Kalamazoo. Currently, Upjohn is negotiating thesale of Asgrow to Empresas La Moderna, a global company based inMonterrey, Mexico. The transaction could be completed by Dec. 31,1994. n

-- Lisa Piercey Washington Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.