Preparing to move its herbicide-resistant cotton closer tomarket, Calgene Inc. has asked the U.S. Department ofAgriculture for final regulatory approval of the geneticallyengineered strains.

Under USDA approval, the Davis, Calif., company has conductedthe largest-ever field trial program of genetically engineeredcrops in its four-year, 50-site test in 11 states.

Review and approval by the Environmental Protection Agencyand the FDA will be required before BXN cottons can beproduced and sold. Calgene will need EPA approval because theherbicide and seed will be packaged together. FDA permissionis necessary for the cotton seed separated from the harvestedfiber to be used in meal or other food products.

Calgene (NASDAQ:CGNE) sent data to the USDA with a petitionrequesting that the agency determine that its BXN cottons donot present a plant pest risk, are not otherwise deleterious tothe environment, and are therefore exempt from regulation.

The USDA has 180 days to issue a determination.

This determination "is just one of the steps" Calgene must gothrough before the cottons are cleared for marketing, said JimMcCamant, publisher of the Ag Biotech Stock Letter. "In thiscase," he added, "I think most of the steps are easy."

BXN cottons will be marketed by Stoneville Pedigreed Seed Co.of Mississippi, which Calgene acquired in 1986. Stoneville hasproduced elite cotton varieties since 1922 and is the country'ssecond-largest cotton seed company.

The cottons have been genetically engineered to detoxify theherbicide bromoxynil using a gene from a common soilorganism discovered in an Oregon site where bromoxynil hadbeen applied.

This rapidly degrading broad-leaf weed control has been usedfor years on corn, wheat and barley, which naturally toleratethe herbicide.

U.S. cotton growers currently spend almost $200 millionannually for cotton weed control, but lost more than 15 percentof the value of this $4 billion U.S. crop because of theineffectiveness of current broadleaf weed control practices.

Bromoxynil is manufactured by Rhone-Poulenc, whoseAgrochemie group financed the herbicide resistance work.

Calgene's stock was unchanged Thursday at $13.88 a share.

-- Nancy Garcia Associate Editor

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