Ecogen Inc. has received clearance from the EPA to testrecombinant strains of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) in small-scalefield trials without seeking an experimental use permit andwithout having to notify the agency.

Bruce Carlton, Ecogen's executive vice president of research anddevelopment, said the blanket authorization gives the companymore flexibility. "At the very least it saves several months,"Carlton said.

He said the traditional approval process, which would requireeach strain be given an experimental use permit before testing,takes several months to complete. If approval were given rightafter growing season, it could mean a wait of almost one yearbefore the strains could be used, Carlton said.

The Langhorne, Pa., company (NASDAQ:EECN) said it believesthe EPA gave the clearance based on two factors. The first isthat the strains will contain new combinations of Bt insecticidalgenes, but no foreign genetic information. The second is thatthe Bt strains are just an extension of products the company isalready selling. Ecogen has Bt bioinsecticides on the market forvegetables, trees, nut and vine crops, cotton, soybeans, andpotatoes. -- Steve Payne

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