News & Events

Rice biotech link up brings gains to Hisparroz

Food Navigator, 30 May 2005

Ambitious rice giant Hisparroz will link up with a gene discovery firm to bring new rice varieties to market and fresh gains to the bottom line, the Spanish group has announced.

The Seville-based company, that has a major stake in Spanish rice and food behomoth Herba Ebro-Puleva, will exploit data harvested by biotech firm Oryzon Genomics to improve lines of ‘normal’ rice plants.

“Our business vision for the rice market is to continue to be leaders in innovation, supporting and optimising agricultural production and to play a role in improving quality factors in a sector which is every day more competitive and demanding,” commented Antonio Hernandez Calleja, president of Ebro Puleva.

The rice firm joins BASF, Laboratories Ferrer and Laboratories Esteve that have already signed agreements with the Spanish biotech firm Oryzon, that provides tools to unlock the function of genes.

The rice genome has been the focus of global research efforts for some time, with major discoveries pushing the boundaries forward in recent years.

In 2002 breakthrough research by teams from the Beijing Institute of Genomics in China and the University of Washington Genome Center mapped the rice genome. The first complete genome sequencing of a crop plant.

Rice is the staple food for over half of the world's population. Projections from the UN-backed Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) show that by 2030, total demand for rice will be 38 per cent higher than the annual amounts produced between 1997 and 1999.

In order to meet future demand, new methodologies and production technologies will be necessary as land and water resources become increasingly under threat.

Scientists are hopeful that an improved understanding of the genome could significantly contribute to nutritional and supply problems.

Researchers, led by the Beijing Institute of Genomics, claimed in February this year to have published a 'much improved', near-complete genome analysis of the indica, the most common type of rice grown in China, and japonica subspecies of Oryza sativa, which are eaten in India and China, and Japan, respectively.

The US department of agriculture predicts global production of rice to reach 401.8 million tons (milled basis) in 2004/05, up 10.8 million tons from 2003/04.

Herba Ebro Puleva, that claims to commercialise about a third of the rice consumed in the EU, will be keen to pump any new developments in the rice genome field in order to build new gains into its bottom line.

Last year revenues at the acquisitive firm broke the billion euro barrier and the company cleared a €312 million deal to buy Riviana Foods, the largest rice processor in the US.