Syngenta risks fresh China corn dispute with unapproved trait
Syngenta AG is pressing ahead with U.S. sales of a new corn trait that is not approved in China, fueling concerns of another jarring GMO trade quarrel with the world's fastest-growing food importer.
While the U.S. grain industry lobbies the Chinese government to stop rejecting cargoes of corn containing another unauthorized genetically modified Syngenta strain, farmers in the Midwest are weighing whether to take a chance on the Swiss-based company's new product, engineered to combat pests called rootworms.
Syngenta, the world's largest crop chemicals company, said its Agrisure Duracade trait will be available for planting for the first time this year in "limited quantities" after U.S. authorities cleared it for sale and cultivation last year.
For farmers it may be a risk worth taking: Infestations of rootworms have developed into a major challenge in top-producing states such as Iowa and Illinois, because farmers have increasingly been planting corn on the same fields year after year to take advantage of high prices. The traditional practice of rotating corn with soybeans had helped better control pests.
But the planting of Duracade threatens new disruptions - and millions of dollars in losses - for global grain traders if the strain gets mixed into the mainstream supply chain and prompts another round of rejections from China, as some analysts fear.
The commercialization of Duracade could "further contaminate, slow down, gum up" shipments of U.S. corn to China, Rich Feltes, vice president of research for commodity brokerage R.J. O'Brien, said in a recent interview.
The issue has already split the farm sector, as a national growers' group urged the U.S. Agriculture Department to approve the strain while grain lobbyists warned in 2012 that the trait could hurt U.S. trade because it was not accepted by all major importers.
Some U.S. seed companies have declined to license the new Duracade trait from Syngenta to insert into seeds, out of concern that growers could be stuck if grain elevators and exporters refuse to buy corn that contains it.
The United States is expected to export 1.45 billion bushels of corn in the marketing year that ends August 31, accounting for 10 percent of the last harvest.
In November, Chinese authorities began rejecting some U.S. corn cargoes that contained Syngenta's Agrisure Viptera variety, known as MIR 162, which has been awaiting Beijing's acceptance for more than two years.
Why some imports have been allowed while others have been stopped is not clear, and analysts and traders have offered various explanations, including possible trade tensions or a desire to support domestic corn prices.
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