Syngenta risks fresh China corn dispute with unapproved trait
Peterson Farms Seed in North Dakota decided against licensing the Duracade trait from Syngenta because of concerns about China, agronomy manager Adam Spelhaug said. The firm sells corn with the Viptera trait, he said, while making sure that customers who buy those seeds can sell to markets that accept the trait.
"Unless it has Chinese approval, we're probably not going to bring something else into our bag right now," he said.
Rootworms are a "ticking time bomb" in U.S. farmers' fields that are estimated to cost more than $1 billion annually in yield losses and treatment costs, Syngenta said in an online ad for the trait. Duracade "delivers unmatched corn rootworm control" that is distinct from another rootworm-fighting trait previously released by Syngenta, the company said.
Rival Monsanto Co, the world's largest seed company, introduced corn rootworm protected products in 2003. However, a group of academic corn experts in 2012 warned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of growing rootworm resistance to GMO corn.
With Duracade coming to market, "the probability of overall of resistance goes down because there's another tool that can be used" to fight rootworm, said Rodney Weinzierl, director of the Illinois Corn Growers Association.
The National Corn Growers Association in 2012 told the USDA that it supported Duracade because of rootworm threats. A spokesman did not respond to requests for an updated comment.
Even if corn containing Duracade is planted on a small number of acres, it could accidentally be shipped to China, exporters said. Varieties are often mixed with each other because they are grown in fields near each other and harvested, transported and stored together.
In 2011, Bunge North America, a unit of agricultural trading house Bunge Ltd, refused to accept Viptera because it had not been approved by major export destinations. Archer Daniels Midland Co and Cargill Inc that year declined to accept at elevators grain that was not approved for commercial use in the EU, which included Viptera, without prior written notice.
Syngenta sued Bunge in 2011 for refusing to accept Viptera corn. Bunge largely prevailed in the case.
Representatives of Bunge, Cargill and ADM declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment on Duracade. Two top U.S. grain groups - the National Grain and Feed Association and North American Export Grain Association -- had discouraged the USDA from clearing Duracade.
The lack of import approvals for new traits creates "a risk of significant economic losses to U.S. grain and oilseed producers and markets," the groups said in a 2012 letter. Chinese quarantine officials can reject shipments that contain any amount of an unauthorized strain, they said. The groups declined to provide updated comments on the matter.
Corn importers in China typically stipulate in their contracts that the seller bears all costs related to possible GMO risks, industry sources say.
The USDA in 2012 responded to concerns about missing import approvals by saying that grain elevators could refuse to buy corn containing Duracade. Commercialization of the trait could even enhance trading "through more efficient production of corn supplies worldwide," the USDA said at the time.
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