Two leading U.S. grain groups have asked Syngenta AG, the world's largest crop chemicals company, to suspend the commercial use in the United States of two genetically modified (GM) strains of corn not currently approved in China.
The request follows rejection of multiple cargoes of U.S. corn, some 600,000 tonnes, by Chinese authorities since November because they contained Sygenta's Agrisure Viptera GM trait, known as MIR 162, which has been awaiting Beijing's acceptance for more than two years.
The National Grain and Feed Association and North American Export Grain Association wrote to Syngenta, asking the company to hold back its Viptera and Duracade corn varieties until China and other U.S. export markets have granted regulatory approval.
"Numerous negative consequences" follow when export markets are put at risk through the commercialization of GM seeds before import approvals are obtained, the groups said.
"NAEGA and NGFA are gravely concerned about the serious economic harm to exporters, grain handlers and, ultimately, agricultural producers ... that has resulted from Syngenta's current approach to stewardship of Viptera," the groups said.
The intended product launch of Duracade this year "risks repeating and extending the damage. Immediate action is required by Syngenta to halt such damage," NAEGA and NGFA said in their letter, which was dated Jan 22 and released on Thursday.
The groups also urged U.S. farmers to "evaluate these issues" when preparing to plant their 2014 corn crops.
The National Corn Growers Association said it was looking at how to "find a path forward that allows growers access to technology while maintaining the integrity of world trade."
"Syngenta's products should be dealt with individually, as the circumstances around them are unique. We don't discount the importance of any large importer of U.S. corn, so we're in the process of assessing the situation," said Nathan Fields, NCGA's director of biotechnology and economic analysis.
Syngenta could not immediately be reached for comment. The Swiss company said recently that its Agrisure Duracade variety 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.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met with Chinese government officials in December to discuss biotech crop approvals, among other matters. The USDA had no immediate response to the grain groups' request to Syngenta.
The rejection of cargoes by China, the third largest buyer of U.S. corn last year, has rattled markets for weeks. Some of the cargoes have been resold to neighboring countries such as Japan and South Korea.
It remains unclear why Beijing began rejecting MIR 162 corn this season when the variety has been part of the U.S. corn supply since 2011 after U.S. government approval.
But at the same time the cargoes were rejected, Chinese forecasters sharply raised estimates for the country's corn crop, harvested late in 2013.
The USDA followed suit this month, raising China's corn crop estimate by 6 million tonnes to 217 million, and knocking 2 million tonnes off projected imports, to 5 million tonnes.