Politics hold up GM approvals

Farmers taking advantage of the new Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans might be able to buy the seed, but the European Union's (EU) lack of import approval could mean they have nowhere to sell the beans at harvest. Some in the U.S. market are frustrated with what they call political interference in what should be science-based regulatory decisions.

Monsanto gained Chinese approval of its Xtend brand in February, ending a long wait, and began selling in the U.S. Meanwhile, the No. 2 importer of U.S. soybeans, the EU, has approved the individual traits but has yet to approve the stacked traits. The EU accounts for about 12% of U.S. soybean exports, excluding meal and oil.

That means the barge market isn't accepting Xtend beans, says Charlie Laird, risk manager at Consolidated Grain and Barge (CGB). "Monsanto continues to say they will be approved shortly, but we really have no idea."

Some local elevators won't accept Xtend because end users, such as CGB, won't take them. Cooperative Elevator, in Michigan, posted the following statement on their website and at every location: "These soybeans have not been EU approved, which makes them unacceptable by some of our end-use partners." Similar statements have been released by several grain elevators, particularly those working with foreign marketers.

It's reasonable to expect politics to affect hot regulatory issues not just in the EU and China, but in many places around the world.

Still, some instances of potential political interference are more obvious than others. For example, China rejected Syngenta's Viptera corn in 2013, after having accepted it for two years. "Which makes clear that China's decision to reject U.S. corn was not about Viptera but its own political motivations," says Syngenta attorney Michael Jones, referring to lawsuits against Syngenta involving MIR 162.

In addition, China's long-awaited approval of Monsanto's Xtend came on the same day, Feb. 3, 2016,

the government-owned ChemChina announced its deal to buy Syngenta. Coincidence, or was it a Chinese peace offering to those who fear the

ChemChina deal will hurt competition?

The EU's regulatory system for biotech crops is long and influenced by the anti-GMO politics of several member nations.

For food and feed import approval, which is holding up Xtend, applications must first go through scientific review by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) before the EU Commission sends its draft ruling to member nations to accept or reject. Phil Miller, Monsanto's vice president of global regulatory affairs and sciences, says that's where politics can come in. Xtend received a positive review from EFSA in June 2015 and as of press time is still waiting on a decision from the commission.

North Dakota farmer Vanessa Kummer has visited Chinese and EU regulators and customers through her work on the United Soybean Board. "In the EU, they use a political versus a scientific approach and it delays the process," says Kummer, a past USB chair. "Just know with the EU and China, politics are involved."

In 2015, the EU and China bought 69% of U.S. soybean exports. Seamless export approval is vital for farmers who plant new technology, but consumers seem wary of biotech even though scientists see the benefits.