US Exporters Fear GMO Corn Seed Will Hurt Sales
Author: Lisa Haarlander
Swiss-based Syngenta AG is selling seed that contains a trait called Agrisure RW that allows corn to resist root worm, an insect that can cause crop losses.
The US Agriculture Department has approved the seed as safe for use as food and animal feed.
Syngenta has required farmers to sign an agreement that they will only deliver the corn to non-export facilities. Syngenta introduced Agrisure RW for the first time this year and released a small amount but could not specify how much.
Monsanto Co. also sells biotech corn that resists corn root worm, but its variety has been approved for use in Japan and other countries, the company said.
Grain exporters have tried to segregate various GMO varieties in the past but have found it impossible due to the wind carrying pollen and accidental commingling, said Kevin Adams, chief executive of CGB Enterprises, a grain handler and exporter.
"We've seen that approach several times over and we have witnessed its dismal failure," he said. "We think it is irresponsible of Syngenta to release this trait."
CGB has informed farmers it may not accept Agrisure RW corn when they harvest their crops this fall. Bunge Ltd., another large exporter, sent a letter to farmers last week about the biotech corn seed.
"All Bunge's facilities are integrated into the export channel so we will not be receiving Agrisure RW corn," said Bunge spokeswoman Deborah Seidel.
Grain traders said they expect all companies to eventually refuse Agrisure RW corn, although grain elevators lack a way to immediately test for its presence.
"Japanese buyers are comparing it with StarLink and Bt10," said a grain trader. "This could be a disaster."
Syngenta came under fire in 2005 for accidentally mixing some insect-resistant, genetically modified Bt10 -- which has not been approved by the European Union for import -- into its approved Bt11 biotech seeds between 2001 and 2004.
In 2000, a biotech corn called StarLink, approved for use only as animal feed, was found in the US human food chain, sparking a nationwide recall of taco shells and corn-products foods from grocery shelves.
The detection led several countries, including top buyer Japan, to ban temporarily imports of US corn.
GMO CORN NEEDED TO MEET DEMAND
Syngenta sold the Agrisure RW seed to farmers to help them boost yields to meet the strong demand from the makers of ethanol and livestock feed.
"The American corn grower needs access to the very latest science has to offer, such as Agrisure RW," said Syngenta spokeswoman Anne Burt. "We respect that other countries should have the right to choose their own regulatory requirements, systems and timelines for approvals.
"However, their choices should not dictate the technology choices the American farmer has for producing ample grain to supply the expanding US domestic market," she said.
Syngenta has started the process of gaining approval from Japan, but exporters fear the approval may not come before the crop is harvested this fall. Japan allows several varieties of US GMO corn to be fed to livestock.
US farmers are expected to plant the most acres of corn this spring since 1944, which has boosted earnings at seed companies such as Syngenta and Monsanto and helped both stocks climb more than 30 percent in the last year.
DuPont Co., the No. 2 US chemical company, said on Tuesday that first-quarter profit rose 16 percent, helped by strong seed sales.
(Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City)