Cargill warns against premature marketing of GMO seeds

Tue Dec 13, 2011 5:47pm EST

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* Early commercialization of biotech seeds hot debate

* Syngenta's biotech corn in the spotlight this fall

By Christine Stebbins

CHICAGO, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Distributing biotech seeds to American farmers before they are approved in major grain export markets is not good for U.S. agriculture, an executive with agribusiness giant Cargill Incsaid on Tuesday.

"We do not support the commercialization of GM traits ahead of major market approvals," Randal Giroux, vice president of food safety for Cargill, told the members of the National Grain and Feed Association, the largest U.S. grain group, at a meeting.

"We don't think it's good for U.S. agriculture. We think that we should wait for the commercialization of these traits until we have major market approvals," Giroux said.

Cargill and other U.S. processors and exporters became hypersensitive to issues related to GMO corn after a variety that was not approved for food use -- known as Starlink -- was discovered in a U.S. shipment to Japan in 2000. Sales to the biggest U.S. customers at the time, Japan and South Korea, dried up overnight.

The subsequent tracing, sorting, testing, separating and certifying of GMO cost the industry millions of dollars.

It can take just one kernel of corn not approved for use in a given market to contaminate an entire grain shipment, thus preventing foreign buyers from unloading the vessel.

Restrictions on GMO grains in key markets such as the European Union, as well as among domestic and foreign food processors with standards for "organic" and other non-GMO foods, keep the dangers of mixing grains at the forefront for grain handlers.

Early commercialization of biotech seeds -- when acceptance of the grains has not been cleared in markets like the EU, for example -- has been hotly debated this harvest season when the three top U.S. grain handlers -- Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland and Bunge -- said they were either restricting or not accepting a biotech corn variety not approved in major export markets, like the EU or China.

The discussions have centered on Agrisure Viptera, a biotech corn variety developed for its resistance to insects by Syngenta that was planted in the U.S. this spring before it was approved in major export markets.

Syngenta has said the variety has been approved for shipment to several major corn export destinations, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines and Taiwan.

China, which recently returned as a buyer of corn and which is expected to import some 3 million tonnes this marketing year, has yet to approve the variety. Syngenta expects approval from China by early 2012 and from the EU by the first half of 2013.

"We have to recognize that when those major markets have not approved it, the threshold is zero," Giroux told the group of grain handlers. "We have to make sure that we are seen as a credible and consistent supplier of agricultural products."

"It's not a decision we should make alone, it's something we should be working with the technology companies on, trade associations," Giroux said.

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