* Early commercialization of biotech seeds hot debate
* Syngenta's biotech corn in the spotlight this fall
By Christine Stebbins
CHICAGO, Dec 13 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
"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
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
"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.