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CHICAGO, March 7 (Reuters) - Syngenta AG will require U.S. farmers who plant a new and controversial type of genetically modified corn this spring to pledge in writing not to ship it China or the European Union, a trade association said on Friday.
The mandate is the latest step by the world's largest crop chemicals company to calm concerns among global grain exporters about corn seed containing the Agrisure Duracade trait, which is available for planting for the first time this year.
Top traders Archer Daniels Midland Co, Bunge Ltd and Cargill Inc have said they will limit their handling of crops containing Duracade because the trait is not approved by China or the EU, both major importers.
Their stance has divided the U.S. agricultural sector, with Syngenta and some farmers insisting that growers need access to new technology to save money and improve harvests. Corn seeds containing Duracade are engineered to combat pests called rootworms.
Growers who plant Duracade crops must sign a "Syngenta Stewardship Agreement" that requires them to feed the harvest to livestock or poultry on the farm or to deliver it to a grain facility that does not export it to China or the EU, the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) said in a newsletter.
To prevent Duracade corn from accidentally mingling with approved varieties, Syngenta will advise farmers to harvest it separately, store it in separate bins, and surround fields of Duracade corn with "buffer" rows of another variety, the newsletter said.
"Naturally one could ask why even go to all this trouble to release it if they're going to ask the farmers and the buyers to follow these recommendations so rigidly," said Bob Nielsen, an agronomy professor and extension corn specialist at Purdue University.
"The devil will still be in the details as to whether growers and buyers faithfully abide by these recommendations."
Syngenta has not responded to questions from Reuters about the plan.
Company officials, including Syngenta Seeds President David Morgan, presented details of the Duracade agreement in a March 4 meeting with the NGFA and the North American Export Grain Association, according to the newsletter. The groups have urged Syngenta to halt sales of Duracade and another GMO variety until they are approved by major importers.
Syngenta has declined and "rejected direct requests" at the meeting to assume liability if Duracade corn is accidentally sent to buyers that have barred it, according to the NGFA.
Syngenta estimated Duracade corn will be planted on approximately 250,000 to 300,000 acres in a "launch zone" that includes top growing states such as Iowa and Illinois, the newsletter said. Corn was planted on 95.4 million acres in the United States last year.