(Adds Chinese approval of Pioneer soybean variety)
BEIJING/CHICAGO, Dec 22 (Reuters) - China has officially approved imports of a type of genetically modified corn at the centre of a string of lawsuits over U.S. grain shipments, seed maker Syngenta AG said on Monday, ending uncertainty after a five-year review.
China, the world’s largest soybean importer and fastest-growing corn market, also cleared imports of a DuPont Pioneer soybean variety, confirming the last of three expected approvals of GMO crops from different seed companies.
Beijing has been taking longer than in the past to approve new biotech crops amidst growing consumer sentiment against GMO food in China and concerns amongst some government officials about excessive dependence on U.S. food supplies. The delay upset global corn trading in the past year and cast doubt over the future of seed companies’ heavy investments in research of GMO seeds, which can take up to 10 years and $150 million to develop.
“It’s positive we’re seeing movement” in China’s regulatory system, Pioneer spokeswoman Jane Slusark said.
Syngenta’s Viptera corn has been under scrutiny since late last year, when China began rejecting U.S. corn shipments after detecting traces of the unapproved strain, known as MIR 162. The strain has been approved for planting in the United States since 2010 but lacked Chinese import approval.
The rejections, which later extended to distillers’ dried grains, a by-product of corn, roiled global prices and led farmers and traders Cargill Inc and Archer Daniels Midland Co to sue Syngenta for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.
China’s approval of MIR 162 corn, engineered to fight pests, covers grain and distillers’ dried grains for food and animal feed use, according to Syngenta.
Several large importers in China said they were unhappy over what they saw as a lack of transparency in Beijing’s handling of the approval, which likely gave state-owned buyer COFCO an unfair trading advantage. The government’s decision also reignited debates on the safety of GMO food on China’s lively micro-blogging sphere.
The Pioneer product China approved combines a trait, known as Plenish, designed to produce healthier oil with a trait designed to control weeds. Beijing had previously approved the Plenish trait and did not officially require approval for the combined, or stacked, product, according to the company.
Pioneer sought approval as “a proactive measure in case China changed its regulatory rules,” said Slusark, the company spokeswoman.
Bayer CropScience on Friday received Chinese import approval for a GMO soybean variety seven years after applying for acceptance. (Reporting by Niu Shuping and Fayen Wong in Beijing and Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Clara Ferreira Marques and Richard Chang)