DowDuPont wins final OK for global launch of new GMO soybeans

CHICAGO (Reuters) - DowDuPont Inc has won the final international regulatory approval needed, from the Philippines, for a global launch of a new line of genetically engineered soybeans, the company said on Thursday.

The approval means seed companies can sell the soybeans, named Enlist E3, to farmers for planting as early as this spring without worrying about taking extra steps to keep the harvests out of export markets.

Enlist E3 soy, marketed by DowDuPont’s agriculture unit Corteva Agriscience, will eventually shake up the $40 billion U.S. soybean market - half of which is controlled by rival Bayer AG’s Xtend brand.

Developed with Iowa-based MS Technologies, Enlist E3 is the first soybean genetically modified to withstand sprays from three popular weed chemicals - 2,4-D, glyphosate and glufosinate.

U.S. farmers and seed sellers have been waiting for the Philippines to approve imports of Enlist E3 since China, the world’s top soybean buyer, cleared the product in January. The Philippines last year was the top buyer of processed U.S. soymeal, used primarily to feed livestock.

“Obviously we’re very excited about that and proceeding with plans to get seed in growers’ hands,” said David Thompson, marketing and sales director for Stine Seed, which is affiliated with MS Technologies.

Biotech seed makers seek approval from importers before launching new products because countries can reject shipments of unapproved varieties.

The Philippines issued new regulations for genetically modified products such as Enlist in 2016, and the process involves input from more government officials. Some applications can take years to process.

The regulatory review, along with supply constraints, will cap U.S. plantings of Enlist E3 soybeans this spring. Many farmers have already placed their orders for seed.

“There is some amount of seed that will be available,” said Joe Merschman, president of MS Technologies and Merschman Seeds. “It’s going to be a limited launch.”

Enlist E3 is expected to be planted on more than 10 percent of soybean acres in the United States and Canada next year, Corteva and MS Technologies said. The companies plan to license the product to other seed sellers and are in talks with more than 100 brands, according to a statement.

U.S. farmers are expected to grow soybeans across 85 million acres this year, down 4.7 percent from 2018, as the U.S-China trade dispute has hurt soy prices, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Thursday.

Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Richard Chang and Cynthia Osterman