CHICAGO, Ill. (Reuters) — Syngenta, under pressure from U.S. grain exporters to suspend sales of a new genetically modified corn trait that is not approved in China, says it has sold out of the product.
Demand for the Agrisure Duracade trait has been strong because it is engineered to control rootworm, said chief operating officer Davor Pisk.
Syngenta’s announcement has shifted the focus of the debate back to grain merchants, who must decide whether they will buy grain produced using the trait.
Syngenta has faced calls from top U.S. grain groups to halt the commercialization of Duracade and another genetically modified corn trait, Agrisure Viptera, until China approves them for import.
The National Grain and Feed Association and the North American Export Grain Association asked Syngenta last month to suspend commercial use of the traits following the rejection of multiple cargoes of U.S. corn by Chinese authorities since November. The rejected cargoes contained the Viptera trait, known as MIR 162.
The planting of Duracade this spring threatens new disruptions, as well as millions of dollars in potential losses for global grain traders, if the strain is mixed into the mainstream supply chain and prompts another round of rejections from China, as some analysts fear.
Syngenta has declined to suspend sales of either product.
Pisk said the company has not seen any negative impact on Duracade orders in North America since the grain groups warned it could further hurt trade.
“We’ve got very strong orders, particularly for our Duracade product, which is coming to market for the first time,” he said.
“We’re sold out for that product.”
Syngenta applied for Chinese import approval of the trait in March after U.S. authorities cleared it in February. In theory, China’s agriculture ministry has 270 days to make a decision, but industry sources say it can take as long as two years after a strain is approved by the United States.
Syngenta is also waiting for the European Union to approve Duracade for import. The company won import approval from Mexico and South Korea in September and from Japan in August. It also has import approval from Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan.
Viptera received U.S. approval in 2010 and has been awaiting approval from China for more than two years. The EU approved Viptera for import in 2012.
“It doesn’t actually achieve anything to suspend Viptera sales, given that we’ve got a history now of many years of sales in the U.S., and of course a number of years of successful shipments to China,” Pisk said.
Foreign approvals are important because the United States is expected to export 1.45 billion bushels of corn in the marketing year that ends Aug. 31, accounting for 10 percent of the last harvest.
Syngenta has been discussing the launch of Duracade with the National Corn Growers Association to “try to find a way to introduce this into the commercial stream that does not provide a tremendous amount of risk,” said Nathan Fields, the association’s director of biotechnology and economic analysis.
An NGFA committee that deals with trade policy and biotechnology recently met with Syngenta and other major seed technology company representatives to discuss how Syngenta was proceeding with Duracade.
“There’s a way that you can do some sort of a soft launch or a limited launch,” Fields said.
Participants also discussed different “levels of stewardship” from seed technology companies, including how much follow-up work with farmers they will commit to, Fields said.