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Syngenta petitions court to protect corn growers’ export access

By Staff | Aug 23, 2011

MINNETONKA, Minn. — Syngenta in North America announced Monday that it had filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa against Bunge North America for having violated a number of federal and state laws.

Syngenta alleges Bunge is attempting to block the legal merchandising of the Agrisure Viptera trait which was launched, Syngenta said, in compliance with all U.S. regulatory requirements, as well as industry guidelines for commercialization.

“We are taking this action to remove the illegal impediment Bunge imposed on growers when they announced mid-season that they would not accept grain enhanced by the Agrisure Viptera trait,” said David Morgan, president of Syngenta Seeds Inc. “When a product has been legally approved, growers should be able to use that technology without subsequently being subjected to arbitrary actions.”

Quinn Showalter, commercial trait lead for Syngenta, said it was unfair of Bunge to make this announcement just weeks ahead of harvest. He said the court petition is seeking to make Bunge take down the signs at their facilities, which include two grain receiving sites in Iowa at McGregor and Burlington, that indicate they will not accept corn with the new trait.

“Our first priority is growers,” said Morgan. “Growers inherently face a myriad of risks and Bunge’s decision to change grain specifications when farmers had already planted their corn is unacceptable.”

But that’s not how Bunge sees the situation.

In a written statement provided Farm News from Soren Schroder, president and CEO of Bunge, Syngenta was told before it retailed the seed trait that it was still not approved for export to China. That it did so, before China’s approval, was against established policy set by the North American Export Grain Association.

That policy, Schroder explained, states that technology providers receive all major international approvals for a trait prior to seed sales.

China is considered the seventh largest customer of U.S. corn and, Schroder said, China imports are expected to grow significantly this year.

Schroder said Bunge understands that Syngenta expects China to approve the new trait in early 2012.

“However, until this approval occurs,” Schroder said, “we must protect the integrity of our export supply chain by not accepting Agrisure Viptera and other varieties that do not have major export market approval.

“Our obligation to our farmer customers is to provide access to the global marketplace and the price benefits of that access. Syngenta’s decision to commercialize Agrisure Viptera should not foreclose our ability to sell to a major market.”

Syngenta’s Showalter countered, however, that Bunge knows the trait will be approved by China in 2012. “It’s not a question of if, but when,” Showalter said.

In the meantime, Syngenta’s Morgan said, “We are working with farmers who are impacted by this decision to help them find alternatives for delivering their grain.” Cargill, for one, has said it will accept the new trait, Showalter said.

Showalter said that besides getting Bunge to retract its prohibition on the trait, Syngenta is also working to get more clarity within the grain trade as it relates to new technology, to avoid similar situations in the future.

Bunge’s Schroder said there has been prior conversations with Syngenta over the issue, adding, “We are surprised and disappointed that Syngenta has taken an action which could put at risk a major export market for U.S. corn producers.”

He said his company, is a strong proponent of agricultural biotechnology and the benefits it offers to the entire value chain.

“We have communicated to Syngenta on several occasions that Bunge looks forward to accepting Agrisure Viptera once approval from China is secured,” Schroder said.

Syngenta received deregulation from the USDA for the Agrisure Viptera trait in April 2010. Since then, the technology has been approved for cultivation in Canada, Argentina and Brazil, and for import in the key markets of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Korea and Taiwan.

Morgan said the Agrisure Viptera trait provides unsurpassed control of 14 yield- and quality-robbing insects including corn borer, corn rootworm and the multi-pest complex, a collection of insects that cost American corn growers more than $1.1 billion annually in lost yield and grain quality.

The trait became commercially available to U.S. corn growers for 2011 planting.

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, Ext. 453 or at kersh@farm-news.com.

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