Is Syngenta’s new GM corn another StarLink?

Despite pleas from US farm groups, Syngenta AG is selling a genetically modified corn seed that has not yet been approved in most overseas markets, raising concerns that the corn could damage US corn exports worth $4.8 billion last year.

The GM corn, Agrisure RW, is genetically altered to kill corn rootworm.

Syngenta has required US farmers that purchase Agrisure to sign an agreement saying they will only deliver the corn to non-export facilities.

As was seen in 2001 with the billion-dollar StarLink corn debacle, it has been difficult for US grain handlers to keep unapproved GM varieties separate from approved GMOs.

“We’ve seen that approach several times over and we have witnessed its dismal failure,” said Kevin Adams, chief executive of CGB Enterprises, a grain handler and exporter, in an interview with Reuters.

Both CGB and Bunge Ltd., another large exporter, have told farmers they will not accept Agrisure corn.

Syngenta says it is selling Agrisure to help farmers increase yields to meet the strong demand for corn-based ethanol and livestock feed.

Syngenta spokeswoman Anne Burt says her company respects that other countries have the right to choose their own regulatory requirements and approvals, but that their choices “should not dictate choices the American farmer has for producing ample grain to supply the expanding US market.”

Despite that argument, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) both oppose the introduction of Agrisure. NCGA opposes releasing Agrisure before Japan, the leading market for US corn, has approved it. Bob Dinneen, RFA president, wrote to officials at Syngenta expressing concerns that Agrisure could end up in export markets where it would be rejected and could “permanently damage the US ethanol industry’s relationship with these important markets.”

Short memory?
Syngenta has already experienced one fiasco with an unapproved GM corn. In 2005, the company announced that it had unknowingly mixed GM Bt10 corn, which had not been approved by the European Union, into shipments of an approved GM corn from 2001 to 2004.

One grain trader has said that Japanese buyers are comparing Agrisure with StarLink and Bt10. “This could be a disaster,” he says. Agrisure is not approved in Japan.

(Sources: Reuters, Associated Press)

© Copyright June 2007, The Organic & Non-GMO Report