By Pam Smith
DTN Progressive Farmer Crops Technology Editor
DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Syngenta officially announced Monday it has received the safety certificate needed for its Agrisure Viptera trait (MIR 162) from China's regulatory authorities. This formally grants import approval for corn grain and dried distillers grains (DDGs) containing the trait for food and feed use.
The above-ground insect trait has been approved for cultivation in the U.S. since 2010 and Syngenta originally submitted the import approval dossier to Chinese authorities in March 2010.
In November 2013, Chinese ports began rejecting U.S. corn imports, saying they were tainted with Viptera. China also rejected DDG shipments and at least one cargo load of soybeans that tested positive for the trait.
Corn and DDG exports to China essentially ground to a halt over much of the last year, and more than 100 lawsuits have been filed against Syngenta by farmers and agribusinesses. The cases were recently moved to a district court in Kansas.
Last week, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said China had also given import approvals to two soybean traits. Although the companies have not formally acknowledged the acceptance, the traits are reported to be Bayer CropScience's LibertyLink 55 and DuPont Pioneer's Plenish soybeans. Bayer's LibertyLink 55, an herbicide-tolerant trait that allows for better stacking, has been waiting for China acceptance for years.
Plenish soybeans are genetically altered to have no trans-fats and lower saturated fat levels. Plenish already had China approvals and received a renewal for the single trait Plenish product this summer, Jane Slusark, Pioneer spokesperson told DTN in an email.
"We learned today [December 22] that we received a first approval for the Plenish stack," Slusark added. "While it is not a requirement to get approvals for a stacked product if the traits involved have been approved, we proactively applied for stack approval in case the regulatory rules were to change."
While the China certificate clears a vital hurdle for Viptera, many other traits remain in limbo. Most significant is Syngenta's rootworm trait, Duracade. USDA approved the Agrisure Duracade trait in February 2013. Syngenta applied for Chinese import approval in March 2013, the earliest possible time to do so under the current Chinese regulatory process.
Syngenta commercialized the trait on a limited scale in the U.S. in 2014 and formed a trading relationship with Gavilon Grain to help the 2,500 growers who grew Duracade sell the corn into domestic livestock feeding channels and into approved export markets, such as Japan, Korea, Mexico, Taiwan, Australia or New Zealand.
Duane Martin, Syngenta Commercial Traits Lead, told DTN recently the relationship with Gavilon continues for the coming year, but Syngenta plans to open the gate on Duracade to a broader planting geography in 2015. A stewardship agreement that includes a $20 per unit premium paid to growers at grain delivery or final end-use (such as feeding) if the proper handling steps are followed. Syngenta's new hybrid lineup for 2015 includes 18 hybrids containing the Agrisure Duracade trait.
IN THE WINGS
Dow AgroSciences also plans a "stewarded release" of the Enlist Weed Control System in corn and soybeans in 2015. The 2, 4-D-resistant traits associated with those seeds recently gained approval for cultivation in the U.S., but do not have approval in China.
Likewise, Monsanto's new Roundup Ready Xtend System offering dicamba tolerance in soybean and cotton is expected to gain regulatory approvals in the U.S. this spring. The company has indicated they will market cotton if deregulation occurs in time for 2015 planting, but not soybeans.
GE soybeans that tolerate isoxaflutole and mesotrione herbicides, from Bayer and Syngenta, have both received U.S. approvals for cultivation, but do not have China regulatory approvals. In late October, Liam Condon, Bayer's chief executive officer, made it clear in a DTN interview that the company would not move on commercialization without a nod from China.
"The trait acceptance issue is highly sensitive," said Condon. "Our position right now is if our traits are not deregulated in China, we don't sell in the U.S. Period." Condon did allow that if China continued to drag its feet and the seed industry agreed to a united policy on the matter, the company might reconsider. However, currently Condon said he did not think there is a "watertight" stewardship program available that could keep unapproved traits from entering the grain stream. He said possible litigation makes commercialization without China approval too risky.
China's policy is to require full approval of a trait in the originating country before it will consider an application for approval for import. This automatically puts Chinese approval several years behind other key trading partners, which run their approval process concurrently with U.S. agencies. A typical time period has been two years, but China approvals have become much more erratic over recent years.
Pamela Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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