Syngenta’s Genetically Modified Corn Crippling American Corn Exports



China has begun rejecting shiploads of American corn because of traces of an unapproved genetically modified corn showing up in shipments.

The country has gone from one of the top importers of U.S. corn to sourcing almost none of our corn since late last year, and the blame goes to a new genetically modified corn strain developed by Syngenta.

According to NPR’s The Salt, “This GMO contains a new version of a gene that protects the corn plant from certain insects. Problem is, this new gene isn’t yet approved in China, and Chinese officials didn’t appreciate it when traces of the new, as-yet-unapproved GMOs started showing up in boatloads of American grain.”

What China did import was large amounts of dried distillers grains with solubles—DDGS—which is a byproduct of corn ethanol. NPR reports that China was buying so much DDGS that it sent global grain prices spiking, which was a huge benefit to American farmers. China purchased $1.6 billion worth of DDGS in 2013.

And even once the contamination risk for the Syngenta corn strain was evident, China continued to approve imports—until last week. The country has now officially banned U.S. imports of DDGS, driving prices way down. NPR reports that this might cost American farmers, ethanol producers and traders, some $3 billion.

What’s worse, the ban is taking a toll on China as well. The country is growing so fast that it uses the DDGS to feed its rapidly expanding livestock sector.

Max Fisher, director of Economics for the NGFA, told NPR: “[China] replaced [the U.S. corn] with more expensive grains,” including barley from Australia. The ban has even been a boon to U.S. sorghum farmers, twisting the issue as corn farmers are struggling to rebound.

Now, the U.S. Grains Council has stepped in with a letter to Tom Vilsack, USDA Secretary. According to NPR, the letter urged Vilsack and the USDA’s “immediate, direct and personal intervention” on the issue. The council has asked that USDA approach China about ceasing what the council called “regulatory sabotage.”

The North American Export Grain Association has taken another approach, urging Syngenta to cease distribution of its genetically modified corn variety until global export markets embrace the commodity.

“They’re being a bad actor here,” Fisher said of Syngenta. “They’re making $40 million” selling the new corn varieties, “but it’s costing U.S. farmers $1 billion.”

But Syngenta says it won’t accept the blame: “We want to get technology into the hands of farmers as soon as possible,” said the company’s CEO, David Morgan, in a video posted on Syngenta’s website. “We can’t expect growers to wait indefinitely for access to technologies, based on what foreign governments decide to do.”

Even if China approved MIR 162, however, the ban might remain. That’s because Syngenta began selling yet another new new type of GMO corn this year, which also is not yet approved in China.

Syngenta has asked farmers to take that corn to specific grain processors, who will keep it from getting into export shipments. But Fisher thinks the new gene is likely to show up in exports. “Farmers are going to be farmers,” he says, and sell their grain through the usual channels.

 corn image via Shutterstock


11 thoughts on “Syngenta’s Genetically Modified Corn Crippling American Corn Exports”

  1. Syngenta has dropped the ball yet again with their new products… what they don’t seem to understand is that if you play the game correctly, China will approve the trait, but on China’s time… if you try to force it on China, China will balk and play economic sabatoge… and enjoy doing it

      1. the really interesting thing is that virtually every other trait approved in the USA by the other seed companies has been approved by China within 1-2 years of US approval. however they stewarded the release of the new traits here so that they cannot easily find their way into exports… Viptera, a really good trait, has languished for at least 4 years…Duracade, their new corn rootworm trait, isn’t even a very good trait…dumping on the North American markets is reckless

  2. Why can’t Syngenta follow the rules. No other company commercializes in the US without approval in export countries. What a bunch of dumbasses.

      1. That does not change the fact that most companies seek approval in any potential export country BEFORE commercialization in the US.

          1. Because you as a product developer have no say in how the product gets exported or used. Besides there is always the chance of co-mingling with approved products during seed production, bagging, planting, harvest, transport, storage, and sale. In my opinion it is very irresponsible and shows a complete lack of forward thinking. The two biggest companies always submit regulatory packets in ALL possible export countries. Why does Syngenta get a pass? China is not hard to get approval in, but they do require a submission and won’t accept unapproved varieties. As well they shouldn’t, whether they are approved in the US or not.

            1. So? We make lots of products that are not approved in all markets. Those that use them know that. Viagra is illegal in Saudi Arabia. Can’t sell electronics without the CE mark in the EU.

              1. Guess we’ll have to disagree. In an industry that already has a PR problem, in my opinion, it is irresponsible to commercialize products before approval in all potential export markets. If this article can be believed, the Chinese don’t appreciate it either. Just my opinion though.

  3. The price drop is temporary as China must fill their need from somewhere, which will leave an equivalent gap for us to fill.

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