Syngenta suing Bunge over biotech corn ban

by Eric Schroeder
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SIOUX CITY, IOWA — Syngenta Seeds, Inc. on Aug. 19 filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Sioux City against Bunge North America, Inc. alleging the latter unjustly has banned the company’s bioengineered corn.
At the heart of the lawsuit is Minnetonka, Minn.-based Syngenta’s Agrisure Viptera corn product, which when combined with other biotechnology-derived traits “provide revolutionary dual-mode of action insect control, as well as herbicide tolerance in corn,” according to Syngenta. Syngenta said it has obtained all required regulatory approvals for its Agrisure Viptera products for use in the United States as well as for export to countries recommended by the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the National Corn Growers Association before commercialization (Canada and Japan). Additionally, the technology has been approved for cultivation in Canada, Argentina and Brazil, and for import in Australia, Brazil, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Korea and Taiwan.

But Bunge has not approved the Agrisure Viptera seed product — or Plenish soybeans from E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. — because the company said the seed products “have not received necessary international approval from major export destinations for the U.S.”

“Bunge facilities are integrated into the export market, which is why the terms of Bunge’s purchase contract states that Bunge will not accept grains and oilseeds containing transgenic events not approved for U.S. export markets,” Bunge said in a policy document it issued in early July. “Bunge will accept a listed product once the seeds receive approval from major export markets.”

The major destination in question, according to the lawsuit, is China, where Agrisure Viptera is not approved. But according to Syngenta, China “is not a major export destination for corn.”

“Last year, according to the U.S.D.A., China’s U.S. corn imports represented less than 3% of the total 2010-11 U.S. corn exports,” Syngenta said in the lawsuit. “Even if China were a ‘major export destination’ for corn, the statement of the Bunge policy that Viptera-produced corn products ‘have not received necessary international approval from major export destinations for the U.S.’ is false, misleading and confusing to readers of the policy.”
In an Aug. 23 response to the suit, Soren Schroder, president and chief executive officer of Bunge North America, said the company was “surprised and disappointed” that Syngenta was pursuing action that he said “could put at risk a major export market for U.S. corn producers.”

“Bunge is a strong proponent of agricultural biotechnology and the benefits it offers to the entire value chain,” Mr. Schroder said. “We have communicated to Syngenta on several occasions that Bunge looks forward to accepting Agrisure Viptera once approval from China is secured. We understand that Syngenta expects this will happen in early 2012.

“However, until this approval occurs, 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 (such as) China.

“Bunge's decision not to accept Agrisure Viptera is consistent with the North American Export Grain Association's (NAEGA) policy to advocate that technology providers receive all major international approvals for a trait prior to seed sales. The grain export industry, which includes Bunge, notified Syngenta more than a year ago that China is considered a major export market.”

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