Cargill Sues Syngenta after China Forbids the Sale of Its GE Corn
(Beyond Pesticides, September 18, 2014) After a reported $90 million loss from rejected shipments of genetically engineered (GE) corn seeds that are not approved in China, the U.S. grain company Cargill Inc. sued the biotech giant Syngenta AG.
According to Cargill, since mid-November 2013, China has rejected imports of U.S. corn due to the presence of Syngenta’s MIR 162 trait because of its lack of approval for import, virtually halting U.S. corn trade with China.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in Louisiana, will ultimately decide whether responsibility for the marketplace risks and economic damage of introducing GE crops in international trade should be placed on the seed companies that develop unapproved GE traits, or the merchants who sell contaminated grain.
“Unlike other seed companies, Syngenta has not practiced responsible stewardship by broadly commercializing a new product before receiving approval from a key export market like China,” said Mark Stonacek, president of Cargill Grain & Oilseed Supply Chain North America. “Syngenta also put the ability of U.S. agriculture to serve global markets at risk, costing both Cargill and the entire U.S. agricultural industry significant damages.”
Syngenta’s corn seed in question, Agrisure Viptera corn, also known as MIR 162, was deregulated by USDA in April, 2010. Syngenta responded to the lawsuit in a public statement that because the seed was approved for cultivation in the U.S. at that time, the company upholds that it is in full compliance with regulatory and legal requirements.
However, absent in the discussion is the actual environmental and human health risks that GE crops pose to U.S. agriculture, and the role that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plays in deregulating GE crops in the U.S., proliferating its use throughout the country. In fact, according to USDA, nearly 90 percent of corn in the United States, the world’s top grains producer, is now genetically engineered.
Agrisure Viptera corn has a genetic modification that makes the corn more resistant to insects. This type of genetic engineering is known as plant-incorporated protectants (PIPs), which are created when scientists take the gene for a specific pesticidal protein and introduce the gene into the plant’s genetic material. The plant then continuously expresses the pesticidal protein that kills the pest when it feeds on the plant. Both the protein and its genetic material are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The plant itself is not regulated.
The Wall Street Journal reports that China’s government has rejected more than one million metric tons of corn since November 2013. U.S. corn shipments to China in the first seven months of this year totaled just 165,457 tons, down 85% from the same period in 2013. U.S. corn prices have plunged nearly 60% from their 2012 peak, with record production exacerbated by the lack of export demand.
Insecticide-resistant corn poses serious threats to both the environment and human health. Researchers have found numerous instances of insect resistance, a difficult to contain environmental and agricultural impact often leading to overall increases in insecticide sales and emergency uses of even more dangerous pesticides. Animal studies have also produced evidence of insecticide-incorporated corn causing increased chances of infertility. In addition to these risks, no evidence of the economic benefits that proponents of GE crops laud has been substantiated.
The impacts of GE intensive agriculture on wildlife, local environments, and human health, in addition to the on-going problems of seed contamination leading to economic harm, are all compelling arguments that underscore the fact that consumers should have the chance to vote with their food dollars and not purchase products that promote these hazardous outcomes. In the absence of mandatory labeling, consumers can still purchase foods that have the USDA Certified Organic Seal. Under organic certification standards, genetically modified organisms and their byproducts are prohibited. For many other reasons, organic products are the right choice for consumers.
For more information on the environmental hazards associated with GE technology, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering webpage.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.