Froman asked to intervene in MIR 162 issue, Cargill sues Syngenta

By Erin Voegele | September 15, 2014

A group of 19 senators recently issued a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman asking him to work with China to restore the flow of agricultural-related trade after several shipments of U.S. distillers dried grains (DDGs) were rejected due to the presence of MIR 162, a variety of genetically engineered corn made by Syngenta. The variety is approved in the U.S., but not in China. Meanwhile, Cargill has filed a lawsuit against Syngenta seeking damages from the company for commercializing MIR 162 before the product obtained import approval from China.

Within their letter, the senators, led by Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, ask Froman to work closely with Chinese officials to promote a science-driven review process for agricultural biotechnology that issues determinations without undue delay, consistent with WTO member country obligations.  “We urge you to work with China to restore the flow of trade as quickly as possible and to develop a more consistent set of rules governing the trade of new crop technologies between the two countries,” wrote the senators in the letter, noting that China is the top destination for U.S. DDG exports. An estimated 4 million tons of the product, valued at $1.6 billion, was exported to China last year. “Every link in the DDGs supply chain—including ethanol producers, corn farmers, and shippers—have already incurred significant economic damages due to these actions by the Chinese government,” continued the senators.

“As biotech products are a key component of U.S. agricultural trade with China, including exports of DDGs, achieving greater cooperation between the two countries on trade issues involving new crop technologies is essential to maintaining our position as the leading agricultural exporter worldwide,” the letter continued.

China has rejected imports of U.S. products due to the presence of MIR 162 since late last year. In July, the U.S Grains Council announced that the Chinese import inspection authority had issued new biotech certification requirements for DDGs imports. The mandate has caused serious disruptions with DDGs trade to the country.

On Sept. 12, Cargill announced it has filed a lawsuit against Syngenta Seeds Inc. seeking damages from Syngenta for commercializing the MIR 162 variety, also known as Agrisure Viptera, before it obtained import approval from China.

“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, in a statement. “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.” In its statement announcing the lawsuit, Cargill quoted a study by the National Grain and Feed Association, which estimated that U.S. exporters and farmers have lost up to $2.9 billion because of the uncertain trade environment.

Stonacek also indicated that filing the lawsuit came only after talks with Syngenta proved unproductive. “This issue is important to U.S. agriculture,” he said. “Marketing MIR 162 before receiving approval from China closed off that significant export market to U.S. farmers and exporters. Cargill believes that Syngenta continues to not accept its role in shared responsibility by moving ahead this year with the commercialization of Duracade, which also is not approved in China and other key export markets.”

Syngenta has issued a response to the lawsuit, stating that, “Syngenta believes the lawsuit is without merit and strongly upholds the right of growers to have access to approved new technologies that can increase both their productivity and their profitability.”

MIR 162 was approved for cultivation in the U.S. in 2010. In its statement, Synenta said that it commercialized the trait in full compliance with regulatory and legal requirements, and obtained import approval from major corn importing countries.