By Ros Krasny and Tom Polansek
WASHINGTON/CHICAGO, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Two leading U.S. grain groups have asked Syngenta AG, the world's largest crop chemicals company, to suspend the commercial use in the United States of two genetically modified (GM) strains of corn not currently approved in China.
The request follows rejection of multiple cargoes of U.S. corn, some 600,000 tonnes, by Chinese authorities since November because they contained Syngenta's Agrisure Viptera GM trait, known as MIR 162, which has been awaiting Beijing's acceptance for more than two years. Viptera received U.S. approval in 2010.
The National Grain and Feed Association and North American Export Grain Association wrote to Syngenta, asking the company to hold back its Viptera and Duracade corn varieties until China and other U.S. export markets have granted regulatory approval.
Viptera has been used in the United States, Argentina and Brazil for three years. "Changing our marketing plan in the U.S. now would have no effect on grain in the system or Chinese acceptance of corn imports," said Paul Minehart, spokesman for Syngenta Corp.
Export markets are put at risk by the commercialization of GM seeds before import approvals are obtained, the groups said.
"NAEGA and NGFA are gravely concerned about the serious economic harm to exporters, grain handlers and, ultimately, agricultural producers ... that has resulted from Syngenta's current approach to stewardship of Viptera," the groups said.
Syngenta's next move this year, the intended launch of Duracade, "risks repeating and extending the damage. Immediate action is required by Syngenta to halt such damage," NAEGA and NGFA said in their letter, which was dated Jan 22 and released on Thursday.
China does not start its reviews of GM traits until the U.S. clears the technology, which in the case of Duracade came in February 2013. Syngenta then submitted the trait for Chinese review in March 2013.
"The real issue is a lack of synchronized approvals by grain importing countries. To source from major corn producing countries, importing countries need to align their regulatory processes to ensure predictable markets and undisturbed trade," Minehart said.
But given the likely time it would take China to review Duracade, a planned launch in 2014 "was not in keeping with a realistic timetable," NGFA President Randy Gordon said in an interview. The grain groups hope to have additional discussions with Syngenta about their concerns, he said.
The groups also urged U.S. farmers to "evaluate these issues" when preparing to plant their 2014 corn crops.
The National Corn Growers Association said it was looking at how to "find a path forward that allows growers access to technology while maintaining the integrity of world trade."
"Syngenta's products should be dealt with individually, as the circumstances around them are unique. We don't discount the importance of any large importer of U.S. corn, so we're in the process of assessing the situation," said Nathan Fields, NCGA's director of biotechnology and economic analysis.
Jay O'Neil, senior agricultural economist for the International Grains Program at Kansas State University, said seed companies are anxious to get new, profitable products onto the market. They want to provide growers with new traits and make money off of the new technologies corn crops. The Swiss company plans a "limited launch" of Duracade in the United States and Canada this year.
"Syngenta believes American growers need, and should have access to, new solutions when those technologies are approved for cultivation," Minehart said. "American growers have indicated a strong interest in accessing this new technology as soon as possible."
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met with Chinese government officials in December to discuss biotech crop approvals, among other matters. The USDA had no immediate response to the grain groups' request to Syngenta.
The rejection of cargoes by China, the third largest buyer of U.S. corn last year, has rattled markets for weeks. Some of the cargoes have been resold to neighboring countries such as Japan and South Korea.
It remains unclear why Beijing began rejecting MIR 162 corn this season when the variety has been part of the U.S. corn supply since 2011 after U.S. government approval.
But at the same time the cargoes were rejected, Chinese forecasters sharply raised estimates for the country's corn crop, harvested late in 2013.
The USDA followed suit this month, raising China's corn crop estimate by 6 million tonnes to 217 million, and knocking 2 million tonnes off projected imports, to 5 million tonnes.
Chicago corn futures closed at $4.28 1/2 per bushel, up 0.65 percent. Syngenta closed at 351.30 Swiss francs, down 1.6 percent, in European trading.