Cargill fires first shot in legal battle over GMO trade responsibility

Sun Sep 14, 2014 5:22pm EDT
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By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Cargill Inc's [CARG.UL] lawsuit against Syngenta AG SYNN.VX over rejections of genetically modified U.S. corn by China may be just the start of legal challenges against global seed makers over trade with one of the world's biggest markets.

Trading giant Cargill said in court documents on Friday that it had lost more than $90 million because Syngenta sold Agrisure Viptera corn, known as MIR 162, to U.S. farmers without first obtaining import approval from China, which has turned away boatloads of U.S. crops containing the variety over the past year.

The lawsuit will be a test case of who is ultimately responsible for such rejections that damage international trade: the seed companies that develop unapproved GMO traits or the merchants who sell grain that may be contaminated with it.

"Let's face it, it's dollars and cents," Illinois farmer John Brink said about the motivation for seed companies that launch U.S. sales without approval from all major importers.

"If they can get it out there a growing season earlier, it's more money in the pocket, more money for the company, more money for the shareholders."

Cargill filed its case as U.S. farmers are preparing to harvest their first crop of another GMO variety of Syngenta corn called Duracade, which China has not approved for import.

Nearly 90 percent of corn in the United States, the world's top grains producer, is now genetically engineered, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as farmers embrace technology that helps kill weeds and fight pests.

Approvals of the crops from importers are critical as the coming harvest is expected to be a record 14.395 billion bushels - outstripping domestic demand of 11.855 billion, which mostly goes to animal feed or ethanol production.   Continued...

A logo is pictured on the building of Cargill International SA in Geneva August 4, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse