Shades of Starlink?
The shadow of StarLink casts a looming shadow over the Agrisure RW situation in the eyes of grain exporters.
U.S. regulators had approved StarLink, then marketed by Aventis CropScience (later acquired by Bayer CropScience), for domestic feed use but not domestic food use. In 2000, Aventis issued a recall when traces of StarLink surfaced in taco shells destined for human use.
The Japanese government has zero tolerance for unapproved trait hybrids commingling with approved hybrids. Syngenta officials have strategies in place to minimize the chances of this occurring, they say. However, exporters remain skeptical.
"The concern we have is with pollen drift and other issues like handling grain, harvesting grain, and trucks flowing in, one after another, all day long," says Randy Gordon, National Grain and Feed Association spokesman. "We just don't have enough confidence in that system working, particularly with the number of acres involved."
"Syngneta has said publicly it's just .5% of (2007 corn) acres planted. Based on the (March 30 USDA) planting intentions report, that will likely be around 450,000 acres. That is more corn than had been planted to StarLink, and we saw what kind of debacle that caused.
"In the StarLink situation, there were similar pledges being made and it didn't work," Gordon adds. "Syngenta will say that it wasn't approved in the U.S. for food, but there are parallels in the number of acres being planted, the promises of channeling, the promises of stringent following of growers to feed markets only. Very little of that panned out. It didn't protect us from zero tolerance."
Then there's the extra effort that farmers will have to extend. Grain segregation is possible, notes Tray Thomas, founding partner of The Context Network, a West Des Moines, Iowa, business management and consulting firm. For example, farmers have successfully segregated soybeans for the food market and also products like low-linolenic soybeans. However, these farmers often receive a premium for doing so.
"Farmers aren't promised a premium for growing Agrisure RW corn, but they may be forced to identity preserve it," says Thomas.
The Agrisure RW situation differs from that of StarLink, says Jack Bernens, business unit head, Agrisure traits for Syngenta.
One difference is Agrisure RW has all U.S. approvals, while U.S. regulators only approved StarLink for feed use. This gives growers several domestic marketing options including:
- On-farm feed
- Delivery to a feedlot/feed mill/poultry operation that accepts Agrisure RW hybrids
- Harvest for silage
- Deliver to a domestic/non-export elevator
- On-farm storage for delivery to an entity that accepts the hybrid
- Delivery to a dry grind ethanol facility that accepts the hybrid. These need to be ethanol plants that do not export dried distillers grains.
"The second point is while there was some awareness about the (StarLink) product and what needed to be done, I think the awareness is nowhere what it is with Agrisure RW today," says Bernens. "Before farmers could plant Agrisure RW, they needed to fill out a grain use/marketing commitment form as to where they intended to deliver the corn. In the case of StarLink, it was kind of an 'all of a sudden, this is an issue,' and the testing began after the issue was discovered."