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Syngenta sues Bunge over Agrisure refusal

Jeff Caldwell 08/22/2011 @ 2:42pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

After news of China's refusal to accept U.S. corn containing Syngenta's Agrisure Viptera trait, some grain terminals that send grain to the export market said they wouldn't take it. Now, that decision's coming under fire.

Officials with Syngenta announced Monday their decision to take legal action against Bunge North America, who they say is "attempting to block the legal merchandising of the Agrisure Viptera trait which was launched in compliance with all U.S. regulatory requirements as well as industry guidelines for commercialization," according to a Syngenta report.

The Syngenta lawsuit against Bunge, filed in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Iowa, seeks an injunction barring the latter from posting refusal signs and distributing other marketing materials alerting farmers to the fact they're not accepting corn with the Agrisure Viptera trait. That's tough timing, now as many farmers in the Corn Belt are starting to plan for fall harvest and when they could be taking targeted grain to town.

"Harvest urgency is part of the reason for this action right now," says Syngenta's head of corn for North America, Chuck Lee. "Growers are going to start bringing grain in and we feel we needed to take this action to protect growers."

The trait has netted all key export approvals from the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and National Corn Growers Association (NCGA). The trait is currently offered in 70 Syngenta varieties and licensed to 150 other companies, Lee says. Two percent of this year's U.S. corn acres are planted to varieties containing the trait.

The Agrisure Viptera trait has already received import approvals from all the major export markets from which the National Corn Growers Association and the Biotechnology Information Organization recommend securing approvals before commercialization.  The trait is expected to have import approval from China by late March 2012.

But, officials with Bunge North America say their decision to refuse grain with the Viptera trait is consistent with policy from the North American Export Grain Association (NAEGA) "to advocate that technology providers receive all major international approvals for a trait prior to seed sales," according to a statement from Bunge North America president and CEO Soren Schroder. China is "expected to grow significantly this year," he adds, and as such, Bunge's responsibility to farmers is to keep their supply chain intact. 

"We must protect the integrity of our export supply chain by not accepting Agrisure Viptera and other varieties that do not have major export market approval. Our obligation to our farmer customers is to provide access to the global marketplace and the price benefits of that access," according to Schroder's statement. "Syngenta’s decision to commercialize Agrisure Viptera should not foreclose our ability to sell to a major market -- China."

If you're already making your seed purchase decisions for next year, the legal action underway is no reason to hesitate with traits containing the Agrisure Viptera trait, especially considering the trait's agronomic benefits, the fact China currently only imports less than 1% of the U.S. corn crop, and potential seed supply logjams, Lee says.

"We've seen better control for other bugs like black cutworm, and much-improved control of corn earworms," Lee tells Agriculture.com. "We have a really good supply of it. Whenever we're doing a product launch and going into the growth stage, we tend to grow more of it. But, I would encourage growers to commit and pay early. Certainly our seed-growing areas have suffered stress. Sooner you can commit and get your seed, the better."

If you've got corn in the field now with the Agrisure Viptera trait, Lee says Syngenta is offering assistance in finding homes for the grain if you'd otherwise be hauling it to a facility that's not accepting it.

"I suspect some growers out there may be upset. We've been trying to identify locations that will take Agrisure Viptera," Lee says. "We have a couple different mechanisms to help growers who may be disadvantaged by Bunge's action.

To get help with the movement of your Agrisure Viptera corn, call 800-319-1360 or email export.info@syngenta.com.

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