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How the seed industry deals with European Union challenges requests

The European Union (EU) has presented challenges for seed companies trying to gain approval for traited hybrids and varieties.

Europeans tend to be skittish regarding genetically modified (GM) grains, with public perceptions often outweighing science in the regulatory process.

"Europeans do not place a lot of trust in their governments doing the reviewing and regulating," says Mark Lambert, communications director for the Illinois Corn Growers Association. Regulatory breakdowns that occurred several years ago shifted trust away from government regulators to environmental groups, he adds.

As a result, the EU has significantly sliced imports of whole grain to reduce the chance of importing corn containing unapproved biotech traits. The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Know Before You Grow Web site shows 16 out of 23 traits and traits stacks approved for 2007 use in the U.S. are not approved for food by the EU. Twelve of the 23 are not approved for feed use.

However, an industry program under the American Seed Trade Association called Market Choices has helped ease concerns about commingling of transgenic grain with non-transgenic grain and grain products headed for the EU. This industry-wide initiative helps growers and grain handlers identify non-EU approved corn hybrids. Grain from these hybrids is segregated from entering export markets. Corn displaying the Market Choices symbol must be channeled to appropriate markets, including:

  • On-farm feeding.
  • Selling the grain to a domestic feedlot or feedmill.
  • Selling the grain to a local elevator or processor that has agreed to accept your grain.

The ASTA has a Web site at that helps growers locate grain handling facilities that show a willingness to purchase, receive, and handle U.S.-approved biotech corn products that are not yet fully approved for import into the EU as whole grain, processed feeds, and/or food. Approximately 8,000 facilities have shown a willingness to participate in this database.

It's been a workable program, says Tami Craig Schilling, director, public affairs for Monsanto. "We believe we can do grain channeling in light of those geographies and be effective at doing so," she says.

Chuck Lee, head of corn products for Syngenta, believes a similar program could work for Japan and Agrisure RW hybrids.

"We just need to find a way to make sure we can plant that grain in the U.S., and identity-preserve that grain," says Lee.

He adds there's precedence for channeling in foreign markets, such as has been shown by the Market Choices program.

"It's our idea that the grain trade can do the same thing for Japan, to find a way to segregate corn for the Japanese market," says Lee.

However, a program like Market Choices isn't likely to include channeling grains destined to Japan, says Paul Bertels, director of biotechnology and economic analysis for NCGA. One consistent point of agreement among all parties in the Market Choices program is that traits needed to have Japanese approval.

Bertels adds the NCGA Biotechnology Working Group briefly discussed forming a pre-Market Choices system to channel grain away from Japan. "It just didn't seem feasible, given the overall size of the Japanese market," he says. Japan is the top U.S. corn export customer, buying approximately around five percent of the U.S. corn crop annually.

More on the Agrisure RW situation:

The European Union (EU) has presented challenges for seed companies trying to gain approval for traited hybrids and varieties.

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