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Farmers Cautious When it Comes to New Monsanto Soybean Seeds

Farmers across the Midwest and Great Plains this year have been advised to use caution when planting a new line of Monsanto soybean seeds that have not been approved abroad.

Monsanto received U.S. approval in 2013 for its Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans, which are genetically engineered to withstand the dual herbicides glyphosate and dicamba to help farmers deal with increasingly resilient super weeds. While China and other international markets have cleared the new seeds, the European Union has not.

Grain handlers are warning farmers that – if the EU doesn’t clear the new seeds – handlers may have to reject crops with the Monsanto soybeans in order to avoid the kind of trade chaos that happened three years ago.

“We were made aware that Cargill, ADM and smaller grain companies or elevators had made statements regarding not being able to take harvested soybeans this fall with the Roundup Ready Xtend if the EU had not yet approved the trait by that time,” said Tamara Nelson, senior director of commodities for the Illinois Farm Bureau.

Monsanto isn’t the only seed-producer running into problems. Grain handlers have also banned specific products from Syngenta, Dow, DuPont Pioneer and other seed producers.

Archer Daniels Midland notified farmers that they will categorically reject all GMO crops that have not received global approval, and Bunge announced it is turning down 19 varieties of genetically engineered corn and soybeans that lack approval in key foreign markets, according to Reuters.

Their caution comes after China banned U.S. corn shipments in 2013 because they contained an unapproved strain of GMO corn produced by Syngenta. The National Grain and Feed Association calculated that the trade disruption cost corn producers up to $3.4 billion in losses.

Thousands of farmers and a handful of businesses have sued Syngenta in an ongoing legal battle as a result of the losses.

“[Farmers] are aware of the market caution at this point,” Nelson said.

U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows that more than 90 percent of soybeans planted in the United States are genetically engineered.

The EU is the world’s largest importer of soybean meal and the second largest importer of soybeans, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Monsanto typically secures approval in major foreign markets before releasing products at home. The St. Louis-based company has been going through EU approval for its Xtend variety for years.

The last official sign off has been repeatedly delayed, however, as Europe recovers from multiple terrorist attacks and other issues.

“Our official policy recommends that manufactures of new biotech products first obtain approvals in major markets before commercializing them in the United States,” Nelson said. “We fully recognize Monsanto has been working on all of the necessary approvals.”

The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and the North Dakota Grain Dealers Association have also advised farmers in their states to plant with caution.

Will a new trade deal help?

There isn’t a uniform system for approving new varieties of genetically engineered seeds from country to country, and agribusiness officials say the patchwork of different rules creates major challenges for farmers, seed companies and grain handlers alike.

An infrequently talked about section of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal – or TPP – seeks to address that.

Reached in October 2015, TPP is a free-trade agreement between the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The deal has yet to receive final approval from each country, but if approved it would create a biotechnology working group to “improve global information exchange.”

Under the deal’s terms, member countries would be required to provide lists of authorized and pending biotechnology products. Transparency in their review processes would also be required.

“Technology will continue to evolve,” said Devry Boughner Vorwerk, vice president of corporate affairs for Minnesota-based agribusiness giant Cargill, during testimony to a U.S. House of Representatives’ subcommittee on trade. “So this agreement needs to continue to be able to be dynamic enough to address the advances and the innovations that the American [agriculture] industry is making.”

TPP does not force countries to adopt or modify control policies within their borders.

The U.S. International Trade Commission last week released a new economic study on the trade deal. The study was cautiously optimistic about overall benefits to the U.S. economy and concluded that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would likely be a major lift for domestic agriculture production.

The study estimates that the new deal would boost the U.S. agriculture industry by $10 billion per year by 2032.

“TPP would further expand the markets for our American-grown products, allowing our goods to compete on a level playing field and reach more consumers hungry for U.S. agriculture,” U.S. Department of Agriculture Sectary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

Leading U.S. presidential candidates have widely opposed the trade deal.

This story was written by Big Ag Watch, which is a project of the Midwest Center for Investigative Journalism. 

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