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Friction Between U.S. And Major Asian Corn Importers Over Exports of Illegal GE Corn Variety

US officials fret over South Korea's response to GM corn mix-up
Date Posted: 3/31/2005

http://www.soyatech.com/bluebook/news/viewarticle.ldml?a=20050331-3

Nikkei English News via NewsEdge Corporation :

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)--U.S. industry and government officials say they are concerned South Korea may disrupt corn trade by requiring testing for an unapproved biotech strain produced in the U.S. over the past four years.

Switzerland's Syngenta AG (SYT) announced last week it inadvertently sold a limited amount of the unapproved Bt10 corn seed instead of the approved Bt11 to U.S. farmers who planted it on 37,000 acres from 2001 through 2004.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials, who asked not to be named, said since Syngenta's announcement, South Korea has brought up testing as a possible regulatory response.

A senior USDA official, when asked about trade implications from Bt10 corn, said: "This could be a problem."

Reports from private analysts in South Korea said the country's Food and Drug Administration, or KFDA, is looking into how it can test corn imports for Bt10.

And Syngenta has mobilized, sending top level representatives to Seoul. Syngenta spokeswoman Sarah Hull confirmed that Paul Tenning, head of the company's global biotech regulatory compliance division, has been sent there.

South Korea imported 148.7 million bushels of U.S. corn in the 2003-04 marketing year, making it the sixth largest foreign market for U.S. corn, according to data compiled by the National Corn Growers Association.

USDA officials said it is still too early to know how South Korea or Japan, the largest foreign market for U.S. corn, will respond to the commercialization of the unapproved biotech strains here.

USDA spokesman Ed Loyd said Japan, South Korea and other countries just learned of the unapproved biotech corn production here on March 21. Syngenta informed the USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration in December that the company discovered it had accidentally been selling the experimental and unapproved Bt10 corn seed to farmers.

A senior USDA official said "both Japan and Korea are looking at their options," but stressed no decisions have been announced on how they will implement their domestic regulations. "We have been having an ongoing exchange of information. They've been asking questions. We've been providing answers."

The only reaction so far from Japanese government officials has been to seek assurances there will be no more Bt10 in the U.S. corn supply and to request more information about Bt10 from Syngenta and the U.S.

Nathan Danielson, biotech director for the National Corn Growers Association, said the question of how Japan will react has some analysts "sitting here waiting and holding our breath."

The USDA, Environmental Protection Agency, and Food and Drug Administration
were quick to declare last week: "The genetically engineered proteins in
Bt10 corn are identical to those in the Bt11 strain, which is another genetically engineered corn strain that has been approved for use. Bt10 corn meets EPA's current health-based regulatory food safety standards, and the existing food safety clearance for Bt11 applies to Bt10."

Syngenta officials stressed that not only have they destroyed or isolated all the remaining unapproved Bt10 seed, but the likelihood that the corn produced from it over the past four years made it into exports was very small.

Despite the company's promises and U.S. government reassurances, Syngenta is still being investigated for violating USDA and EPA regulations. Syngenta has not asked for approval of its Bt10 corn from the USDA or EPA, spokespersons for those agencies and Syngenta said.

-By Bill Tomson, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-646-0088; bill.tomson@dowjones.com

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This GMO news service is underwritten by a generous grant from the Newman's Own Foundation, edited by Thomas Wittman and is a production of the Ecological Farming Association www.eco-farm.org <http://www.eco-farm.org/
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