Bunge-Syngenta clash ‘has big repercussions’

images (7) Other companies, including Monsanto, look set to be affected by the outcome of a legal battle between Syngenta and Bunge over handling cutting-edge corn, which will create a landmark.

Bryan Endres, a leading researcher in agricultural law, said that the problems raised by the case "are likely to spread into other new biotech seed varieties", including those handled by Syngenta rivals such as Monsanto.

"This is what I would call a test case," Professor Endres, at the University of Illinois, told Agrimoney.com.

"Bunge and Syngenta are acting as proxies for their industries.

"You have the grain distribution system on the side of Bunge, and life sciences on the side of Syngenta."

‘Legal standard’

The two companies, who were likely to reach a dispute out of court, were attempting to come up with a settlement which would prove a precedent for the two sectors.

"It will set a legal standard. The grain industry then will likely begin to follow that standard."

Furthermore, it will have implications for growers "caught in the crossfire" between seed groups offering genetically modified products, and grain buyers wary of purchasing crops which may be unapproved in many countries, and could be seen as contaminating the logistical chain.

Professor Endres compared the case in importance with a dispute 13 years ago which ended with Aventis delaying release of herbicide-resistant Liberty Link soybeans in the US until the variety had been approved in the European Union.

The hold-up, while leaving the field open to seed from rival Monsanto, protected US soybean exports to the EU – in contrast with the shutdown in shipments of corn following the release in the US of multiple genetically-modified products unapproved by Brussels.

China question

The Bunge-Syngenta case centres on the seed group’s Agrisure Viptera brand of biotech corn seed which, while approved in the US, is unapproved in China.

Bunge’s North American division has refused to handle the seed, on grounds that the business "must protect the integrity" of its export supply chain, and avoid the risk of being locked out of Chinese deals.

However, Syngenta says Bunge is acting illegally. While seed groups volunteered in 2007 not to commercialise seed banned in major US export markets, China did not at the time qualify as a significant corn buyer.

Even now, China is only a medium-sized buyer, with total imports in 2010-12 estimated at 2.0m tonnes.

"Bunge maybe not looking at where China is today, but where it is tomorrow and the day after that," Professor Endres said.


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