CHICAGO, Dec 20 (Reuters) – China has officially approved imports of a genetically modified Bayer CropScience soybean variety after seven years of review, the company said on Friday, raising expectations that approval notices will come soon for other biotech crops.
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Bayer received an import certificate from China, the world’s top soybean importer, for its LL55 Liberty Link variety and plans a full commercial U.S. launch of the seed in 2015.
Beijing has been taking longer than in the past to approve new GMO crops amidst growing consumer sentiment against GMO food in China and concerns amongst some government officials about excessive dependence on U.S. food supplies. The delay has cast doubt over the future of seed companies’ heavy investments in research of GMO seeds, which can take up to 10 years and $150 million to develop.
Approval of LL55 soybean imports “is great news for growers,” said Diego Angelo, director of Bayer’s U.S. soybean operations, in a telephone interview. “It’s great news for Bayer.”
China’s acceptance comes too late for U.S. farmers who have already ordered their soybean seeds for next year. However, growers in southern states, where LL55 will be planted, typically wait longer to select their varieties than in the Midwest, Angelo said.
Farmers will probably plant LL55 soybeans on 200,000 to 300,000 acres in the southern United States in 2015, he added. This year, U.S. farmers planted 84.2 million acres of soy.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday said China had approved imports of GMO soybeans developed by Bayer and DuPont Pioneer and shipments of Agrisure Viptera corn, developed by Swiss-based Syngenta AG. However, the companies had not received official notifications.
On Friday, Syngenta and DuPont said they still had not received approval notices.
China is a key market for the $12 billion U.S. agricultural seeds business, and accounted for nearly 60 percent of U.S. soybean exports and 12 percent of corn exports two years ago.
Nearly 90 percent of corn in the United States is genetically engineered, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as farmers embrace technology that helps kill weeds and fight pests.
Chinese ports in November 2013 began rejecting U.S. corn imports, saying they were tainted with Viptera, known as MIR 162. The trait is approved for planting in the United States but not for import by China. Commodity traders Cargill Inc and Archer Daniels Midland Co, along with dozens of farmers, have sued Syngenta for damages from the rejections.