Syngenta began marketing Viptera GMO seed to U.S. farmers in 2009, and a year later the company sought approval to sell the variety in China. Unfortunately for American corn growers, that approval would not be granted until December 2014. China is one of the largest markets for U.S. corn products, and it has a well-known zero-tolerance policy pertaining to the sale of any crops that contain unapproved seeds. But instead of warning U.S. corn growers that Viptera hadn’t yet been approved in one of their most important markets, Syngenta’s advertising for the GMO variety promised farmers they could “Plant with Confidence,” and minimized China’s importance to U.S. corn industry.
Once Viptera was on the market, it was planted next to fields that contained other corn varieties. It was also mixed with other commercial corn varieties at grain elevators, terminal grain facilities, and even ships that carried corn exports to other countries. As a result, it wasn’t long before Viptera had contaminated the entire U.S. corn supply. In 2013, China found traces of the Viptera trait in corn shipments from the U.S., prompting the country to reject all U.S. corn. More than 1 million metric tons of corn were turned away at Chinese ports because of Viptera contamination.
The consequences for U.S. corn growers were devastating. Syngenta lawsuits allege that China’s rejections have caused U.S. corn exports to drop 85%. The volatility in the worldwide corn market that resulted from those rejects has likely cost farmers in this country more than $1 billion.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that the financial chaos unleashed by its handling of Viptera has done anything to deter Syngenta. In 2014, the company introduced Duracade, another GMO corn seed not yet approved for sale in China. According to Syngenta lawsuits, Duracade will also contaminate the U.S. corn crop, and possibly result in further rejections by Chinese regulators.