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Industry Comes Together to Improve the Introduction of Ag Biotech Products into the Marketplace

February 26, 2015
Representatives of several farm, grain trade and biotech companies have been meeting on a regular basis to try to develop better “rules of the road” for the introduction of new ag biotech products. Agripulse covered the story on how the U.S. Biotech Crops Alliance (USBCA) is working to find common ground on the introduction, stewardship, and distribution of commodities and processed products containing or derived from modern biotechnology.

The USBCA's founding organizations are the National Corn Growers Association, American
Soybean Association, American Seed Trade Association, Biotechnology Industry Organization, National Grain and Feed Association, and North American Export Grain Association. Other national organizations that subsequently joined include the American Farm Bureau Federation, Corn Refiners Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Oilseed Processors Association, North American Millers' Association, United Sorghum Checkoff Program, U.S. Canola Association, U.S. Grains Council and U.S. Soybean Export Council.

The group has been working to communicate up and down the value chain about the risks
associated with the introduction of a new biotech product and how to manage those risks.
On the international front, participants are still grinding out how to establish protocols in
international markets for low-level presence (LLP), ensuring that small amounts of unapproved seed varieties don’t lead to another full-scale rejection of a grain shipment.
USBCA participants say they’ve made substantial progress in persuading the U.S. government to elevate biotechnology acceptance as a trade policy issue and to play a positive role in a global LLP initiative that was originally started by the Canadians. More importing and exporting countries are at least talking about the need to synchronize their approval process, they say.

But the effort to is still very complicated and may take many more years to resolve. And the longer it takes, the more reluctant some companies may be to bring new products to the market – especially when you consider that it takes about 13 years and $136 million to take a new biotechnology trait from the point of discovery through the domestic and international approval process, according to Syngenta. And that same trait may only enjoy a patent life of 20 years.

Until the group can fully address the LLP issue, many sources say it will be difficult to tackle perhaps the biggest challenge confronting the USBCA – how to assign liability for any damages that might occur and then how to ensure that those damages are paid. For example, what if an individual farmer violates his or her stewardship agreement? Would that same farmer be able to pay for a rejected shipment of grain? And what about the technology providers? At what point should they be required to pay damages – if at all?

The USBCA group hopes to find more consensus before their mid-summer board meeting.