A StarLink To The Past?

One of my favorite quotes is by philosopher George Santayana: “Those that do not learn by history’s mistakes are condemned to repeat them.” I think this comment’s cautionary note is what makes it so profound — remember past errors. Or else.

Strangely, I was reminded of this quote recently reading a series of news stories and press releases involving ethanol production and new seed traits. As everyone knows, ethanol demand has pushed corn acres to unprecedented levels in 2007. Naturally, input suppliers have positioned their products to take advantage of this growth.

An example of this hit my desk in May, when Syngenta issued a press release touting its corn rootworm-controlling Agrisure RW seed trait as a way for growers to meet ethanol demand. “Corn-on-corn acres are at greatest risk from rootworm feeding and growers want this trait to protect their yields,” said Chuck Lee, head of Syngenta corn products. Significantly, the release emphasized Agrisure RW is for use in “domestic markets.”

One day later, a news story appeared expressing concerns about the launch of Agrisure RW seed. Ac­cord­ing to Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), his group was concerned that corn grown from this seed — which is approved  in the U.S. and New Zealand, but not elsewhere — could mistakenly end up in the export market for another product of the ethanol boom, distillers dried grain (DDG). “Export markets are quickly becoming a major component of the DDG market,” wrote Dinneen. “More than 10% of U.S. DDG production was exported in 2006, with Mexico and the Pacific Rim the fastest growing markets.” He suggested Syngenta gain more country approvals before marketing Agrisure RW to the ethanol industry.

Unfortunately, this debate on “select markets for seed traits” sounds a bit too familiar for my comfort. Remember back in the late 1990s? With biotechnology all the rage, seed suppliers were rushing to get new traits into the mix. One such corn variety was Star­Link from Aventis Crop Sciences. Although it was only approved for use as animal feed because of the potential for an allergic reaction in humans, StarLink corn somehow ended up in taco shells in the fall of 2000. This lead to a public relations nightmare, dozens of product recalls, and one huge black eye that the biotech seed industry is still trying to recover from almost seven years later.

In hindsight of the StarLink incident, observers thought it was “unwise” to market seed types that didn’t have “widespread regulatory approval” because of the risk of supply chain errors.

Now I’m not suggesting Agrisure RW will end up in the wrong place the way StarLink did. Traceability and product tracking are much more evolved today than they were back in 2000.

But should the industry take the chance of another “select market” product ending up where it shouldn’t be? Ethanol critics are already beginning to raise their voices. Popular news sources such as ABC’s 20/20 and News­week magazine are already questioning ethanol’s usefulness. Even the United Nations has weighed in on the food vs. fuel debate. Do we really want to give these naysayers more potential ammunition to attack us?

In this sense, I agree with RFA’s Din­neen. It’s better to be cautious. Or else we risk history repeating itself. 

Leave a Reply

Latest News
Syngenta Seedcare Institute
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Opens New North America Seedcare Institute In …
September 23, 2016
Syngenta unveiled its new Seedcare Institute in Stanton, MN, during a recent grand opening celebration. More than 150 industry leaders, Read More
StewardshipMonsanto Invests $1.6 Million In System To Quantify Gre…
September 23, 2016
The USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) recently awarded the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and its Soil Health Read More
Pipe rack
LegislationCourt Sides With Ag Retailers On PSM
September 23, 2016
The D.C. Court of Appeals has ruled the Occupational Safety and Health Administration violated the Occupational Safety and Health Act when Read More
ManagementPacific Coast Fertilizer Announces Interest In Longview…
September 22, 2016
Pacific Coast Fertilizer LP (PCF) announced at the Cowlitz Economic Development Council board of directors meeting its interest in developing Read More
Young corn plants in soil
UncategorizedCool Planet Raises Additional $9 Million To Commerciali…
September 22, 2016
Cool Planet has announced the first close of a new financing round to commercialize the company’s Cool Terra Engineered Biocarbon Read More
Crop InputsJim Loar Promoted To President And CEO Of Cool Planet
September 22, 2016
In a move that reflects and reinforces the company’s commitment to the agricultural market, the Cool Planet board of directors Read More
BlendersNorth Dakota Coop Debuts Dry Fertilizer Plant
September 22, 2016
North Central Grain Cooperative has begun operations at a new dry fertilizer plant at its Rolla, ND, site. It is Read More
Crop InputsMonsanto, Bayer Officials Defend Proposed $66 Billion M…
September 21, 2016
Top officials for Monsanto and Bayer defended their proposed $66 billion merger before skeptical senators on Tuesday, insisting that the Read More
ManagementUpcoming Shows & Recent Events
September 19, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about upcoming trade shows and events and review the Mid America CropLife Association Read More
Industry NewsVerdesian Life Sciences Appoints New CEO
September 19, 2016
Verdesian Life Sciences, a plant health and nutrition company, today announced that its board of directors has named Kenneth M. Avery Read More
Corn
Crop InputsEPA Settles With Syngenta For Alleged Multi-Regional Pe…
September 19, 2016
The U.S. EPA has announced a multi-region settlement with Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC (Syngenta) in Greensboro, NC, for alleged violations of Read More
ManagementMerger Mania
September 16, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss this week’s mega-ag mergers of Bayer and Monsanto and Potash and Agrium. Read More
Monsanto sign
Crop InputsMonsanto Ends Up Being A Bargain For Bayer
September 16, 2016
History will say Bayer got a bargain in its $66 billion purchase of Monsanto, writes David Nicklaus, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Read More
Greg Musson, Gar Tootelian
CropLife 100California Ag Retailer Steps Up To Feed Families Affect…
September 16, 2016
GAR Tootelian, Inc. (GAR) in Reedley, CA, is challenging the Central Valley to help raise enough money and provide 525,000 meals Read More
Crop InputsBayer, Monsanto CEOs Discuss Merger
September 15, 2016
Werner Baumann, Bayer CEO, and Hugh Grant, Monsanto CEO, discuss why they decided to merge their companies. Read More
Corn close up
Crop InputsNY Times: Bayer-Monsanto a Bad Deal for Farmers
September 15, 2016
Via NY Times: Don Halcomb, a 63-year-old farmer in Adairville, KY, is expecting his profit to vanish this year, largely Read More
Werner Baumann, Bayer AG, and Hugh Grant, Monsanto
Crop InputsBayer-Monsanto Merger Creates New Global Ag Giant
September 14, 2016
During the whole of 2016, many of the companies that do business in the agricultural industry have concluded the best Read More
Bayer Monsanto
Crop InputsBayer-Monsanto Mega-Merger: 6 Things You Need To Know
September 14, 2016
Mega mergers have become almost routine in the agricultural industry. Right on the heels of Monday’s news that fertilizer giants Potash Read More