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

Featured Stories

CropLife 100South Dakota Wheat Growers To Add Grain-Agronomy Facility
September 26, 2014
Planned to be constructed in Kennebec, the facility will be located along the soon-to-be rehabilitated line of heavy-rail service from Chamberlain to Presho. Read More
FertilizerCF Industries Confirms Merger Of Equals Discussions With Yara International
September 23, 2014
CF Industries Holdings, Inc. has confirmed that it is in preliminary discussions with Yara International regarding a potential merger of equals transaction. Read More
Seed/BiotechUSDA Approves Enlist Following Rigorous Review
September 18, 2014
Dow AgroSciences now awaits EPA registration of Enlist Duo herbicide, the companion herbicide to the Enlist traits, which is expected in the near future. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires Kansas-Based Cedar Ridge Supply
September 16, 2014
Cedar Ridge Supply will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More

Trending Articles

Equipment2014 Product Of The Year Voting
September 19, 2014
Many new products were introduced to the ag retail marketplace this year. From this group, CropLife IRON and its consulting partners have selected five finalists for the Product of the Year award. Please cast your vote today to help us determine the winner. Read More
FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More
EquipmentNew Holland Acquires Miller-St. Nazianz
September 3, 2014
The assets of Miller acquired as part of the transaction will become part of New Holland Agriculture, a CNH Industrial brand, building on a successful four-year partnership between the two companies. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires East Kansas Chemical
September 2, 2014
Ranked 82nd on the CropLife 100, East Kansas Chemical will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More

Latest News

FertilizerFertilizer Outlook And Technology Conference Set For No…
September 30, 2014
Conference participants can expect to gain perspective on the outlook for agriculture and major fertilizer materials and inputs from industry experts. Read More
MicronutrientsVerdesian Acquires Micronutrient Supplier
September 30, 2014
Verdesian Life Sciences has acquired QC Corp., a producer and supplier of granular and dry micronutrients and ferrous sulfate products. Read More
Eric SfiligojHearing From Young Ag Voices
September 30, 2014
Potential future leaders in ag retail had the chance to shine at the recent Mid America CropLife Association meeting. Read More
WebinarsUpcoming Webinars
September 30, 2014
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
Crop InputsSyngenta Appoints New Chief Operating Officer
September 29, 2014
Jon Parr will succeed retiring COO John Atkin at the end of the year. Read More
CropLife 100South Dakota Wheat Growers To Add Grain-Agronomy Facili…
September 26, 2014
Planned to be constructed in Kennebec, the facility will be located along the soon-to-be rehabilitated line of heavy-rail service from Chamberlain to Presho. Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK Announces Vice President Appointments
September 25, 2014
Two individuals have been appointed Vice President positions on the GROWMARK executive team. Read More
FertilizerFertilizer Industry Organizations Join Global Alliance …
September 25, 2014
The Fertilizer Institute, the International Plant Nutrition Institute and the International Fertilizer Industry Association are encouraging the industry to promote the proper use of fertilizer products to minimize their environmental impact. Read More
Precision AgARA Organized Precision Forum Hits Capitol Hill
September 24, 2014
The Coalition for the Advancement of Precision Agriculture (CAPA) hosted its inaugural Precision Ag Forum, Sept. 18, in Washington, D.C. Read More
FertilizerFactors To Consider When Placing Fertilizer With Seed
September 24, 2014
The type of crop, fertilizer source, row spacing and soil environment all affect how much fertilizer can be safely applied with seed. Read More
FertilizerSidedressing Manure Into Corn Has Promising Results
September 24, 2014
Applying manure to growing crops can boost yields, reduce nutrient losses and give livestock producers another window of time to apply manure to farm fields. Read More
FertilizerWhen To Sample Manure For Analysis
September 24, 2014
Because the goal is to collect a sample that represents the manure actually being applied, the best time to sample is during loading or field application. Here's why. Read More
Syngenta
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Faces Second Lawsuit Over Agrisure Viptera Cor…
September 23, 2014
A second company has sued Syngenta AG over sales of genetically modified corn seed not approved by China. Read More
StewardshipCover Crops Field Guide For Farmers Expanded
September 23, 2014
Farmers interested in planting cover crops to improve soil health now have an updated and expanded resource in the second edition of the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide. Read More
HerbicidesArysta LifeScience Launches Contest For Wheat Growers
September 23, 2014
The Flush after Flush Photo Finish contest encourages farmers across the U.S. to participate through Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #FlushAfterFlush. Read More
FertilizerCF Industries Confirms Merger Of Equals Discussions Wit…
September 23, 2014
CF Industries Holdings, Inc. has confirmed that it is in preliminary discussions with Yara International regarding a potential merger of equals transaction. Read More
StewardshipProgram To Examine Ag-Related Practices, Policies To Pr…
September 22, 2014
A panel discussion on October 14 will include a significant discussion on key issues and solutions related to all aspects of harmful algal blooms. Read More
Eric SfiligojIt’s Product Of The Year Voting Season
September 22, 2014
Readers of CropLife IRON will choose 2014’s best new product over the next month. Read More