US corn trade rocked by fresh mainland China GM scrutiny
US grain sales plunge as Chinese screening of yet-unapproved variety is stepped up
Corn exporters in the US are in turmoil after mainland authorities tightened screening procedures to check for an unapproved strain of genetically modified grain that led to an 85 per cent plunge in sales to Chinese customers last week.
Shippers have been forced to divert cargoes destined for China, the world's biggest consumer of feed grain and the market for about 40 per cent of US corn exports in the 2012/2013 season.
The latest data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows just 19,000 tonnes of corn were booked for delivery during the 2013/14 marketing year in the week to December 19 - the lowest since early September and down sharply from 124,000 tonnes in the previous week.
Mainland quarantine authorities refused to accept 545,000 tonnes of US corn in November and December because shipments contained Syngenta AG's MIR 162 corn, a GM variety that has been awaiting China's approval for more than two years.
"It is a problem today," said Tom Grisafi, president of agricultural advisory service Trade the Farm. "When your biggest customer wants to play games, they can get away with it. Every farmer I talked to today is aware of it."
Strict testing for MIR 162 comes as Beijing seeks to curb cheap corn imports and support domestic prices for the grain, industry sources have said.
The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine this week issued a notice to local authorities asking them to step up checks for MIR 162.
Cargoes are still leaving the United States, albeit at a slower pace, with shipments to the mainland accounting for about 15 per cent of US corn shipped overseas.
The USDA projects that China will import seven million tonnes of US corn in the 2013/14 season, but industry analysts say exports will continue to fall in coming weeks unless a deal with mainland authorities can be agreed.