For more than two decades, the Polish Grain & Feed Chamber has been one of the most influential industry associations in Poland. The organization is also very active in Europe through its membership in the European Feed Industry Federation (FEFAC), the European grain industry lobby group (COCERAL), and, most recently, the European Commodities Exchange. The U.S. Soy industry has long worked with the Chamber on many issues, including channeling professional know-how to the Polish grain, feed, livestock and food industries.
On April 21, when the Chamber held its general assembly of members in Warsaw, USSEC brought Beat Spaeth, EuropaBio, director of Green Biotechnology, to speak to this audience on “The Present and Future of Biotechnology in Global & European Agriculture and Food Chain.” Mr. Spaeth explained the massive adoption of biotech crops in the world: in 2015, 18 million farmers in 28 countries planted biotech crops on 179.7 million hectares (approximately 444 million acres), which is just a marginal decline since 2014, despite furious attacks from opponents. “Could 18 million farmers be wrong about this new technology?” the speaker asked the Polish audience.
Speaking about the benefits that biotech crops and their derivatives offer to farmers and consumers, Mr. Spaeth highlighted the sustainability aspect of green biotechnology: production of more food on less land, reduced inputs use, reduced soil erosion, and lower CO2 emissions. The events that are in the public research institutions’ and the biotech industry’s pipeline will bring more benefits, such as resistance to new diseases, better insect and weed control, tolerance of drought and salty conditions, higher nitrogen use efficiency, better livestock feed efficiency and improved biofuel traits. The speaker stressed the consumer benefits, especially more healthy edible oils and enhanced nutritional value.
Commenting on the attitude to green biotechnology and regulatory practices in the EU, Mr. Spaeth pointed to the common hypocrisy at both Brussels’ and member states’ levels, namely stated support to innovation in agriculture and practiced expelling innovation by delaying authorization for imports, blocking applications for cultivation, and the sharp reduction of field trials. These actions cause the commercial biotech pipelines to focus not on Europe, but on other continents.
USSEC Technical Director – Northeast Europe Jerzy W. Kosieradzki thanked the Polish professional audience and the leaders of the Polish Grain & Feed Chamber for taking the lead in the local battle for extension of the moratorium on implementation of the Polish legal ban on GM feeds that was partially successful. The date of the ban’s implementation was set for January 1, 2019, not 2021, as the industry originally proposed.
USSEC participated in an International Soybean Growers Alliance (ISGA) mission to Argentina December 1 and 2.
USSEC chairman and American Soybean Association (ASA) director Jim Miller, USSEC and United Soybean Board (USB) director Jimmy Sneed, USSEC CEO Jim Sutter, and USSEC Marketing Director – Market Access / Freedom to Operate Roz Leeck made up the USSEC delegation.
Prior to participating in the ISGA meetings, the group visited Rosario, Santa Fe; stopping at a farm for an afternoon of discussion and a field tour. They also visited T6, a joint venture between Bunge and AGD, which is one of the largest crush plants in the world in addition to serving as an export facility for soy, soy products, corn and wheat.
This meeting in Argentina was a significant step on setting the agenda and priorities for the upcoming year. It also marked the first official meetings since Argentina’s ISGA members assumed the role of Secretariat. The group continues to target market access issues of mutual interest. The key topics are: biotechnology approvals and acceptance (especially in China, India and EU), pesticide tolerance levels, LLP, and the market acceptance of soy products derived by using Plant Breeding Innovation (New Breeding Techniques). Beyond these external-facing issues, the group also discussed issues that farmers face in each of the member countries. Many of these issues are regarding regulatory and social pressures. The ISGA meeting provides an excellent forum to share experiences and exchange ideas on how to address the challenges farmers face from many different sources.
In addition, the ISGA delegation met with the Minister of Agriculture and had a private meeting with the Secretary of Agriculture. In those meetings, a number of different issues were discussed, including the changes Argentina has made in Differential Export Tax as well as the ongoing debate on seed law and intellectual property protection. Both the Minister and Secretary recognized the significance of the six soy producing nations coming together to work on market access issues of mutual concern and encouraged the farmers to continue their efforts. This view was also expressed when the U.S. team met with David Mergen, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Ag Counselor located in Buenos Aires.
Leaders from the U.S. Soy industry travelled to China to attend the 4th China Food Security & Food Safety Strategy (FSFSS) Summit and exchange views with the country’s policy advisors in Beijing on November 12 and 13.
The FSFSS Summit, organized by China’s top policy advisory body Development Research Center of the State Council, was held at the Diaoyutai National Guesthouse, a garden-style complex where Chinese leaders meet and house foreign heads of state.
The U.S. delegation, including USSEC Chairman and American Soybean Association (ASA) Director Jim Miller, ASA President Richard Wilkins, United Soybean Board (USB) Director Bill Beam, and USSEC CEO Jim Sutter, expressed concerns during the summit over the delays in China’s approval procedures for biotech soybean events. Mr. Miller, in his presentation on “Science-Based Food Safety Regulatory System,” made the case that the GMO food issue should not be muddled up with the food safety issue, as the seeds have been tested for safety and approved well ahead of being processed into food. Mr. Wilkins warned Chinese policy advisors that biotech approval delays would not only hurt growers and seed developers, but the environment and consumers as well. Mr. Beam argued that advanced technology, including biotechnology, enhances sustainability, and helps with global food security and food safety.
The U.S. Soy grower leaders also held a sideline meeting with Mr. Han Jun, Vice Minister of China’s Office of the Central Rural Work Leading Group (CRWLG) to communicate the U.S. Soy industry’s efforts in consumer education on biotech, express the industry’s concerns over approval delays, and elaborate on the possible negative impact on China’s food security and food safety.
Mr. Wilkins also had an informal discussion during the summit with Chen Xiwen, CRWSLG’s former Deputy Director. Mr. Chen, currently serving as President of Tsinghua University’s China Institute for Rural Studies, shared his views on the country’s ongoing structural reform of agricultural supply and expounded the multiple causes behind the fluctuations in China’s domestic agricultural prices in recent years.
The U.S. delegation also networked with industry leaders in animal feed and biotechnology. They showed particular interest in China’s use of agricultural drones and talked with Justin Gong, co-founder and CMO of south China’s agricultural drone manufacturer XAIRCRAFT, on business opportunities opened up by this technology, which is relatively new to China.
Also speaking at the summit were Iowa Governor Terry Branstad; Luke Hartsuyker, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia; and Martyn Dunne, Director General of the Ministry for Primary Industries of New Zealand, among others.
USSEC and the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) collaborated during a series of meetings in Brussels, Belgium last week to raise concerns about delays in approvals for soybean and corn biotech events and stressing the need for a predictable, transparent, and science-based regulatory system in the European Union.
USSEC vice chairman Jim Miller, a Nebraska soybean farmer, and USSEC Marketing Director – Market Access/Freedom to Operate Roz Leeck met with European Parliament members, European Commission officials, and European Food and Feed Chain representatives.
Mr. Miller, together with Dean Taylor, a USGC delegate from the Iowa Corn Growers Association and leader of the USGC Biotechnology Advisory Team, described their experiences as farmers who use biotechnology and other innovative technologies, sharing how adopting these tools has helped them to improve their economic and environmental sustainability. They interacted with European stakeholders, telling them that they will continue to promptly adopt and take advantage of new events as they are approved in the United States and in other key markets with workable and functioning regulatory systems.
Creating an opportunity for U.S. farmers to share these positions directly is critical to forward movement in the European market. The EU has delayed final approval of three soybean events and one corn event that have already gone through the risk assessment and risk management processes but have still not cleared the final hurdle by the European Commission. The European Parliament has further complicated this process by voting on resolutions of disapproval for events that have been cleared for final approval. Although this action is non-binding, it adds further uncertainty to the biotech approval process.
In meetings with European Commission departments covering agriculture, trade and health, both USSEC and USGC representatives reiterated they are not seeking to change the EU’s biotech approval laws and regulations or reduce existing levels of protection, but are seeking improvements to the EU approval system to bring it in line with EU-legislated timelines as well as a more practical approach to situations of low-level presence of yet-unapproved traits in grain shipments to the EU.
USSEC is raising the voice of science and sustainability in U.S. soybean trade to Taiwan while offering consumers the choice of both genetically modified organism (GMO) and non-GMO U.S. soybeans.
In 2014/2015, the United States ranked #1 with $669 million in total soybean sales to the island nation that depends on imports. Yet, consumer and political challenges to biotechnology confront U.S. soybean exports.
Starting in 2015, Taiwan required companies to label GMO soybeans and food products, such as soybean milk, tofu, and soybean protein products entering the country. By October 2015, street vendors and small stores had to label raw materials. Effective January 2016, businesses were obligated to label GMO food products such as soy sauce. Meanwhile, U.S. exporters must prove traceability and face more customs requirements and paperwork.
USSEC has used soybean checkoff and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Market Access Program (MAP) funds to assist U.S. exporters and assure Taiwan’s soy food companies and their customers that U.S. Soy is safe and sustainable. In 2015, USSEC established a website to share solutions with soy food processors on how to respond to consumer concerns regarding the safety of their soy foods that contain biotechnology ingredients.
MAP funds also assisted USSEC in convening a Biotech Soybean Education Forum in July 2015.
A post-forum survey showed that more than 80 percent of the participants became more confident in the safety of GMOs. These results form a foundation for USSEC’s MAP-funded 2016 sustainability education that faces an internet-based anti-GMO campaign. USSEC is working with Taiwanese companies that will add a new “Sustainable U.S. Soy” logo to their products.
Even with heightened regulatory requirements, Taiwan’s consumption of U.S. Soy remains high and stable, including through foods, such as tofu and soymilk. The USDA reports that in 2015, the U.S. exported 280 thousand metric tons (TMT) of soybeans for food utilization, including 26 TMT of non-GMO soybeans valued at $20 million USD.
USSEC participated in the International Soybean Growers Alliance’s (ISGA) mission to Beijing, China from April 10-15.
Delegates included participants from Brazil, Canada and the U.S. U.S. soybean farmers were represented by USSEC chairman Laura Foell, USSEC CEO Jim Sutter, American Soybean Association (ASA) chairman Wade Cowan, and United Soybean Board (USB) vice chairman John Motter.
Over the course of the week the delegation learned about China’s economic and political environment, held various meetings with industry partners, and engaged with government officials regarding biotechnology approvals. The Mission concluded with a Soy Fair where representatives from the delegation, Ambassadors from Argentina, Canada, and Uruguay, and Ag Counselors from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Uruguay and the U.S. engaged in dialogue with more than 100 Key Opinion Leaders in China. The nature of the event was to talk about agriculture in the respective countries as well as the valuable role biotechnology plays. We are tracking the activity from the Soy Fair and will look forward to sharing the outcomes of the interaction.
China is a very important trading partner, importing over 78 million metric tons (2014/15) with nearly 30 million metric tons coming from the United States.
USSEC continues to mark successes related to its third Moms to China mission, which took place in early December as part of the International Soy Growers Alliance (ISGA). The goal of the mission was to engage with Chinese key opinion leaders (KOLs) to help build confidence in the safety and importance of biotechnology while highlighting how this technology can enhance sustainable food security.
The KOL engagement achieved about 600,000 impressions and an event held at the Guokr Food Lab achieved about 100,000 impressions, which does not account for the impressions generated by non-KOLs who attended the events and shared it among their WeChat friends’ circles.
The Chinese language website, www.soyfarms.com, developed by USSEC, has posted a video of the Guokr event. Although the website is in Chinese, the video is in English with Chinese subtitles. To watch the video, please click here.
USSEC is pleased that Monsanto announced commercial launch plans for its Roundup Ready 2 Xtend™ on February 3, after it received import approval from China. This technology is now available in the United States and Canada for the 2016 growing season.
The high-yielding germplasm in Roundup Ready 2 Xtend™ soybeans has been under development for a decade, according to Monsanto, with the intent to provide growers with improved performance. The company says that demand for Roundup Ready 2 Xtend™ soybeans has been strong with pre-orders from growers.
Although Roundup Ready 2 Xtend™ soybeans are tolerant to both glyphosate and dicamba herbicides, the use of dicamba herbicide over the top of Roundup Ready 2 Xtend™ soybeans remains in late stage of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) review and is not currently approved by the EPA. Once approved, the Roundup Ready® Xtend™ Crop System will offer growers a vital tool for managing tough-to-control and glyphosate-resistant weeds.
USSEC is pleased that China has given final regulatory approval for the importation of this soybean trait.
Last year, China was U.S. Soy’s largest export customer, accounting for 68 percent of soybean exports from the United States. China’s population trend continues to urbanize, further growing the demand for U.S. Soy, which has worked for more than 35 years with the Chinese to build market demand for U.S. soybeans and soy products. Roundup Ready 2 Xtend™ soybeans are one of the key technologies that will help U.S. farmers meet the world’s growing demand for food, feed and fuel made from U.S. soybeans.
USSEC has carried out numerous missions to China on biotechnology issues to help build confidence in the safety of biotechnology while highlighting how this technology can enhance sustainable food security. USSEC has engaged the Chinese industry to talk with their government about potential supply problems; helps build confidence through programs such as its Farm Mom events; and together with the American Soybean Association (ASA) and the United Soybean Board (USB), partners with the International Soybean Growers Alliance (ISGA) to develop international partnerships that can provide support for biotech issues.
USSEC’s Farm Moms to China program made its third trip to that country December 14-18.
USSEC, working as part of the International Soy Growers Alliance (ISGA), sent a team that included United Soybean Board (USB) director Nancy Kavazanjian, CommonGround volunteer Dawn Scheier, and Pilu Giraudo of Argentina. The team, which represents farm women and moms, attended the meetings in Beijing, accompanied by USSEC Communications Manager Lisa (Pine) Humphreys.
USSEC’s Farm Moms to China program is one of USSEC’s tactics to help build confidence in the safety and importance of biotechnology while highlighting how this technology can enhance sustainable food security.
In September 2014, USSEC sent four female agriculture representatives to China to forge connections with Chinese moms about the safety of GMO soybeans. The second USSEC delegation visited China from February 2-5, 2015 to participate in another series of meetings with their Chinese counterparts.
The goal of this program is to head off any misinformation that appears in the Chinese press and social media by reaching out directly to Chinese consumers to share scientific facts and build confidence.
“This mission provided exposure to over seven million people through Chinese social media,” said Ms. Humphreys. “It is absolutely critical for the U.S. Soy industry to educate Chinese buyers and consumers in its top export market, and the Farm Moms to China program allows us to do that.”
On this visit, the USSEC/ISGA team met with Chinese social media key opinion leaders (KOLs) to discuss the safety of biotechnology; organized a town hall meeting with a science-based online platform to discuss the safety of biotechnology; and created video footage from the town hall meeting that will be used on the Chinese language ISGA website.
The mission is expected to help generate hundreds of thousands of website views sending a positive message of the safety of biotechnology with the ability to leverage those views and demonstrate to Chinese government officials the commitment of the ISGA soybean growers to support their efforts to communicate the safety of biotechnology to the Chinese public.