S. Korea Monitoring U.S. Corn Imports

The Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) said on Friday it was investigating imports of U.S. corn to determine if they were contaminated by an unapproved corn variety.

It also said on its Web site (www.kfda.go.kr) that Seoul would require a certificate for future imports of U.S. food-grade corn stating that the cargo did not contain Bt10 – an insect-resistant corn strain that has not been approved for food in Korea and other countries.

Swiss agrochemicals group Syngenta AG said on Tuesday that some of its corn seeds were mistakenly contaminated from 2001 to 2004 with Bt10 and that the problem had been found in plantings in four U.S. states. The company said it was very unlikely that any of the contaminated harvested grain entered U.S. export channels as Bt11 -- an approved GM corn strain -- through the normal process of grain exports.

However, the situation may negatively impact South Korea's U.S. corn imports, which have already dropped to 20% of its total food-grade corn imports of 2 million metric tons from more than 70% in 2000 due to problems relating to the StarLink corn variety, traders said.

South Korea has required that shipments of U.S. food-grade corn be certified as free of StarLink since late 2000, when it recalled some imported tortillas because they were contaminated by the corn variety, banned for human consumption in Korea and the United States.

A corn trader in Seoul told Rueters News: "If U.S. corn imports have to have another certificate in addition to that for StarLink, U.S. corn will cost more, with more tests, losing price competitiveness."

Japan said on Wednesday it would start monitoring U.S. corn cargoes to check if they contain the unapproved Syngenta strain. An official of Japan's Health Ministry said inspection offices at Japanese ports would start testing samples of corn cargoes from the United States after the ministry obtains the necessary data from Syngenta to detect Bt10.

If the inspection offices discover contaminated cargoes, the ministry will order importers to destroy them or ship them back to the United States, in line with Japan's food safety law. Bt10 is not approved either for human consumption or animal feed in Japan, although Bt11 is approved for both purposes.

Editors note: Richard Brock, The Corn and Soybean Digest's Marketing Editor, is president of Brock Associates, a farm market advisory firm, and publisher of The Brock Report.

To see more market perspectives, visit Brock's Web site at www.brockreport.com.