Defining GM regulation

March 2014

Picture of cornmaize
Photo Creative Commons
Biotech giant, Syngenta, sounded miffed when the US National Grain and Feed Association and the North American Export Grain Association asked the Company to suspend the commercial supply of two of its GM maize crops. 

Both of the crops are Bt-insecticide generating crops to combat major corn insect pests:
  • 'Agrisure Viptera' has been around since 2010 and comes in various forms stacked with genes offering “the broadest available spectrum of above-and below-ground insect control ... with a choice of either glyphosate or glufosinate (herbicides) applications” (Syngenta)
  • ''Agrisure Duracade' which will be available for the first time in 2014 and also comes in various forms stacked with genes which feature “a novel mode of action (a Bt look-alike protein never used before) against corn rootworm” This latest GM offering is part of a package designed to combat pest-resistance: “It will only be available stacked with a second corn rootworm trait, and offered as a 5 percent integrated, single-bag refuge product” (Syngenta). 
Neither of these crops has been approved for import into China or the EU, both major buyers of US crops. 

Syngenta's reply to the plea was that it commercialises corn traits in line with industry practices, once it has approval from countries with “functioning regulatory systems”. 

'Regulate' means “control by rule, subject to restrictions, moderate, adapt to requirements” (Oxford English Dictionary). 

Besides the member-states of the EU which are subject to extensive GMO Directives from Brussels, the country which Syngenta referred to as having a non-functioning regulatory system was China.  Agrisure Viptera has been awaiting Beijing's approval for more than two years.  Another obstacle to the GM path popped up in February 2014 when the Chinese Ministry of Finance announced that it will make sure no GM oil is used in the canteens of Ministry workers. 

Considering the novel complexity of Agrisure Viptera and Duracade, China's stance on GM may seem like pretty good control, application of restrictions, moderation, and adaptation to requirements.   

To Syngenta a “functioning regulatory system”, it seems, is what happens in America where Agrisure Viptera and Duracade were waved through by the regulators despite their multiple traits and novel features. 

How this 'functioning' US regulatory system succeeds in doing the opposite of 'regulation' as the term is normally understood was illustrated recently when grass-seed company, Scotts Miracle-Gro, announced to its shareholders that its employees would be testing its latest GM turf grass seen in their yards. 

This proposal may seem jaw-droppingly irresponsible, but in America it is perfectly legal because there are no GMO laws.  There are no GMO laws because US regulators decided to treat GMOs as no different from any other agricultural products.  What they have ended up with is a cobbled-together “rattletrap regulatory system” full of cracks (Stone):
  • If a GM plant is a food, it is regulated just like any other food by the US Food and Drug Administration.  
  • If a GM plant generates a pesticide (such as Bt), it is regulated as a chemical pesticide (despite being a plant) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  
  • If a GM plant accumulates a herbicide courtesy of its artificial gene, the active chemical ingredient is regulated as a chemical pesticide by the EPA; the GM plant where chemical ends up (and which is actually eaten by wildlife as well as people) is not considered. 
  • If a plant has been transformed using a plant disease such as Agrobacterium (a bacterial plant pathogen which inserts DNA into its host) or pathogenic viral DNA in the artificial construct, it is regulated like any other plant pathogen by the Department of Agriculture (USDA).  
This means that if a GM plant is not a food, does not generate a pesticide but only accumulates one, doesn't contain any pathogenic viral elements, and has been transformed using a mechanical means such as micro-projectile bombardment (using a 'gene gun'), the 'functioning regulatory system' is like a sieve. 

Scotts Miracle-Gro has created just such a GM plant. Its Roundup Ready herbicide-tolerant Kentucky bluegrass can be tested in anybody's yard because it is subject to no regulation within the US' 'functioning regulatory system' whatsoever. 

Perhaps this smart move to circumvent the US 'functioning regulatory system', had something to do with the USDA £500,000 fine which Scotts had to pay after its Roundup Ready bentgrass in a small test site in Oregon resulted in genetic pollution of non-GM bentgrass up to 21 kilometres away.  The contamination has been impossible to eradicate, and GM bentgrass is now hybridising with plants from a different grass species [1]. 

Scotts is hoping that the heavier pollen produced by Kentucky bluegrass will make it easier than bentgrass to contain.  Since all these GM turf grasses and their novel hybrids are resistant to the main herbicide used to control unwanted grass, and since all such grasses are wind-pollinated no matter what weight their pollen, their spread is probably assured.  However, because the 'functioning regulatory system' in America doesn't function in the case of this particular GMO, no one has the power to prevent it. 

While US agricultural representatives can only plead with the biotech industry not to compromise their export business, US GM regulation doesn't seem to be a reality, and food companies who are trying to please their customers by eliminating GM are having to spend millions of dollars finding non-GM sources, and installing new equipment, transportation and handling facilities to keep GM out of their products [2], there is one sector which can, it seems, control the GM supply chain.  Top US grain handler, Cargill, “reserves the right to reject and/or require testing of deliveries and any acceptance, rejection or testing for the presence of Duracade (or any other un-exportable grain) will be determined by Cargill in its sole discretion at the time of delivery”.  Cargill is exercising this self-declared right. 


The Chinese non-functioning regulatory system has acted in the interests of safeguarding the health of Ministry's staff, and in response to mounting public pressure in China on the GM safety issue. 

The US government's 'functioning regulatory system' is unable to safeguard health, nor respond to its own agriculture industry, nor its food industry, nor the public.  Key links in the US export Trade, notably Cargill, China and the EU are in control and can say NO to GM.  This will continue so long as our non-functioning regulatory system continues not to function.  Make sure it stays that way. 



[2]  CHEERIO GM CHEERIOS - News, February 2014


Tom Polansek, Cargill to reject for export crops with new GMO Syngenta corn trait, Reuters 14.02.14
Chinese Finance Ministry Bans GM Oil for Staff to safeguard Health, Sustainable pulse, 21.02.14

Glen Davis Stone, GM grass goes yard,, 1.02.14

Carey Gillam, Going GM-free proves costly for US food giants as biotech crops dominate, Independent 19.02.14
MIR 162,, accessed March 2014

Event Name MIR162,, accessed March 2014

Agrisure Viptera and Agrisure Duracade,, accessed March 2014

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