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Syngenta says China approves imports of contentious biotech corn

China has officially approved imports of a genetically modified corn seed at the center of a string of lawsuits over U.S. grain shipments, seed firm Syngenta AG said on Monday, ending uncertainty after a five-year review.

China has officially approved imports of a genetically modified corn seed at the center of a string of lawsuits over U.S. grain shipments, seed firm Syngenta AG said on Monday, ending uncertainty after a five-year review.

Syngenta's Agrisure Viptera corn strain has been under scrutiny since late last year, when China rejected over a million metric tons of corn shipments after it detected traces of the unapproved biotech seed, known in the industry as MIR 162.

The rejection of corn shipments -- which later extended to distillers' dried grains, a by-product of corn -- roiled global prices and led farmers and traders Cargill Inc and Archer Daniels Midland Co to sue Syngenta for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

"The approval covers corn grain and processing byproducts, such as distillers' dried grains (DDGs), for food and feed use," the company said in an emailed statement on Monday.

Syngenta, the world's top crop chemicals company, did not say when the import approval would take effect.

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The lifting of the ban will allow Chinese traders to buy cheaper supplies of corn and DDGS from the U.S..

But several large importers in China said they were unhappy over what they said was a lack of transparency in Beijing's handling of the matter, which likely gave state-owned buyer COFCO an unfair trading advantage.

Market speculation of an imminent import approval began last week, just as state-owned COFCO ordered as much as 900,000 tonnes of DDGS from the United States, according to a report by the China National Grain and Oils Information Center (CNGOIC), a state think-tank.

Even as speculation swirled, there was no confirmation from China's Agriculture Ministry, or in state media.

"Many private buyers are angry and think it is unfair. The lifting of the ban was first disclosed overseas and some players were given tip-offs," said one senior analyst, who declined to be identified.

China's DDGs buyers are largely private companies. The top importers include Xiamen C&D Corp. Limited, Shandong New Hope's Liuhe Group as well as Shandong Zhonghui International Trade Co. Ltd.

The approval has also reignited debates on the safety of GMO food on China's lively micro-blogging sphere, with some anti-GMO campaigners calling the agriculture ministry to start disclosing safety reports to the public.

At present, import approvals are only announced by the seed developers, with the Chinese authorities offering little or no details about results of the toxicity tests.

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