Monsanto extends pledge on Roundup Ready soybeans

by Carey Gillam

  • Monsanto says will support export framework through 2021
  • Industry wants further action
  • Roundup Ready soybeans come off patent in 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo., July 8 (Reuters) - Monsanto Co MON.N said on Thursday it will maintain the export approval status for Roundup Ready soybeans through 2021, seven years after the company’s patent expires on the popular seed product.

However, farm industry players called for further action to ensure continued availability of the biotech seed.

Monsanto announced that it had decided to extend its pledge to maintain international regulatory registrations for Roundup Ready soybeans four years longer than it had previously pledged.

International regulatory approvals for biotechnology products are important for farmers because much of the grain they produce and sell is exported. Monsanto estimates it costs between $1 million and $2 million a year to keep up the registrations.

Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans, which are resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, have been widely embraced by U.S. farmers and are planted on about 90 percent of U.S. soybean acres. They come off patent in 2014, marking the biotech industry’s first patented biotech seed product to come off patent status.

Monsanto has been working hard to move its farmer customers to a new patented Roundup Ready 2 soybean seed, which it says yields better than the first version of Roundup Ready beans. But lower-than-expected yields and high prices have sparked some backlash against the new seed, and growers and other seed industry players have demanded that Monsanto cooperate in efforts to promote generic versions of Roundup Ready beans.

Indeed, last month the West Virginia Office of the Attorney General said Monsanto may have violated consumer protection laws by touting high yields to farmers who paid high prices but got disappointing results from the Roundup Ready 2 soybeans. Monsanto denied the allegations.

The American Soybean Association said Thursday it was pleased with Monsanto’s extended commitment to maintain export market approvals but it wants a longer-term approach. The group also wants private and public sector breeders to be allowed to work with a trait before patent expiration and wants access to the data on a patented trait needed for export market registrations.

“ASA has encouraged Monsanto to take unilateral action in a number of areas to ease marketplace uncertainties that exist,” said ASA President Rob Joslin.

Rival seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred, a unit of DuPont Co DD.N, also said Thursday Monsanto should provide the industry with immediate access to regulatory data and help ensure there is a legally enforceable means of maintaining foreign registrations well into the future.

Monsanto said its decision to provide extended assistance gives farmers and the industry more than a decade to develop plans for ongoing support for import approvals in other countries beyond 2021. And it said soybean breeders and seed companies are in a position to start offering RR1 seeds as a generic product beginning in 2015.

Monsanto also reiterated that the company will not use its soybean variety patents to stop U.S. farmers from saving Monsanto-developed varieties of RR1 soybeans for planting on their own farms.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Richard Chang)