Renessen LLC, a joint venture in Illinois of Monsanto and Cargill, is preparing to market the first crop genetically engineered for animal feed. The product, corn with added lysine in each kernel, should reach pork and poultry producers in the United States and Argentina in 2007 or 2008, according to the company. The goal is to replace synthetic supplements of lysine, an essential amino acid.

The high-lysine corn is aimed at a $1 billion feed-grade lysine supplement market in a two-stage attack. This first product contains 1,000 parts per million of the amino acid, while the second-generation product should contain an entire dose that could replace supplements.

This new corn product is touted to add value for pork and poultry producers.

This isn’t the first high-lysine corn to hit the market, but others had lower yield and were less durable in the field than standard corn varieties, says Gary Allee, swine nutritionist at the University of Missouri. So, while they held value for animal producers, crop farmers weren’t interested.

Company officials claim that won’t be a problem with the Renessen product. Producers will be paid a premium for the corn, which must offset the added costs of segregating it, from planting to harvest and shipping, says Paul Bertels, director of biotechnology with the National Corn Growers Association.

Renessen also must ensure the genetically modified corn is approved for use in key export markets — Japan, in particular — in order to win growers’ support, says Bertels. The company said it has applied to regulators in Japan, Canada, Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia.

Renessen would like to see the high-lysine corn planted on 4 million acres in the United States as well as in Argentina, plus 1 million acres in Brazil, according to Monsanto. Profits will be shared equally by Monsanto and Cargill.

Opponents of genetically modified crops are likely to object to the first biotech feed source, says Bertels. Yet most swine and poultry feed is supplemented with soybeans that have been modified with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready trait. More than 80 percent of soybeans in the top three producing countries — the United States, Brazil and Argentina — carry the trait that allows the plants to withstand glyphosate herbicide.

Allee says it is about time for biotech seed companies to focus on the feed industry. “It’s great that we’re beginning to spend some time trying to improve the two major ingredients that we feed livestock: corn and soybeans,” he says. “How it all fits in the marketplace, how the benefits are derived, what traits have to be stacked together, to me is still to be determined. But I’m extremely excited about the potential.”

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