China’s approval process for GM grain ‘overly political’

Delayed approvals spur criticism American Chamber of Commerce unhappy with regulatory process in world’s top soybean market

BEIJING, China (Reuters) — China’s approval process for genetically modified grain has become “overly political” and “unpredictable and nontransparent,” says an American industry group.


It is the strongest criticism of Beijing’s biotech policy since China began rejecting thousands of tonnes of GM corn last year.


“In recent years, China’s biotech approval process has gone from being slow but predictable to even slower, unpredictable and nontransparent,” said the American Chamber of Commerce in a policy report.


China is the world’s top importer of soybeans and among the top importers of corn.


All of the country’s soybean imports are GM varieties, but it rejected one-fifth of its corn imports last year after they were found to contain Syngenta’s MIR612 gene, which Beijing has not approved.


China’s approval of GM crops for import has slowed from two years to three years or longer, said David Yeh, vice-chair of the chamber’s agriculture forum.


Delayed approvals are a “major disruption to trade flows,” said the report.


“AmCham China members are concerned that the approval process has become overly political, requiring high-level attention to advance applications through the MOA 9 (ministry of agriculture),” it added.


The group’s members include leading seed firms Monsanto, Bayer CropScience, Syngenta and DuPont.


China has long adopted a cautious attitude to GM crops. Wary of public distrust of the technology, it has not yet allowed any major GM food crops to be grown in the country, despite investing hundreds of millions of dollars in research.


Yeh said Beijing’s strategic focus on ensuring food security may also be influencing its approach to GM imports.


“China is putting agriculture and food security in such a high agenda so when it comes to global supply, there could be considerations for access of global raw material versus domestic raw production,” he said.


Low public acceptance of GM food is also a consideration for the Chinese government when looking at approvals, he said.


As of last June, China had 19 soybean, corn, cotton and canola traits waiting for final safety certificates or for approval to initiate required local studies, said the chamber of commerce. 


Eleven of those were finally approved.


It believes carrying out local studies is unnecessary for imported crops.


“If there’s a low-level presence in the shipment, the country of import will conduct a quick safety risk analysis and if it’s proven safe, would accept a shipment without disrupting the trade,” said Yeh.


China could be more receptive to such an approach once it approves domestic GM crops, added Yeh. However the agriculture ministry said last month there is still no timetable for the commercialization of its own GM corn and rice.


Major grain traders have said they will limit their handling of crops containing a new GM Syngenta strain known as Duracade until big importers such as China give it their approval.

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