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China Okays Import of Biotech Crops

As of Monday, genetically altered crops from abroad may enter China with the Ministry of Agriculture's official seal of approval.


The new policy formalizes earlier interim agreements with export businesses that had been granted temporary certificates of permission to trade genetically modified crops, such as soybeans, maize and cotton.


On Monday, the ministry awarded its first batch of safety certificates for foreign genetically modified crops used for processing purposes in China.


The ministry also pledged to place the importation of agricultural biotech products under normal administrative rules when interim rules expire on April 20.


China issued new regulations in March 2002 requiring safety certificates for imported crops derived through biotechnology, or genetic modification.


Since then, the ministry has received 18 applications for certificates from five foreign biotech crop developers, ministry sources told China Daily last night.


The ministry has completed environment and food safety testing on seven genetically modified crop strains -- all from US biotech giant Monsanto.


It finally granted safety certificates to five Monsanto strains: Roundup Ready soybeans, one version of Roundup Ready corn, YieldGard Corn Borer, Bollgard cotton and Roundup Ready cotton.


The certificates are valid for three to five years.


The other two--NK603 maize and Mon863 maize--were denied certificates for the time being owing to lack of necessary information, ministry officials said.


Monsanto developed the gene technology used in most US soybean seeds. China imported 20.7 million tons of soybeans last year, mostly from the US.


The ministry says it is processing another 11 applications from DuPont and Dow AgroSciences in the US, Bayer of Germany and Syngenta in Switzerland for exporting genetically modified rapeseed and maize.


A safety certificate is one of the key requirements for genetically modified products to enter China.


Under China's statutes, the ministry must certify all such crops entering the nation for research, production or processing to ensure they are safe for people, animals and the environment.


"None of the safety testing on these genetically modified strains was finished within the 270 days after they entered China's biotechnology testing institutions,'' said a ministry official who asked not to be identified.


The ministry then entrusted 21 biotechnology institutions to do the testing.


Chinese regulations prescribe the 270-day period as the time within which the ministry should decide whether to give a permit to the exporters, said the official. Monsanto was finally granted approval.


To ensure trade in biotech agriculture products was not disrupted, China has made interim provisions three times since 2002, providing temporary certificates to foreign exporters of the products, such as US soybeans, said the official.


The last extension expires on April 20.


As soon as it completed its safety evaluation of biotech products, the ministry announced its first batch of safety certificates, with the first given to Monsanto.


"The Chinese government's approval today of the final safety certificates for the importation of grain from biotech crops is good news for growers who plant crops improved through biotechnology,'' Jerry Hjelle, Monsanto's vice-president of regulatory affairs, said yesterday.


Issuance of these final safety certificates will allow for a more predictable process for traders and continued trade of Roundup Ready soybeans, the executive said in a statement.


With the safety certificates, exporters may apply for shipment of genetically modified agricultural products after the ministry endorses their documents, a safety administration registration form and safety measures.


Importers will be responsible for applying for labeling of the products as modified. They should also submit information with regard to how the products are stored, processed and consumed, the ministry said in a bulletin posted yesterday at its website http://www.agri.gov.cn.


(China Daily February 24, 2004)


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