Harmonizing biotech regulations
Under current procedures, China will always be an impediment to full acceptance in the export market. A new trait cannot have an application filed in China until it has been fully approved in the originating country. In this case there is roughly a two year lag between April 2010 approval in the U.S. and the expected early 2012 approval in China. According to the U.S. Agricultural Attaché in China, that is about average for other approved traits for import of commodities for food processing and well beyond the 270 days set in the Ministry of Agriculture regulations. Biosafety certificates are good for five years for non-food crops and three years for food crops. China also has a zero tolerance for low level presence for unapproved varieties, which is a clear restraint on trade and gives rise to the hesitancy of Bunge and others to assume the financial risk of trace amounts of the new trait.
The situation is likely to get worse with China until they adopt a system that gives approval close to the time of U.S. approval because imports of corn are expected to increase sharply in the immediate years ahead. The U.S. Grains Council, a non-profit group promoting the exports of U.S. corn, other feed grains and DDGS, believes China could be importing 10-15 MMT of corn annually by 2015, most of it from the U.S. That volume would rival Japan as the largest market for corn and easily surpass Mexico and Korea, the current number two and three markets.
The EU also has a zero tolerance for U.S. approved traits that have not been approved for use in the EU. They have created a technical solution that allows livestock feed with a presence of 0.1 percent or less to be accepted. The biotech feed must be authorized for commercialization in a non-EU country and have a request for authorization applied to the European Food Safety Authority for at least three months or for which an authorization has expired. The EU farmers association believes the new rules are still too restrictive given the bulk handling of grains and feed in international trade. EU approval for livestock feed should take about a year if no problems develop, but can take much longer. Authorizations are valid for ten years and renewable for additional ten year periods.
After 15 years of use of biotech crops around the world from almost three billion acres, there should be a high degree of harmonization across countries that regularly participate in international trade. The reality that ten countries including the U.S. have approved the use of Agrisure Viptera is an indication that harmonization is occurring, but that two major markets have not provided authorization for feed use means more work must be done. It is also approved for cultivation in Canada, Argentina and Brazil.