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China implements its new regulations on genetically modified foods

(March 21, 2002 CropChoice news) China yesterday implemented its new regulations of genetically modified crop and food imports. But, according to news reports, China may have backed down on a last minute agreement with the United States to allow the continued flow of transgenic foods, especially soybeans. About 70 percent of U.S. soybeans are genetically modified.

The original plan was that export companies would have to label all foods with such ingredients and apply for certificates stating their harmlessness to human and non-human animals, and to the environment. It was thought that exporters would have to wait 270 days to receive the certificates.

Somewhat distressed over the thought of losing the $1 billion that U.S. soybean shipments to China garner each year, U.S. trade representatives negotiated for months with the Chinese government. Finally, they reached an agreement. The Ministry of Agriculture would issue temporary safety certificates to exporters of transgenic food if they could provide similar paperwork from their country or elsewhere. The temporary certificates will take only 30 days to obtain and will remain in effect until December 20, 2002.

Prior to the agreement, U.S. exporters had all but ceased soybean shipments to China in the face of the deadline for implementation of new regulations. They feared that the Chinese government would follow through on its plans to send any shipment without the proper labeling and certificates back to point of origin or destroy them.

But on March 20, implementation day for the regulations, Reuters reported that the Agriculture Ministry had not issued permits to foreign firms to ship transgenic food. Instead, it issued a supplementary set of rules one day prior, which might have undermined the agreement reached with the United States regarding temporary certificates.

Reuters quoted a ministry official as saying, "Some foreign firms did not provide enough material as required by the regulations, especially on safety evaluation. We can't make our judgment based on the materials they provided."

Foreign companies affected were re-submitting applications for labeling imports, under the supplementary rules issued by the Ministry of Agriculture through its website http://www.agri.gov.cn late on Tuesday.

Sources: Reuters, Pesticide Action Network, AgNet