Vilsack to China: Get up to speed on GMOs

Dec 17, 2013

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says he will talk to Chinese regulators about their slow pace in evaluating biotech traits.
U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says he will talk to Chinese regulators about their slow pace in evaluating biotech traits.
Credit Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will travel to China this week to ask Chinese regulators to get on the same page as the U.S. when it comes to evaluating genetically modified crops.

It’s a trade visit that happens every year, but this time there is added interest for American farmers. China has rejected 5 loads of corn from the U.S. in recent weeks. The corn contained an insect-resistant trait from the seed company Syngenta that’s approved in the U.S. and several major export markets like Mexico and Japan. But the seed variety is not approved for sale in China.

China was the top market for farm exports from the U.S. last year, but Vilsack says the country’s slow approach to regulating biotech crops is a regular point of friction.

“China’s leadership has embraced biotechnology, and there seems to be disconnect at the regulatory level,” Vilsack said.

The problem, he said, is timing.

“China basically does not start its regulatory process on new (biotech) events until a country like America or Brazil or Argentina has finished their work,” Vilsack said.

As a result, whole shipments of grain that show a trace of an unapproved trait may be blocked. Even if that seed variety is commonly grown on U.S. farms.

Vilsack will ask Chinese regulators to start the process when the U.S. does, even if it takes longer to complete. Syngenta has reportedly resubmitted an application to have its trait approved in China.

The  secretary of agriculture will travel with Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman who also hope to address issues of intellectual property rights and market access in China. They were preceded in the last month by visits from Vice President Joe Biden and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

The parade of American officials comes as the U.S. and Asia-Pacific nations try to wrap up a major Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. Agriculture, from corn to catfish farming, are caught up in the negotiations.

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