China ministry clarifies GMO rules for soybeans
SHANGHAI - China\'s Ministry of Health said yesterday recently issued rules on gene-spliced food apply only to soybeans imported for human consumption and not those imported for crushing, which are fast running out.
The ministry\'s comments helped clear doubts hanging over the Chinese market on whether firms should obtain approval from the health ministry or Ministry of Agriculture - both have issued rules - before importing genetically modified organisms (GMO).
In the near future, firms importing GMO foods would prefer to be under the guidance of the Ministry of Agriculture because the procedure needed for approval is clearer.
Traders were still perplexed as to whether foreign origin crude soyoil - usually imported for refining before being sold domestically for human consumption - would be subject to the health ministry\'s rules which take effect on July 1.
\"If the imported beans are sold in the domestic market, then the sellers have to apply to the health ministry,\" a health official told Reuters.
\"But if they are imported as raw material for processing, then that would have to be approved by the Ministry of Agriculture,\" she said.
Both ministries were now working out details, expected to be released later in May, on which of a long list of products - including soyoil, food and food additives with GMO content - would be subject to which ministry\'s rules.
The health ministry issued rules in April on its web site www.moh.gov.cn
, covering GMO foods including meat, plant and micro-organism products as well as processed food.
HOPES FOR CLARIFICATION SOON
Those rules require producers and importers of GMO food to apply and obtain approval from the health ministry to ensure the food will not cause immediate, chronic or potential harm to human health, the ministry said.
The health ministry said it would take up to six months from the application date to make a decision on the approval - a potential nightmare for traders.
\"Many things are still unclear here and we need time to figure out the rules,\" said a trader in Shanghai. \"It\'ll take me a few days just to figure it all out - it\'s a mess.\"
However, other traders heaved a sigh of relief over the health ministry official\'s remarks on soybeans.
\"This is a bit of a good news to us as it seems like all the trouble that we\'ve gone through to get approval for soybean imports from the agriculture ministry is not wasted,\" said a trader with a foreign trading firm in Beijing.
The grain market, particularly in Sino-U.S. soybeans trade worth $1 billion annually, was thrust into confusion for almost a year since last June when the Ministry of Agriculture first unveiled its vague GMO rules.
Doubts over a complicated and long approval process were only straightened out when China started issuing temporary GMO permits in April that entailed shorter approval times, traders said.
Trader said China has recently bought between seven and 10 soybean cargoes, mainly from South America. The first shipment is expected to arrive on May 22 or 23 - after Chinese quarantine import permits have been released, traders said.
Traders hope that the health ministry will clarify its rules as soon as possible and that soyoil will not come under the health ministry\'s rules as some soyoil cargoes are likely to arrive soon.
\"I hope soyoil won\'t come under the health ministry\'s rules since the oil we import is usually crude and needs to be refined before we can eat it,\" the Beijing trader said. (Additional reporting by Niu Shuping in Beijing and Nao Nakanishi in Singapore).
Story by Lee Chyen Yee
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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