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China open to GMOs: U.S. growers applaud biotech ruling

The American Soybean Association says it welcomed news that China will now allow genetically modified soybeans into that country. The announcement by the government of the People's Republic of China is based on two years of field and food safety tests in China that have confirmed the safety, healthfulness and environmental friendliness of Roundup Ready soybeans. China has been importing Roundup Ready soybeans under a series of interim safety certificates.

China has now issued a final safety certificate for the importation of soybeans and soybean products derived from biotech-enhanced Roundup Ready soybean seedstock.

“China's decision to issue final safety certificates for Roundup Ready soybeans is good news for U.S. farmers, as well as for Chinese consumers who rely on imports of high-quality soybeans to be processed into cooking oil and livestock feed,” says American Soybean Association President Ron Heck of Perry, Iowa. “This action will help insure a steady market for U.S. soybeans, while helping stabilize meat, fish, egg, and cooking oil prices for Chinese consumers.”

First certified by the U.S. government in 1995 and since then approved by 38 other countries, Roundup Ready soybeans are the only biotech-enhanced soybean variety commercially planted in the United States. Last year, about 85 percent of the soybeans in the United States were grown from Roundup Ready seed. On a worldwide basis, more than 60 percent of soybeans in world trade have been improved through modern biotechnology.

Within the last seven years, China, a genetic center of origin for the soybean, has made a dramatic transition from being a net soybean exporting country, to the largest export market for U.S. soybeans. In 2003, U.S. soybean exports to China totaled 10.9 million metric tons, or 400 million bushels, worth $2.8 billion. This represents more than 35 percent of all U.S. soy exports and more than 40 percent of China's import requirements.

“The announcement covering soybeans and a handful of biotech events approved for other crops also marks a significant step toward universal acceptance of crop biotechnology that is improving the environment today and will help feed the world tomorrow,” says Heck.

Biotech-enhanced soybeans have allowed farmers greater flexibility in adopting conservation tillage practices that save millions of tons of valuable top soil and reduce the number of times farmers have to run equipment over their fields, which saves millions of gallons of fuel. Biotech crops also have allowed farmers to reduce the amount of insecticides and pesticides applied to their fields, and use products that are more environmentally friendly because they biodegrade more quickly, he says.

“In the past, ASA has expressed concern about the willingness of China's regulatory agencies to repeatedly move the regulatory target for approval of Roundup Ready soybeans,” Heck says. “So we are very pleased that this announcement actually comes well before the scheduled April 20 expiration of the interim safety certificate program.”

“At times, U.S. soybean exports have faced issues such as trade restrictions, import permit delays, confusion over biotechnology regulations and problems with transparency,” he says. “This hurt U.S. soybean producers, and made life difficult for major buyers of U.S. soybeans in China who need to be able to operate knowing that they have a free and unencumbered flow of soybeans from the United States.”

The American Soybean Association says it has worked diligently to obtain meaningful access for U.S. soybeans and soybean products in China's World Trade Organization accession agreement. During the past several years, the commodity group has repeated called on the administration and Congress to insist that China's political leadership honor and enforce its commitment that access to the Chinese market for U.S. soybean exports would not be restricted.

In December, the American Soybean Association signed a cooperation agreement with representatives of the China Chamber of Commerce of Import and Export of Foodstuffs, Native Produce & Animal By-Products in support of continued U.S. soybean exports to China. The agreement calls for a wide range of mutually beneficial exchanges and activities, including the exchange of delegations between ASA and CFNA.

“In 1982, long before China imported soybeans, ASA producer-leaders decided to open an office in China to begin building demand for U.S. soybeans,” Heck said. “While U.S. soybean farmers have greatly benefited from ASA's work in China, so have Chinese consumers. Today, imports of soybeans from the United States allow China to keep meat and vegetable oil supplied and prices under control for Chinese consumers.

“Obtaining a final safety certificate for Roundup Ready soybeans has been one of the American Soybean Association's major goals for the past several years,” Heck said. “ASA views today's announcement to be the result of contiued vigilance, and it demonstrates ASA's willingness to confront any efforts to restrict market access for U.S. soybean farmers.”

The American Soybean Association believes the decision to begin accepting biotech soybeans signals China's recognition that modern biotechnology is an effective tool that will enable it to better feed its people in a more environmentally sustainable manner.

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