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Cautious China approves GMO alfalfa import after decade-long wait

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China has approved the import of eight genetically modified (GMO) crops, including GMO alfalfa for the first time after a wait of more than a decade, the country’s agriculture ministry said on Friday.

Global seed companies have long complained about China’s slow approval process for GM crops, which slows down commercialisation of the products globally if they are not approved by one of the world’s biggest agriculture markets.

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Beijing has a cautious approach to GMO technology and has not yet approved any major food crops for cultivation, despite President Xi Jinping’s backing of the technology.

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It does however allow the import of GM crops used in animal feed, but trade partners say its process is not always based on science and has often been driven by politics.

Bayer’s glyphosate-resistant alfalfa or J101 was first submitted for approval in July 2011, when it was owned by U.S. company Monsanto. Its J163 alfalfa, also approved, was submitted more than 10 years ago.

China has also approved a Corteva Agriscience glyphosate-resistant canola, DP73496, first developed by DuPont Pioneer and submitted for approval in July 2012.

Neither Bayer nor Corteva immediately responded to a request for comment.

Beijing promised to speed up access to its market under the Phase 1 trade deal concluded with the U.S. in 2020.

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The approvals come after the first meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and China’s Xi in November amid efforts to repair tense relations.

“This could be a factor. The China side wants to show some gestures,” said a China-based seed industry source who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic.

He added that the unusually large batch of approvals fits with China’s recent efforts to show it is “opening up.”

Two GMO sugar cane traits developed in Brazil were also approved, as well as a BASF herbicide-resistant cotton.

The crops were allowed to be imported for processing in China from Jan. 5 for the next five years.

China also approved the safety of three domestically developed GM products, including insect- and glyphosate-resistant corn from Yuan Longping High-tech Agriculture Ltd and Hangzhou Ruifeng’s insect-resistant soybean. (Reporting by Beijing Newsroom and Dominique Patton; Editing by Mark Potter and Alexander Smith)

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