Russia currently has a much reduced programme for examining a range of GM crops for use in Russia and in neighbouring former Soviet Republics. The main foci of interest have been herbicide tolerance (for example glyphosate tolerant beet) and insect resistance in maize and potato.
In 2006, the Ministry of Health and Social Development resumed approval of biotech crops for food use and food industry processing. Two crops were registered for food consumption and food processing in December 2005 and May 2006. Monsanto’s H7-1 sugar beet was given approval for an unlimited period, which has never happened before.
Maize MON 88017 is the first stacked product submitted for food registration. Its registration time has exceeded the normal time period and experts say this is partially due to the fact that no regulations exist for stacked crop registration.
Biosafety approval for cultivation was given to two potato varieties, but neither of these crops were approved for commercialisation. Currently, no agencies are authorised to grant approval.
Feed use registration was discontinued in 2004, along with the reorganisation of the Ministry of Agriculture, and has not been renewed. Therefore, no new crops have been approved for feed use since March 2004. Prospects of registration renewal are cloudy at best.
A list of GM crops which have been approved in Russia is linked below.
Two genetically modified Bt potatoes [Russet Burbank NL (Monsanto) and potato Superior NL (Monsanto)] for protection against the Colorado potato beetle have been approved for commercialisation in Russia. A glyphosate tolerant soybean, and a Bt maize for protection against the European corn borer have been extensively tested but not approved.
However officially, Russia is not currently commercially cultivating GM crops and the situation surrounding the Bt potato varieties has not changed. These crops received biosafety approvals in 2002 for a period of five years. However, Article 50 of the Federal Law of 2002 “On Protection of the Environment” made biosafety registration practically impossible, as this law created enormous requirements for environmental protection, for example that “it is prohibited to produce, grow and use plants, animals and other organisms not typical for natural ecological systems, or created artificially, without developing effective measures to prevent their uncontrolled reproduction, obtaining a positive state ecological expert’s conclusion, and permission from the federal bodies of executive power." (Article 50 “Protection of the Environment from Negative Biological Impact” of the Federal Law). These requirements are still in force, as no amendments to this Federal Law have been made to date.
As long as the present biosafety requirements stipulated by federal law exist, genetically modified crop registration for production will be unlikely. In addition, due to restructuring of the Russian Ministry of Agriculture and the suspension of new variety registration in the Federal Register of varieties and hybrids allowed for planting in Russia, these two biotech potato varieties cannot be used commercially. Commercial production of new approved, tested seeds is allowed only after registration of these new seeds in the State Register of Seeds. Moreover, in the course of the administrative reform that began in spring 2004, the Ministry of Industry, Science and Technology was eliminated, the Bio-safety Commission of this ministry disappeared, and all biosafety registration was halted. The Bio-safety Commission has not been reestablished and possibly will not be, as Russia continues developing a new structure for safety standards including technical regulations that will determine basic safety requirements.
Biosafety field trials of GM crops have been interrupted and there are only limited experiments on vertical gene flow in maize in relation to co-existence.
The interrupted field trials include studies of Monsanto’s glyphosate tolerant soybean 40-3-2 and maize NK 603 which were being conducted on isolated, certified fields at the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Phyto-pathology (Moscow oblast) and at the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Biological Plant Protection (Krasnodar kray).
Studies of insect resistance and ecological effects have commenced on field trials in several areas. These have included studies by the Bioengineering Institute (Moscow) of potential hybridisation and gene flow between wild soya and GM cultivated soya in centres of diversity and origin of wild soya in the Russian Far East.
In addition expeditions to study wild-growing beet in the Caucasus region of Russia are being conducted.
However, none of the crops are expected to pass commercial use approval in the near future and certainly will not appear in the market within the coming year. Moreover, submission of an application for approval of any of these crops, even if the field trials are successful, is possible only after registration procedures for planting are developed.
Some neighboring countries (for example Ukraine and Romania) have widespread GM crop cultivation. Some GM seeds and their products may be entering Russian cultivation from these countries.
Russia is importing a range of GM products (mainly soy, maize, beet, and potato), which are used in both food and feed, but specific trade data on imports of such products is not collected. Most bio-engineered product imports are produced from either maize or soybeans or have maize or soybean components.
From July 2005 through March 2006, Russia imported 156,478 tonnes of maize (20 percent less than in the same period last year), 2,198 tonnes of soybeans (15 percent less than in the same period last year), and 429,529 tonnes of soybean meal (11 percent increase from last year). Soybean meal was imported from twelve different countries, dominated by Argentina and the Netherlands (77 percent of total imports). Imports of soybean meal from the United States were 12,568 tonnes.
Most soy products imported from the Netherlands contain US origin soybeans that have been processed in the Netherlands or other EU countries. Imports of soybean meal from the Netherlands increased after a phytosanitary ban placed on imports of plant products from EU countries was lifted.
All imported products may contain only registered biotech crops. As for feeds, the product itself must also be registered and certified, based on the registered crop it contains.
Registration and certification are required both for foods and feeds, but registration procedures for biotech food and biotech feeds are different.