China: Approval for new GM soybeans

China has approved the import of second-generation genetically modified (GM) soybeans. Beginning in 2009, these new, herbicide-resistant soybeans will be grown on a large scale in the USA. More than a third of American soybean exports go to China.

The new GM soybean, known as RoundupReady 2 Yield, was developed by the agri-biotechnology company Monsanto. Next season, this bean will be cultivated in the USA on an initial field area of 400,000 to 800,000 hectares and by 2010 is expected to be grown on approximately 2.5 million hectares. Similarly to the previous generation of beans known as RoundupReady, which have been grown around the world since 1996, the new beans display resistance to herbicides containing the active ingredient glyphosate (brand name: Roundup). The according resistance gene was introduced directly into a new type of soybean with a higher yield than before. Monsanto has claimed that the new soybean enables farmers to aim towards harvest increases of between seven and eleven per cent.

As already has occurred in Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines, China now has approved the import of the new generation of Roundup-Ready. Seventy per cent of American soybean exports arrive in these countries and China receives the most. The granting of approval in most soybean-importing nations has fulfilled an important prerequisite for soybean farms in the USA in their switch to the new product.

In the EU, import of the new soybean (officially designated by the abbreviation MON89788) remains prohibited. Application for approval was submitted in 2006. Although the scientific safety assessment conducted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has been concluded, a decision on approval cannot be expected to date.

In the absence of EU approval, even minimal and accidental admixtures of the new RoundupReady2 are prohibited. Shipments, in which the new soybeans are detected have to be withdrawn from circulation, regardless of the quantity of the unapproved beans. In the case of large-scale cultivation of RoundupReady2 soybeans in the USA, minimal presences and admixtures of this bean in soy deliveries will not be avoidable with absolute certainty.

In 2007, approximately 3.5 million tonnes of soybeans were imported to the EU from the USA.