China now requires hay imports to be certified GMO free and has set stingent testing standards, western alfalfa export industry insiders say.
Alfalfa exporting customers of Western Laboratories in Parma, Idaho, have been notified that all hay to China has to be certified GMO-free with a 0.2 percent threshold for containing the Roundup Ready trait, said Harry Kreeft, nematologist and plant pathologist with the lab.
The issue has arisen over the last couple of weeks and appears to be linked to the discovery of GMO traits in alfalfa headed to China from a Washington state exporter. That finding happened within the last four weeks, and the company’s alfalfa has been banned from China for six months, he said, declining to name the exporter.
China has zero tolerance for GMOs and tests imports for contamination. In the past it hasn’t necessarily required GMO-free certification on alfalfa, but it is now demanding certification, he said.
China’s 0.2 percent standard is very tight, he said.
Chinese regulators probably realize no test is perfect and that if it does not exceed that level of contamination chances are really good that it’s GMO free, he said.
The standard test for GMO contamination recognized by Monsanto, the developer of Roundup Ready alfalfa, only has a 5 percent sensitivity for GMO contamination. And Western Laboratories’ customers, some big alfalfa shippers, are concerned, he said.
“I’ve gotten 10 to 15 calls in the last week and a half from different shippers,” he said. “It’s a serious matter.”
He’s been scrambling to get the needed test materials to test at a higher sensitivity and is now able detect contamination at 0.1 percent, half of China’s new requirement, he said.
Hay exporter Mark Anderson, CEO and president of Anderson Hay & Grain of Ellensburg, Wash., said there’s quite a bit of confusion right now over the issue.
He is not aware of any GMO contamination or an exporter being banned, but his company received news this week out of China that it might be switching up testing, moving to one with a higher level of sensitivity, he said.
Anderson Hay & Grain has led the way in GMO testing for the global market, testing all its inventory for the Roundup Ready gene using a strip test method, now used by all of the industry, he said.
Feedback from the company’s China-based customers is that China may be changing that testing, the frequency of testing or the threshold, he said.
But it’s premature to overreact or under react to the news, and hopefully exporters will know more in the coming weeks, he said.
Members of the U.S. Forage Export Council are also confused, trying to figure out the extent of the issue, said Director John Szczepanski.
The Export Council is concerned about the scientific, political and commercial effects of a change in Chinese policy and is working with U.S. government officials, customers and local Monsanto laboratories, he said.
The industry wants to protect the $250 million in annual U.S. alfalfa exports to China, and the Forage Export Council is hesitant to release a statement before it knows all the facts, he said.
Calls to USDA have not been returned. Phones at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C, were unanswered.