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USDA Report: China’s Biotech Crop Approval Process Becoming More Unpredictable and Burdensome

Josh Falzone
March 7, 2019

Across the United States, farmers use biotech crops to address production challenges – such as pests, disease, and extreme weather – and improve the productivity and health of their plants. However, American farmers planting such crops are often unable to access the Chinese market and export their products due to China’s broken regulatory framework for agriculture biotechnology.

Now, a new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed China has added even more barriers to its opaque regulations for biotech crops and genetically engineered (GE) traits. The revised procedures were implemented by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA) and add another impediment in an already overly burdensome process.

Also in 2018, MARA amended the regulations on safety assessment, import approval, and labeling of agricultural “GMOs” without notifying the changes to the World Trade Organization (WTO) nor soliciting comments from stakeholders. The revised rules impose additional in-country trials and studies on new biotech events as part of the dossier submission process.


China’s regulatory approval process for GE traits includes a number of provisions that lengthen the time it takes to complete the regulatory review. These include local environmental safety and rat feeding trials, which each dictate that the studies must be conducted in China for the data to be accepted by China. In 2016 and 2017, MARA revised relevant regulations without notifying the WTO or soliciting public comments nor did MARA provide a transition period for implementing the revised rules. In 2018, as noted above, MARA added additional in-country testing and studies to the battery of evaluations required to progress through the Chinese regulatory process.

Some of the still-unapproved biotech crops have languished in China’s regulatory process for more than seven years with no rational, legitimate, or scientific basis for the hold-up. This is baffling considering the crops have been approved by well-regulated countries like the United States, Canada, and Japan.

The delays force American farmers to choose between beneficial technology or access to the Chinese market. Such protectionism stifles innovation and hinders economic growth in our country.

In fact, the total value of U.S. biotech crops is $90 billion, and a recent study has concluded that Chinese delays in approvals of these crops have significantly impacted the American economy. It has resulted in the loss of:

  • 34,000 potential U.S. jobs
  • $5 billion in U.S. farm income growth
  • $4.6 billion in wage growth

In addition, when our farmers are able to plant biotech crops, it helps reduce the carbon footprint of agricultural production. Crop biotechnology helps farmers conserve soil, practice conservation tillage, and lower the amount of farm fuel used. These crops have also been proven to increase nutritional quality and vitamin content.

So the question is: how do we prevent a country that is thousands of miles away from hindering American farmers’ use of crop advancements that can help feed the world and improve environmental health?

The answer could be in the current trade negotiations between the United States and China. We need President Trump and his administration to secure a deal that forces China to play by the rules and implement systemic change that results in a predictable, timely, transparent, and science-based biotech crop approval process.