(Corrects paragraph 3 to show Syngenta is based in Switzerland, not the U.S.)
* Agmin spokesman says still evaluating MIR 162 for import
* Does not give timetable for approval
* China has rejected some U.S. cargoes found to contain the strain
* Worries over further rejections expected to curb new orders
By Dominique Patton
BEIJING, Dec 6 (Reuters) - China is still evaluating whether to approve the strain of genetically-modified corn that caused it to reject some U.S. shipments in the last few weeks, a government spokesman said.
The country, one of the world’s largest importers of the grain, this week turned away five batches of U.S. corn after quarantine authorities found they contained traces of Syngenta’s insect-resistant MIR162, which has not been approved by Beijing.
The agriculture ministry spokesman, Bi Meijia, said at a press briefing on Friday that MIR162, also known as Agrisure Viptera, was still being evaluated after Switzerland-based Syngenta provided additional information on the product in November.
“The company has applied for safety certification for import for use in processing many times, and after an (earlier)evaluation by our country’s biosafety committee, we considered their testing data and related materials to be incomplete and that problems still existed,” he said.
Bi said Syngenta had applied for approval as early as 2010, but did not give a timetable for when the green light could be given.
Worries over further rejections could prompt a sharp decline in new Chinese orders for U.S. corn, dragging on global prices that have already dropped around 40 percent this year.
China was originally expected to approve MIR 162 imports in March 2012, Syngenta spokesman Paul Minehart told Reuters this week. The company has answered all Chinese requests for information and is now waiting for Beijing to act, he added.
The strain is already shipped to Japan, South Korea, Russia and even the European Union, which is notoriously slow in approving GMO crop varieties.
China has expressed commitment to the use of GMO to help improve yields and guarantee food security, already allowing imports of 25 different GMO corn varieties.
But it has delayed approvals for domestic production amid widespread public fears about the technology.
It allows the import of GMO soybeans, but only to be processed into oil and animal feed ingredients, and also produces a small amount of GMO vegetables and fruits.
Deflecting a question about recent media reports saying the ministry’s own kindergarten was completely GMO-free, Bi said China’s GMO development was still at an early stage and the government’s responsibility was to ease public worries and misunderstandings about the technology.
“We and related government departments will strengthen our propaganda work to let more people know what GMO is, understand it and eliminate their worries about the safety of GMO food products,” he said.
China’s state media has recently been working overtime to persuade the public that GMO foods are safe, recruiting scientists to debunk widespread rumours that GMO food consumption had reduced sperm counts or altered human DNA.
At the same briefing on Friday, agriculture minister Han Changfu said China was committed to maintaining its 95 percent rate of self-sufficiency in grain, but would take greater advantage of international markets to guarantee supply.
“As a country with a large population, and a big consumer of agricultural products and grain, we basically want to solve food safety problems domestically,” he said.
“So we want to maintain a relatively high rate of self-sufficiency, especially in cereals, and maintain that 95 percent rate. At the same time, we will actively use the international market and international cooperation.” (Additional reporting by Niu Shuping and David Stanway; Editing by Joseph Radford)