Monday, August 11, 2014

China Tightens Scrutiny of Imported Grain

China's inspection and quarantine authority issued a document ordering port officials to increase inspection and testing of imported corn, sorghum, and barley used for feed. While it purports to be a response to quality problems discovered in grain shipments, it is probably a disguised strategy to slow down imports that undermine officials' efforts to dispose of their huge, high-priced domestic grain stockpile.

The document issued by the General Administration for Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) was dated July 29, 2014 and comes eight months after officials began rejecting all corn shipments containing any trace of MIR 162, a genetically modified corn variety that China's Ministry of Agriculture has not approved for import. The document showed up on several web sites August 11, but doesn't seem to be on the AQSIQ site.

The document observes that grain quality problems have become increasingly evident since imports of corn, sorghum, barley and other grains began increasing rapidly during the first half of 2014. The document cites frequent detections of genetically modified varieties, disease, toxic weed seeds, fumigants, and other hazardous substances. The document worries that most feed importers are small enterprises that lack knowledge of feed safety hazards. Therefore, inspection and quarantine authorities need to intervene to "protect consumers' health and the security of the production environment."

The document ordered port authorities to enforce GMO regulations according to law. It reported that MIR 162 has been detected in a cumulative total of 920,000 metric tons of corn, and most of the shipments were turned away. Local authorities are requested to strengthen inspection and testing of imported grain for GMOs, conduct tests before shipments are unloaded, and turn away shipments where unapproved varieties are detected.

The ban on MIR 162 alone wasn't enough to protect the corn market. Chinese buyers started importing sorghum as an alternative to corn. Since sorghum can't be caught in the GMO net, authorities are now ordering port officials to carefully scrutinize imported grain for a laundry list of potential violations.

The document demands that port authorities step up their inspections for a litany of other problems, including plant disease, biotoxins, pesticide residues, heavy metals, seed coating agents, fumigants, other residues, serious moisture, mold, excessive impurity content, chemical treatments, or quarantined insects.

AQSIQ calls for raising the level of honesty among foreign and domestic grain enterprises. Problems are to be reported to AQSIQ which will compile a black list of violators and send out alerts to potential buyers. Authorities will conduct more stringent inspections of companies considered "high risk."

The heightened concerns about alleged threats from imported grains are ironic given the growing attention on problems with domestically-produced Chinese grain. An auction of wheat produced in Henan and Anhui Provinces is scheduled for August 15, 2014. The announcement lists 500,000 metric tons of wheat with mycotoxins exceeding allowable levels (真菌毒素超标小麦). Feed mills and ethanol processors are eligible to buy the wheat.

On July 18, 500,000 metric tons of mycotoxin-contaminated Henan and Anhui wheat harvested in 2010 was put up for auction, of which 116,000 mt was sold at an average price of 1740 yuan/mt ($281 per mt). The price of this poisonous wheat is about 30 yuan less than the current cost of imported corn--if it can get past the customs inspectors' gauntlet of tests and inspections.

A July 17 article, "Hazardous Grain" in China Weekly magazine warned of "invisible mycotoxins," heavy metals in soil, and a soil-contamination survey by Renmin University that found excessive toxins in 11-to-43 percent of samples from 27 provinces.  A Renmin University Professor said, "Basically all of the soil in north China is contaminated." The Communist Party Secretary of Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences ascertained that mycotoxins are a serious problem in China's grain.

The general manager of a Beijing company that makes food safety testing equipment told China Weekly, "I’m afraid the next few generations will have to repay the environmental debts of the last 30-plus years.

1 comment:

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