WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2016 - U.S. senators from the Pacific Northwest are calling on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to address issues with testing of U.S. alfalfa on Chinese shores, while an industry expert tells Agri-Pulse those issues are just a symptom of a larger problem.

The senators sent Vilsack a letter last week pointing out that despite tests in the U.S. showing the shipments are free of genetically modified alfalfa, China is turning back or delaying the cargoes when its tests show trace amounts of a GMO alfalfa strain that is approved in the U.S. These traces can be picked up in a variety of places, including the containers in which the shipments are transported or on the docks.

The letter – signed by Democrats Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington and Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon – points out that more than 1.2 million tons of GMO-free alfalfa is shipped out of western ports annually, and China has been a significant growth market for U.S. GMO-free alfalfa exports since 2006. Chinese imports of American alfalfa have been steadily increasing as the country’s dairy sector expands and has a need for high-quality feed.

“We urge you to address this issue without delay, so that the market access gains enjoyed by American alfalfa exporters are not lost,” the senators said in the letter. “There are a range of possible solutions that could be pursued. However this issue is approached, it is critical that it be addressed expeditiously and in a manner that provides American alfalfa exporters with a cost-effective, predictable solution to ensure reliable access to China’s market.”

Beth Nelson, president of the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance, told Agri-Pulse her group would prefer a broader solution – that China move expeditiously to approve the biotech alfalfa trait.

“It’s sitting in queue to be deregulated in China, but that has not yet happened, and if China were to have asynchronous registration, that would resolve the issue,” Nelson said in an interview. Asynchronous registration would mean China and the U.S. would work together in the approval process.

Nelson chalked up the issues with testing and detecting trace amounts of GMO alfalfa to a communication error. She said she thinks the testing situation is “under control” at this point as the communication error has been resolved, but she still wants the larger issue of approval to be completed. She said she is hopeful the Chinese deregulation will be achieved by the end of the year, but there’s no way to know.

In the meantime, to ensure no trace amounts of GMO alfalfa are detected, Nelson advised producers to take all necessary precautions to prevent any mixing of GMO and GMO-free alfalfa if they plan to export that product. She said working with the final exporter, tracking production all the way from the seed, could prevent any potential trace amounts from mixing until GMO alfalfa is ultimately deregulated in China.


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