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3-Food: Japan likely to relax Bt-1O corn control

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TITLE:  Japan likely to relax Bt-1O corn control
SOURCE: Reuters, by Aya Takada
DATE:   26 Aug 2005

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Japan likely to relax Bt-1O corn control

TOKYO - Japan is likely to implement next year its plan to allow up to
one percent of illegal Bt-10 corn in U.S. feed cargoes, despite requests
from Japanese importers that the new rule should take effect soon,
government officials said.

The plan, proposed by the Agriculture Ministry in June, is aimed at
restoring a smooth supply of corn - the most heavily consumed grain in
Japan - from top supplier United States.

But the new import rule is subject to approval by Japan's Food Safety
Commission (FSC), an independent agency.

The FSC subcommittee that has been discussing the plan may approve it at
their next meeting in September, an FSC official said. The commission
then will seek public opinions on the plan for four weeks before giving
formal approval to the ministry.

After obtaining FSC approval, the ministry will start procedures to
revise its feed safety regulations that could take a few months to
complete, a ministry official said. "If things go smoothly, we will put
the one-percent rule into effect early next year," he said.

Japan has a zero-tolerance policy on imports of unapproved genetically
modified (GMO) crops, and importers of crops tainted with illegal GMO
must destroy the cargoes or ship them back to exporting countries.

Since Bt-10, a GMO corn strain made by Swiss agrochemicals group Syngenta
AG is not approved for distribution, Japan has rejected imports of a
total of 10 U.S. feed corn cargoes contaminated with the strain.

The government started testing U.S. corn shipments upon arrival for
traces of Bt-10 in May, following the announcement by Syngenta in March
that some of its corn seeds in the United States had been contaminated
with Bt-10 from 2001 to 2004. The frequent discoveries of tainted U.S.
cargoes have been disrupting corn distribution to Japan's livestock
industry, which needs a massive 12 million tonnes of the grain annually
for feed.

To ensure stable supplies from the United States, from which Japan
sources over 90 percent of its corn requirements, the ministry has
decided to accept U.S. feed corn cargoes tainted with a low level of Bt-10.

Corn importers

Corn importers, who asked the government to relax control over Bt-10
immediately, are disappointed at the slow pace.

"It's too late," one Japanese trader said, adding that the chances of
finding Bt-10 in U.S. shipments would fall when new crop U.S. corn starts
reaching Japan in November.

Newly harvested U.S. corn was unlikely to be tainted with Bt-10, as
Syngenta has recalled contaminated corn seeds from U.S. farmers, said an
official of the company's Tokyo office.

Japanese importers face the risk of sustaining huge losses from purchases
of tainted U.S. corn cargoes.

To avoid the risk of receiving tainted corn cargoes, some Japanese
importers have bought Argentine and South African corn as alternatives to
U.S. supply, traders said. One importer bought about 100,000 tonnes of
South African corn for shipment in the third quarter of this year, while
another company bought over 30,000 tonnes of Argentine corn for August-
September shipments, they said.

Other corn importers have not shifted from the United States to other
supply sources. But to lower the risk of getting contaminated U.S.
cargoes, most companies pay premiums to U.S. shippers for corn certified
as free of Bt-10.

The Agriculture Ministry estimates about 70 percent of U.S. feed corn
cargoes bound for Japan are currently certified as free of Bt-10.


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