Nearly half of the U.S. Senate urged the White House to close biotechnology regulation gaps between the United States and China.
On Wednesday, 42 senators signed their names to a letter addressed to President Barack Obama. The letter pressed the president to prioritize biotech approvals with China’s leader, President Xi Jinping. The letter came a day before Xi was scheduled to arrive in Washington D.C. as part of the administration’s goal of maintaining sustained engagement with Chinese leadership.
“Developing good public policy that promotes innovation and trade will better position our nations to meet critical food security, environmental and rural economic policy objectives,” the letter stated.
Similar to most countries, China has a system for regulating biotechnology and genetically modified organisms. The country’s oversight process became a hot-button issue in November 2013 when China shut down U.S. corn imports because shipments contained a GMO it had not yet approved.
The GMO, a variety of corn engineered by Syngenta called Agrisure Viptera corn, was already approved and grown in the United States.
According to the National Grain and Feed Association, the trade disruption cost the corn industry up to roughly $3 billion in losses. Those losses, in turn, prompted thousands of lawsuits filed by farmers and agribusiness companies.
Senators to sign the letter included key agricultural policymakers Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). Stabenow wrote the 2014 Farm Bill, and Roberts is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
Overall, the letter included a mix of democratic and republican senators.
Additional senators that signed the letter included Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Ben Sassee (R-Neb.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).
A review of data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that many of the 42 senators who signed the letter have received campaign funding from companies involved with the biotech and agribusiness industries. Sen. Stabenow’s campaign committee, for example, has received at least $72,807 from Dow Chemical.
Sen. Robert’s campaign committee has received at least $52,500 from ConAgra Foods.
Sen. Blunt’s campaign committee has received at least $98,250 from Monsanto.
Sen. McCaskill’s campaign committee also has received at least $62,424 from Monsanto.
And Sen. Durbin’s campaign committee has received at least $82,100 from Archer Daniels Midland.
In general, it takes longer for a GMO in China’s regulatory system compared to the one in the United States, which is technically known as the 1986 coordinated framework for biotechnology. The letter stated that there is a growing backlog of biotechnology-derived crops under review within China’s Ministry of Agriculture.
The letter advocates that the backlog has created “additional regulatory uncertainty” and “undermining” efforts to “bolster science-based agricultural innovation.”
“We ask that you seek a commitment from President Xi to move forward with the queue of biotechnology products, including those awaiting final import approvals,” the letter stated.