Renewable Farming

Does China intend to ban imported grain or other foods with over 200 ppb. glyphosate residue?

Since we heard that report several weeks ago, we’ve attempted to get confirmation from some China contacts. But so far, no official word. Thus our headline must carry a big question mark. 

January 28, 2019 — Here’s the rumor: Chinese ag officials supposedly have plans to impose a glyphosate residue limit of 200 parts per billion on any grain or food imported into China, basing that decision on health concerns.

In December, the Sustainable Pulse website headlined: “China set to shock markets with low glyphosate residue limits in food imports.” Their editor cited only “Sustainable Pulse sources.” 

Now another website, one that focuses on the investment community, carries a more detailed analysis of this possibility, saying “It is expected those limits will go into effect no later than the end of 2019.”

However, our direct connections with a non-official source in China told us in a message this morning that the Ag Ministry has not publicly issued new, formal Maximum Residue Limits — or even a formal proposal. The U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service can only offer an “assessment made by USDA staff and not necessarily statements of official U.S. government policy.” The latest FAS list of Chinese pesticide residue limits is almost a year old: March 2018. You can download the FAS listing here as a PDF.

There’s a strengthening network of anti-glyphosate consumers and scientists in China, communicating via electronic networks such as sina Weibo, WeChat, Toutiao and Douyin. Altogether, Chinese networks probably connect more than 500 citizens. China’s connectiveness is larger than Facebook, Twitter, snapchat and others in America. These irrepressible information flows are pressuring Chinese ag and health officials. Their arguments were strengthened in 2015, when an international agency for research on cancer classified glyphosate as carcinogenic. Other evidence keeps strengthening their case, but lobbying within China calls for a more subtle approach. China is the world’s largest surveillance state, so another kind of “precautionary principle” applies there.

For the past couple of months, we’ve followed the discussions of this possibility among several ag consultants and scientists in our e-mail network. They take the possibility of tougher residue restrictions seriously, but a final decision is unresolved. Logically, this “phytosanitary” rumor could be a bargaining chip as U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators struggle over a bilateral trade agreement. Chinese president Xi Jinping would reasonably realize that imposing such a health restriction offers China huge leverage. It’s a barrier China could erect against America based on a reasonable pretext: The Chinese people insist on protecting their health. Meanwhile American advocates for residue-free, non-GMO food are looking for reasons to challenge American growers: “Why not raise what your customers want? The customer is always right.”

Another possibility is that Chinese officials may be allowing such regulatory threats to float out of various disinformation mills to enhance Chinese tariff bargaining options. Meanwhile, fanning fears of new Chinese residue limits strengthens the hand of U.S. activists who are vigorously opposed to  GMO crops and their linked herbicides.

U.S. growers need to keep in perspective that China manufactures and exports about 60% of the global supply of glyphosate.  

If you’ve followed our reports of Chinese consumer reactions since we reported on that July 2014 Food Safety Conference in Beijing, concern over glyphosate in food is widespread among Chinese consumers. However, farther up the food chain and within the national Ag Ministry, the official central government policy remains that Chinese officialdom intends to become a biotech power. Even so, various regional governments and military districts favor tougher restraints on GMO crops and related pesticides. Some campus food services and military commissaries have attempted to serve only non-GMO meals.

China’s pork and poultry industry relies heavily on soybean imports from the U.S. and South America. There aren’t immediate options to depending on established North American and South American sources of soybeans and corn. Although Columbia has roughly 9 million acres of “clean” farmland which could be developed, all South American regions suitable for soybeans are also vulnerable to several types of rust. And the widely used fungicides are quickly growing ineffective.


As seen by ag consultant Bob Streit, here are some of the possible outcomes if such a tight limit on residues is eventually imposed — even in stages: 

“What’s likely to show up is that a small percentage of U.S. growers who raise soybeans without glyphosate will be rewarded with price premiums from grain terminals that segregate the grain and send it to a major grain company’s terminal for shipping in Panamax freighters to China. Smaller companies, or those larger ones who had been contemplating working with identity preserved grain, should see a chance to capture margins for their extra work.
“For years we envisioned a two-tiered price and handling system. One for clean, residue-free beans and a lower price level for beans that will not meet import standards. Establishing this system in stages would convince growers around the world that importers are serious. Growers would be forced to shift production practices to meet the import standards if they want to capture the higher prices.  
“This would be a huge event, which we envisioned back in 2014 (The year of the Food Safety Conference in Beijing). The actions of moms, food shoppers, and the Grandmothers in China have the power to force this change.
“When ChemChina bought Syngenta in 2017, most people believed that Chem China wanted to move to GMO grain production. A number of more knowledgeable people recognized that such a purchase would allow them access to new non-GMO corn, soybean, and veggie seed lines that could be kept GMO-free to maintain China’s food sovereignty and health of its citizens.”
Dr. Don Huber, who for years has researched and lectured worldwide on the health and environmental threats of glyphosate and GMO crops, reviewed Bob Streit’s comments and says:
“I might just add to Bob’s analysis that Columbia has 9 million acres of virgin land available for soybean production with NO residues! Also, Russia and China have signed new agreements [with China]. We may be cut out of the market, since China’s needs can be met in several ways.”

One of our WakeUP dealers who also markets corn and soybean seed reports unusually strong and early sales of non-GMO seed, especially soybeans. Part of the reason is cost savings, but there’s also a sense that more growers than even want to start transitioning out of the traited seed and their captive herbicides.