New biotech crops undergo a rigorous food safety assessment and approval process before being planted by farmers. Specifically, they are assessed relative to their conventional counterparts, identifying and analyzing any hazards (such as allergens or toxins), as well as other potential differences in safety or nutritional value. While countries often have their own food safety assessment processes, they all generally follow the Codex Alimentarius Commission’s food safety assessment principles and guidelines.
When a new biotech crop is approved for cultivation, this means it may be grown by farmers in that country, and its products can enter the commodity grain market. However, countries that intend to import the product generally have a separate food safety approval process that must be passed — and without this approval, grain shipments containing the biotech product will not be accepted by importing countries. Because of this, the timing of cultivation and import approvals is critically important to avoid trade disruptions.
Asynchronous approvals occur when there is a gap of time between a cultivation approval of a biotech crop and an import approval, due to a time lag in regulatory procedures and processes. This can have a disruptive effect on trade when a small amount, known as low level presence (LLP), of the unapproved biotech crop is detected in grain or seed shipments, or even in an ingredient or finished food product.
Impacts of Asynchronous Approval
Situations involving asynchronous approvals can result in costly fines, lost revenue on the total grain shipment, expensive testing and clean-up, unsold or destroyed grain or seed, product recalls in importing countries, and the loss of export market share as the importing country sources grain from another country. Also because of this risk, the lack of approval in an importing country can sometimes cause technology providers to delay the launch of a new biotech product, even though they may have the necessary cultivation approval. For farmers, this means a lack of access to the latest innovations, costing them new agronomic, environmental and economic benefits due to regulatory issues outside their borders.