Q. What is biotechnology?
A. Agricultural biotechnology is a collection of scientific techniques, including genetic engineering, that are used to create, improve, or modify plants, animals, and microorganisms.
Biotechnology is not new. Microorganisms have been used for centuries in the production of foods (e.g., leavening of bread, yogurt), beverages (brewing alcoholic beverages), antibiotics, and enzymes. However, recent public interest has focused on only one aspect of biotechnology referred to as "genetic engineering." Genetic engineering refers to techniques wherein genetic material from one or more organisms can be introduced into any other organism (e.g., genetic material from a bacterium that is resistant to a certain pest into a crop plant such as corn). The recipient (in this case, corn) can then be made to express the inserted genetic material (the corn is now resistant to the pest as well).
Q. Are bioengineered foods safe to eat?
A. Yes, they are as safe as any other food we eat. That is, bioengineered food and non-bioengineered food are equally safe. In fact, bioengineered food may be safer. Traditional breeding techniques are often imprecise because they shuffle thousands of genes in the offspring, causing them to have some of the characteristics of each parent plant. With the tools developed from biotechnology, a gene can be inserted into a plant to give it a specific new characteristic instead of mixing all the genes from two plants and seeing what comes out. Bioengineering allows scientists to move genes (and therefore desirable traits) in ways not before possible, and with greater ease and precision.
In the United States, bioengineered foods are regulated by three federal agencies: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. EPA regulates pesticides, USDA oversees environmental safety and field testing, and FDA is responsible for the safety and labeling of all foods and animal feeds derived from crops, including biotech plants.
FDA requires that foods from plants produced through biotechnology must be as safe as traditional foods entering the market, and the bioengineered products failing to meet the safety standards of conventional foods face regulatory action. FDA requires all companies developing plant-based biotech foods to conduct a series of tests that enable them to anticipate safety concerns. Examples of such concerns include the potential for significantly increased levels of plant toxicants or anti-nutrients, reduction of important nutrients, new allergens, or the presence in the food of an unapproved food additive.
Q. How can biotechnology help farmers and consumers?
A. Combating human diseases - The first biotechnology products were medicines such as insulin and blood clot-busting enzymes. These products are now produced easily and cheaply as a result of biotechnology.
Promoting human health - Researchers are creating ways to boost the nutritional value of foods using biotechnology.
Combating animal diseases - Biotechnology helped produce a vaccine that protects animals in the wild against rabies.
Fighting hunger - Biotechnology can help farmers increase crop yields and feed even more people.
Reducing use of agricultural chemicals - Biotechnology can help farmers reduce their reliance on insecticides and herbicides. For example, Bt cotton, a widely grown biotech crop, is not affected by several important cotton pests.
Q. Is meat imported from the U.S. safe to eat?
A. Yes. The United States is the largest beef producer in the world and the third largest pork producer. The U.S. maintains very stringent food safety standards that are applied from the farm all the way to the table.
The Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is responsible for keeping foreign animal diseases from being introduced into animals grown in the U.S. They not only quarantine animals coming into the United States but also have inspection facilities located in major exporting nations to conduct pre-inspections prior to import. The Office of International Epidemiology (OIE), an international veterinary organization recognizes United States as being free from major livestock diseases, such as BSE, FMD, etc.
The Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is responsible for testing livestock products, such as beef and pork, to make sure that they are free of any micro-organisms or residues of concern, FSIS keeps sick animals from entering into the marketing channel. All U.S. meat plants operate Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) programs to ensure that meat is handled in a safe and sanitary manner. Each and every animal, including every chicken that is slaughtered, is inspected by a FSIS officer. Only the carcasses that pass this inspection can be moved or processed for food use. The inspections conducted at the slaughter plants are not on a random basis but rather on every carcass. All meat shipments to be exported to China must be inspected and be accompanied by a health certificate issued by a FSIS official certifying its wholesomeness and sanitary condition.
The meat is again inspected by Chinese government officials upon arrival to see if it meets the stringent Chinese standards set for micro-organisms, antibiotic residue levels, etc. The products that are cleared from Customs are subject to another random test by municipal government authorities that inspect the products to verify that the same sanitary products that cleared Customs are sold at supermarkets, etc.
The U.S. meat is processed in a sanitary manner and undergoes inspection by not only the U.S. government officials but also Chinese government officials to ensure that the consumers get clean and sanitary meat on their tables. Thanks to such stringent handling and inspection, all meat products are sold in a sanitary condition. Consumers should remember that, despite how safe product may be at the point of purchase, it is up to the consumers to maintain the same sanitary condition up to the point of serving the meat. Studies show that most of the food borne diseases occur from mishandling of food in the home.
Although the Agricultural Trade Offices in China (and possibly USDA Cooperators) can also be a source for the above information, importers are the best source for the most up-to-date and accurate information. Some of your questions related to sanitary issues could also be answered by the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service Office based in Beijing.
You may also want to read some of the market/product reports written by the Office of Agricultural Affairs or the Agricultural Trade Offices in China for additional information. All reports can be viewed on this website under the "I want to... Learn more about FAS China Reports". Some of the notable reports include; Exporter Guide, FAIRS Report, Livestock Annual Report...
Q. What are the procedures for importing pet birds into China?
A. Pet birds, which are considered not to pose the risk of spreading communicable animal disease pathogens and which are accompanied by an export certificate issued by the government of the exporting country, are allowed.......
Q. What are the procedures for importing pet dogs and cats into China?
A. An export certificate issued by the government of the exporting country or a rabies vaccination certificate is required.....
If the animals are from rabies-free countries, the Chinese government will issue the certificate to release them......... Rabies-free countries include: Japan, Taiwan, Ireland, Cyprus, the U.K. (The Great Britain and Northern Ireland), Australia, New Zealand, Fiji Islands, Singapore, Portugal, Iceland, Jamaica, Guam, the U.S. (Hawaii and Samoa only).
If the animals are from countries affected with rabies and they are more than 3-months old, they will be released........
Q. What are the procedures for exporting pets to the United States?
A. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has regulations governing importation of the following pets: dogs, cats, turtles, and monkeys. Pets taken out of the United States are subject, upon return, to the same regulations as those entering for the first time. The U.S. government does not require general certificates of health for pets. However, because airlines sometimes require health certificates for pets traveling with them, you should check with your airline prior to your travel date.
Pet dogs are subject to inspection at ports of entry for evidence of infectious diseases that can be transmitted to humans. If a dog appears to be ill, further examination by a licensed veterinarian might be required. In addition, dogs must be vaccinated against rabies at least 30 days prior to entry into the United States, except for puppies younger than 3 months of age and dogs originating or located for 6 months or more in areas that are free of rabies. A dog with an unexpired vaccination certificate meets these requirements. Following entry into the United States, all dogs are subject to state and local vaccination requirements. All pet dogs arriving in the state of Hawaii and the territory of Guam, even from the U.S. mainland, are subject to locally imposed quarantine requirements.
Pet cats are subject to inspection at ports of entry for evidence of infectious diseases that can be transmitted to humans. If a cat appears to be ill, further examination by a licensed veterinarian might be required. There is no rabies vaccination requirement for cats. Following entry into the United States, all cats are subject to state and local vaccination requirements. All pet cats arriving in the state of Hawaii and the territory of Guam, even from the U.S. mainland, are subject to locally imposed quarantine requirements.
Additional sources of information:
Q. Do farmers in the U.S. apply agricultural chemicals to fruits and vegetables before exporting them to China?
A. In the U.S., the use of agricultural chemicals is strictly controlled. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with regulating the use of pesticides and balancing the risks and benefits posed by pesticide use. To carry out this task, EPA has developed a variety of regulatory and educational programs including registering pesticides for specific use, setting tolerances and usage standards for applicators, certification and training program for applicators, and consumer education programs, etc.
All U.S. farmers are encouraged to follow the safe use instructions for agricultural chemicals established by EPA. In addition to compliance with U.S. standards, fruits and vegetables exported to China must comply with Chinese agricultural chemical standards. Even if they meet U.S. standards, fruits and vegetables are rejected by the Chinese quarantine authorities if they do not meet Chinese standards. After Customs clearance, fruits and vegetables are subject to random tests by city or municipal government authorities. Samples are taken from wholesale markets to retail shops. This is to ensure safety of fruits and vegetables until they reach consumers.
Q. What is the U.S. position in the World Trade Organizations (WTO) agricultural negotiations?
A. The United States is proposing a two-phase process: The first phase eliminates export subsidies and reduces worldwide tariffs and trade-distorting support over a five-year period. This would be accomplished by harmonizing tariffs and trade-distorting domestic support at substantially lower levels than what is currently allowed. The second phase is the eventual elimination of all tariffs and trade-distorting domestic support. For more detail on the U.S. proposal for global agricultural trade reform, go to www.fas.usda.gov/itp/proposal.htm
Q. What should be my first steps if I am interested in exporting my products to China?
A. After doing some initial research, you should establish contacts with potential importers. The Agricultural Trade Offices in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai develop and maintain importer lists by product. Another way of finding potential importers is to participate in food shows in China where you can expand your contacts with importers, agents, wholesalers, retailers, and processors. There are many major Food Shows held throughout China. China is a huge country with major regional difference in tastes, purchasing habits, incomes, etc. Our ATOs are ready to help you better understand these regional differences.
The third step is to introduce yourself and your products to importers by sending catalogues, brochures, product samples, and price lists. We strongly recommend that you visit the importer(s) in person for more detailed and serious talks. The importer can provide you with information about the following issues:
- the current size of the market
- the main distribution channel(s) for the product
- the major brands and suppliers already in the market
- potential problems with the Chinese government's sanitary/import inspection
- documentation required by the Chinese government for import inspection and registration
- compliance with the Chinese Food and Food Additive Codes
- import tariffs and taxes
- labeling and registration requirements.
Your first step should be to read some of the market/product reports written by the Agricultural Trade Offices and/or the Office of Agricultural Affairs in China for more information about the Chinese market and your specific product, if available. These reports can be found on this website under the "I want to... Learn more about FAS China Reports". Some of the notable reports include; Exporter Guide, FAIRS Report, Retail Report, Food Processing Report, HRI Report, and various Market Briefs and City Profile Reports.