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Official blasts late approval of GM maize in Vietnam

It has been unfair and economically harmful for Vietnam to allow the importation and distribution of genetically modified (GM) foods for years, while domestic businesses were not allowed to develop biotech seeds, a top economic official has lamented.

A man buys corn from a street vendor in Ho Chi Minh City on September 8, 2014.
A man buys corn from a street vendor in Ho Chi Minh City on September 8, 2014.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in late August approved a type of GM corn to be grown and used to make animal feed.

The move was blasted as too late by experts and industry insiders, as the country has in fact been importing GM maize and soybean for more than a decade to serve the animal feed industry. However, the products have reportedly been used to make human food, such as soya milk, soya powder and tofu, as well.

“Traditional Vietnamese seeds of rice, corn, and soybean cannot compete in terms of price with new products, especially the imported GM ones,” Tran Huu Hiep, head of the Economics Committee under the Steering Board for Southwestern Vietnam, said in a post sent to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

During the years when Vietnam did not approve the use of GM plant seeds, it lost a huge amount of foreign currency, which Hiep said is equal to the country’s rice export revenues, to import corn and soybean.

Last year corn imports reached nearly 2.2 million tons, and soybean 1.3 million tons.

“Vietnamese businesses had no choice but to import the products that are not allowed to be locally manufactured,” Hiep said.

On August 27, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment granted a safety license to MON 89034, a kind of genetically modified corn, two weeks after the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development officially allowed it, and three other kinds of GM corn, to be used as food for both humans and animals.

The approval is seen as opening the door for GM foods to be grown and used in Vietnam, which Hiep said could help reduce imports of foreign biotech products.

The official said relevant Vietnamese agencies should create transparent mechanisms to ensure that GM foods will only be used to make animal feed.

“For instance, it must be stipulated that GM foods have labels with warnings like ‘not for human use’ to inform consumers,” he said.

Hien emphasized that it is necessary to approve “limited and tightly controlled use of GM corn and soya,” but the agencies should also improve their management ability.