2 March 2015. Source:

Most of the debate around genetically modified crops has centered around the impact to the human food chain, yet China continues to disrupt feed markets with its zero tolerance for genetically modified crops.

China began banning imports of U.S. corn in late 2013 and then dried distillers grains over loads of corn were confirmed to have a trait approved for planting in the U.S. since 2010. That trait was finally approved for import by China in late 2014. But that year of uncertainty disrupted global corn markets and led both farmers and grain traders to sue a major seed company for selling the U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved seed.

Now alfalfa growers are feeling the pinch. China has blacklisted hay imports from three U.S. exporters after finding hay containing low levels of Roundup Ready hay. China’s import policy is not to accept commodities with low results, even in the parts per million range. Overall exports of U.S. alfalfa have fallen 12 percent since China started refusing hay but other data shows exports to China are actually up by 22 percent.

While it’s certainly any country’s right to set a zero tolerance policy, it’s nearly impossible to achieve based on sampling and laboratory procedures, experts say.

“Is zero genetically engineered hay possible?” asked Dan Putnam during the 2015 Idaho Hay and Forage Conference held in Burley. Yes, but one cannot guarantee it or test for it, the University of California Davis extension forage specialist told hay growers. “To assure GE-free hay you must test every single gram of a hay stack and then there’s nothing left to the feed the animals.”

Theoretically, one or two stems of GE hay in a 200-ton hay lot is enough to exceed China’s zero tolerance should those stems end up in the tested sample.

He believes both GE and non-GE hay can co-exist in the marketplace. But to reach that place, the industry will have to adopt non-GE protocol similar to the organic certification program.

Putnam outlined his ideas for defining non-GE hay by establishing a non-detect level of 0.9 percent or below. That’s similar to the level that Europe uses for human food. Ingredients below that tolerance are allowed to be labeled as GMO-free…

Next, he suggests that the market be differentiated into GE hay, conventional hay for nonsensitive markets (dairies and feedlots) and non-GE for sensitive markets (China). Growers selling hay into the first two segments can continue business as usual, but growers who know their hay is headed for sensitive markets should start following a set protocol to assure buyers their hay meets an accepted low-level threshold…