* Agmin spokesman says still evaluating MIR 162 for import
* Does not give timetable for approval
* China has rejected some U.S. cargoes found to contain thestrain
* Worries over further rejections expected to curb neworders
By Dominique Patton
BEIJING, Dec 6 (Reuters) - China is still evaluating whetherto approve the strain of genetically-modified corn that causedit to reject some U.S. shipments in the last few weeks, agovernment spokesman said.
The country, one of the world's largest importers of thegrain, this week turned away five batches of U.S. corn afterquarantine authorities found they contained traces of Syngenta's insect-resistant MIR162, which has not been approvedby Beijing.
The agriculture ministry spokesman, Bi Meijia, said at apress briefing on Friday that MIR162, also known as AgrisureViptera, was still being evaluated after U.S.-based Syngentaprovided additional information on the product in November.
"The company has applied for safety certification for importfor use in processing many times, and after an(earlier)evaluation by our country's biosafety committee, weconsidered their testing data and related materials to beincomplete and that problems still existed," he said.
Bi said Syngenta had applied for approval as early as 2010,but did not give a timetable for when the green light could begiven.
Worries over further rejections could prompt a sharp declinein new Chinese orders for U.S. corn, dragging on global prices that have already dropped around 40 percent this year.
China was originally expected to approve MIR 162 imports inMarch 2012, Syngenta spokesman Paul Minehart told Reuters thisweek. The company has answered all Chinese requests forinformation and is now waiting for Beijing to act, he added.
The strain is already shipped to Japan, South Korea, Russiaand even the European Union, which is notoriously slow inapproving GMO crop varieties.
China has expressed commitment to the use of GMO to helpimprove yields and guarantee food security, already allowingimports of 25 different GMO corn varieties.
But it has delayed approvals for domestic production amidwidespread public fears about the technology.
It allows the import of GMO soybeans, but only to beprocessed into oil and animal feed ingredients, and alsoproduces a small amount of GMO vegetables and fruits.
Deflecting a question about recent media reports saying theministry's own kindergarten was completely GMO-free, Bi saidChina's GMO development was still at an early stage and thegovernment's responsibility was to ease public worries andmisunderstandings about the technology.
"We and related government departments will strengthen ourpropaganda work to let more people know what GMO is, understandit and eliminate their worries about the safety of GMO foodproducts," he said.
China's state media has recently been working overtime topersuade the public that GMO foods are safe, recruitingscientists to debunk widespread rumours that GMO foodconsumption had reduced sperm counts or altered human DNA.
At the same briefing on Friday, agriculture minister HanChangfu said China was committed to maintaining its 95 percentrate of self-sufficiency in grain, but would take greateradvantage of international markets to guarantee supply.
"As a country with a large population, and a big consumer ofagricultural products and grain, we basically want to solve foodsafety problems domestically," he said.
"So we want to maintain a relatively high rate ofself-sufficiency, especially in cereals, and maintain that 95percent rate. At the same time, we will actively use theinternational market and international cooperation."
- Consumer Discretionary