China recently rejected a 60,000-ton shipment of American corn because it included unapproved genetically modified grain, the country's food-quality watchdog said.
The shipment was halted in the southern port city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, after it was discovered to contain MIR162, a special insect-resistant variety of maize developed by Syngenta, a Swiss maker of seeds and pesticides, according to Chinese state media.
MIR162 is not on the Chinese government's short list of approved grains considered genetically modified organisms, or GMO.
China has increasingly turned to GMO imports to help meet its growing food demand. Beijing approved permits for three varieties of GMO soybeans in June, including strains developed by U.S. seed giant Monsanto and Germany’s BASF,
Still, Chinese consumers remain wary of GMO crops and some nationalist-leaning pundits have suggested the Western-dominated technology leaves China's food supply vulnerable.
The U.S. is the world's largest corn exporter and China is its No. 3 customer. The Asian nation is expected to buy a record 7 million tons of corn in the 2013-14 marketing year.
Experts described the recent rejection of U.S. corn as probably an isolated incident and said China would continue with its buying binge.
"It is a minor hiccup in what will otherwise be a smooth import process. They need our corn, they've got the orders already placed. We don't think this is the start of some long-term major disruption," Rich Nelson, chief strategist at Allendale Inc., an Illinois-based research firm, told Reuters.