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[CAIRO] The Saudi Arabian Ministry of the Interior has approved imports of genetically modified (GM) crops for human and animal consumption.

According to a 10 March report in the Saudi newspaper Alhayat, the approval applies to all imported and locally produced products, though currently no GM crops are grown in Saudi Arabia.

Products containing GM material will have to be labelled clearly in Arabic and English and carry official certificates showing that they are approved for human consumption in their country of origin.

The decision applies only to food, explicitly banning imports and agricultural use of genetically modified animals and their by-products, as well as imports of GM seeds, dates and decorative plants.

The Saudi Ministry of Agriculture's animal and plant quarantine department will be responsible for implementing the regulations, which will enter into force in September this year.

To encourage compliance with the regulations, Saudi Arabia's Chamber of Commerce and Industry has issued information explaining the conditions that importers of GM products must meet. Importers will need to supply information on what genes the products contain, where the genes come from, and details of product safety.

Mohamed A. Hamoud, head of genetic research in the Faculty of Science at Tanta University, Egypt, says the Saudi regulations focus on ensuring the safety of human health, without adequately protecting the environment.

"Importing GM seeds for cultivation is prohibited under the regulation, but farmers could obtain seeds from genetically modified fruits and vegetables imported for human consumption or plant GM seeds imported as fodder for animals," Hamoud points out.

According to Hamoud, failure to ensure that imported GM plants are seedless or produce no viable pollen, could result in modified genes transferring naturally to other plants.

Read more about GM crops in SciDev.Net's GM crops dossier.

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