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BEIJING: China’s agriculture ministry has launched a campaign to lower the content of corn and soymeal in animal feed, according to a document issued this week, which could have repercussions for the global grain trade.

The document, sent to animal feed producers and other government departments, outlines a plan for nutrition experts to draw up guidelines by the end of this month on ways in which corn and soymeal could be replaced by alternative grain, three industry sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs did not respond to a fax seeking comment.

The document comes amid a growing deficit of corn in China, which has pushed prices of the grain used largely in animal feed to record highs and triggered a surge in imports by the world’s second largest consumer.

Customs data on Thursday showed corn imports in the first two months of the year rose 400% to 4.8 million tonnes, while wheat and sorghum imports also surged.

It also comes after Beijing stepped up its focus on food security as the COVID-19 pandemic raised concerns about its dependence on imports and stability of supplies.

Industry participants said it was not clear how much impact the guidelines would have, however, given that they are not expected to be binding.

Chinese feed mills have already stepped up use of corn alternatives since last year when prices surged. “It’s easier said than done,” said Darin Friedrichs, senior analyst at StoneX.

Volumes produced of other protein meals such as rapemeal and sunflower meal are a fraction of the global production of soybeans.

“Right now you have Brazil loading over 2 million tonnes of soybeans into vessels every week to ship to China. You don’t have that type of scale and efficiency with other products,” he added The ministry said it wanted to reach a balance in supply and demand of feed grains, and promote greater use of rice, wheat, and other grains, as well as other meals to replace corn and soymeal.

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