February 20, 2023

China to plant less than 1% of corn with GMO types this year, say sources



China will likely plant less than 1% of its corn fields with genetically modified varieties this year, said two people familiar with the plans, dashing hopes for a full market launch of the technology in the world's second-largest corn market.

The country's agriculture ministry has designated around 4 million mu (267,000 hectares or 660,000 acres) to be planted with GMO corn this year, said a senior manager at a Chinese seed developer briefed on the plans.

Several varieties will be planted in certain counties of Inner Mongolia, Jilin, Hebei and Yunnan provinces, he said, declining to be identified as the plan is not public.

China has studied GMO food crops for decades but has never permitted them to be planted due to opposition against the technology, although it allows imported GMO soybeans and corn for use in animal feed and the planting of GMO cotton.

The slower-than-expected rollout is disappointing to seed companies that were expecting to boost revenues in a fragmented, highly competitive market. It also comes as an economic recovery is expected to increase China's demand for corn to feed the world's largest pig herd.

"It's a large-scale trial, not a fully fledged commercial release," said a second industry source who has also been briefed on the plans.

China planted about 43 million hectares of corn last year, producing a crop of 277 million tonnes, according to official data.

Despite official wariness over GMO crops, there is huge demand for hardier, high-yield grains. In China's breadbasket in the northeast, illegally sown GM corn makes up about 70% of the acreage, according to a state media report in 2021.

China's corn fields yield only about 60% as much corn on average as in top producer the United States, where GMO corn makes up more than 90% of the crop.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has increasingly supported use of the technology, which he said is crucial to bolstering China's food security. Trade tensions, erratic weather and war in major corn exporter Ukraine have increased official worries over feeding the country's 1.4 billion people.

Beijing has approved the safety of 14 corn "events", or genetic changes, since 2019 and implemented new regulations to support the technology, signaling a change in its longtime cautious attitude to GMOs.

However, China's cabinet said in its policy document that the country would "orderly expand the trial area and regulate the management of planting."

- Reuters

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