August 11, 2011


China unlikely to commercialise GM crops in medium run


Genetically modified (GM) food in China sees little scope for large-scale commercial planting for at least three to five years, said a top agriculture expert.


"Given the constraints on natural resources in China, particularly land and water, the government will definitely need transgenic technology to raise food production in the long term" said Huang Jikun, director of the Center for Chinese Agriculture Policy at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


China has increasingly turned to biotechnology to boost grain production.


In 2008, the government launched the National Transgenic New Variety Development Programme, with plans to invest RMB26 billion (US$3.8 billion) in biotechnology research by 2020.


The crop closest to commercialisation for staple food so far in China is rice, Huang said. GM corn is mainly used as animal feed.


But the new variety must still undergo at least two years of regional trials before it can be approved for commercial planting, under national regulations.


"The problem is that the Ministry of Agriculture does not have clear regulations on the procedures for regional trials of GM food crops," Huang said. That makes it difficult to predict a timeframe for commercialisation.


In 2009, the Ministry of Agriculture issued safety certificates for production of two GM field crops: rice and corn. The move prompted heated debate in the domestic media, which raised public concern about food safety.


Fan Shenggen, director-general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, said there was still no evidence to suggest that GM food is harmful to human health.


However, the new GM crops do have an impact on the ecology and biological diversity, he said.


"We need to be cautious so as to make the maximum use of (GM plants') advantages while minimising their negative effects on the environment," Fan said.


GM technology does have advantages. It can boost production, reduce the use of chemicals and enhance nutrition, Huang said.


"Advanced biotechnology will help guarantee China's food security and benefit both farmers and consumers," he said.


So far, the government has issued safety certificates for production of eight GM plants, including cotton, rice, corn, tomatoes and sweet peppers.


Cotton is the only plant allowed for commercial farming.

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