August 28, 2023


China to extend GM crop trial across provinces amid food security concerns



China has unveiled plans to expand its trial of genetically modified (GM) corn and soybeans to encompass 20 counties spanning five provinces, as the nation's focus on food security intensifies, South China Morning Post reported.


The provinces of Hebei, Jilin, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region will collectively contribute to this extended trial. The initiative, which originated with soybean field testing in 2021 before extending to farms in Inner Mongolia and Yunnan in subsequent years, will further be supported by GM seed production in the northwestern Gansu province, as announced by China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.


Citing the vital role of GM technology in augmenting crop yields, mitigating losses from pests, diseases, and weeds, and reducing the utilisation of chemical pesticides and labour costs, the ministry emphasised the irreplaceable impact of agricultural GM technology.


The recent uncertainties arising from the pandemic, geopolitical tensions including the Russian-Ukraine conflict, and broader international frictions have amplified food security concerns in China, the world's largest food consumer.


Attributing heightened resistance against grassland pests and weeds, GM corn and soybeans have exhibited yield increments ranging from 5.6% to 11.6%, as per the ministry's findings.


In response to lingering suspicions and unfounded rumours linking GM food to cancer and infertility, the ministry provided numerous instances and declarations to dispel doubts. It affirmed the safety of GM food products that have undergone marketing approval.


To ensure food safety and maintain industrial order, the ministry committed to heightened legal supervision of the GM breeding sector, concurrently fostering pilot initiatives.


Dr Zhu Zhen, a researcher at the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, noted the need for a counter-disinformation campaign regarding GM foods and how public resistance has spurred China's GM crop promotion. He also speculated on the possibility of extending GM technology to vegetables, fruits, and other new varieties in the future.


As part of its ongoing efforts to bolster self-reliance and diminish food security vulnerabilities, Beijing has worked to elevate domestic production of soybeans and corn, thereby reducing dependence on foreign markets. China's self-sufficiency in soybeans rose from 15% in 2021 to 18.5% in 2022, with a pledge to elevate it to 30.7% within a decade, according to China's agriculture ministry.


Echoing these developments, a research report by Tianfeng Securities said that GM technology could significantly elevate corn yields by 7% to 17% and decrease pesticide application by 60 percent, alleviating supply-demand disparities.


Widening the adoption of GM technology aligns with China's strategic interests to bridge the gap between corn and soybean supply and demand, mitigating dependence on international markets.


China also introduced initiatives to safeguard seed sources and boost self-sufficiency in core livestock and poultry seed breeding sources.


-      South China Morning Post

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