China will encourage innovative research and development of genetically modified (GM) crops and support companies in turning research into application, the latest signal of state backing for greater commercialization of GM food.
Innovative, high-level agricultural GM organism research and development activities will be supported, according to a notice published Feb. 18 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
China is placing increasing importance on developing and owning its own seed technology to reduce its dependence on imports, likening seeds to the “microchips of agriculture.” The central government unveiled its “No. 1 document” over the weekend, highlighting rural vitalization and the modernization of agriculture as its top tasks.
China has so far been cautious about widespread commercialization of transgenic crops. Few genetically modified crops have been approved for commercial plantation and only about a dozen varieties have been approved for imports, which are allowed only as processing raw materials and not to be planted in the country.
That contrasts with the US, the world’s biggest producer of GM crops. The US Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for regulating the safety of GM crops consumed by humans and animals, considers most GM crops as “substantially equivalent” to non-GM crops.
The US approved a genetically modified tomato for human consumption in 1994. By 2014-15, about 90% of the corn, cotton and soybeans planted in the US are genetically modified.
GM crops are now widely cultivated worldwide. In 2014, approximately 18 million farmers in 28 countries planted GM crops in 13% of the world’s arable surface. About 70% to 90% of GM crops are used as feed for food-producing animals.
“The world seeding industry is ushering in a biological breeding revolution marked by the development of gene editing, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence and other technologies,” Zhang Taolin, Vice Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said at a media briefing this week.
“China's approach to genetic modification is consistent and clear. That is, insisting on independent innovation in research, ensuring safety in promotion and application, and strict supervision in management,” Zhang said.
China will support companies to form innovation consortiums and encourage companies to work with research institutions and universities to jointly apply for safety certificates for GMO production, according to the ministry’s Feb. 18 notice.
Application of major breakthroughs that have the potential to meet production needs and market demand should be accelerated. The notice also says China will strengthen traceability management of agricultural GMOs.