China Set to Approve Local GMO Corn to Boost Food Security

(Bloomberg) -- China is set to award safety certificates for genetically-modified corn, paving the way for domestic production as the world’s most-populous country turns to the controversial technology to boost food security.

Two strains of GMO corn, one developed by Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co. and another by Zhejiang University and a biological company in Hangzhou, are likely to be given safety certificates. The strains will be suitable for growth in the country’s northern areas, according to a list published by the agriculture ministry.

Genetically modified organisms are common in many of the world’s top crop producers, with much of the corn and soybeans grown in the U.S., Brazil and Argentina from GMO seeds. Its use is still limited in certain areas, most notably China and Europe, where concerns over the health and environmental impact have seen its use be limited.

In 2009, China gave approval to develop a type of engineered corn known as phytase, which allows livestock to better process phosphate in animal feed, but the country never put the strain into commercial production. While China is a major producer of GMO cotton, it has not allowed any modified grains for production yet. Still, domestic media reported in 2017 that farmers in some areas were growing GMO crops illegally.

The ministry on Monday published a list of 192 local GMO crops that will be issued safety certificates, and called on the public for feedback until Jan. 20.

“It seems that China will go ahead with the technology on growing GMO grains following 10-year halt”, said Huang Dafang, a former pro-GMO researcher at the Biotechnology Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences. Small-scale trial production could start as early as spring, he said.

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China will also issue safety certificates for GMO soybeans developed by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, which is suitable for growth in the country’s southern areas, the ministry said, without providing more details. If produced, this would be the first time it has grown GMO soy locally, though it’s the top importer of the oilseed which is largely genetically modified.

Large-scale commercial production of domestic GMO corn and soy may still take about two years, said Li Qiang, chief analyst with Shanghai JC Intelligence Co. The GMO corn strains are insect-and-herbicide resistant and can avoid annual losses of between 3%-5%, which can rise to as high as 20% in some years, said Li.

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