Top Chinese Rice Producer Now
Approves Genetically Modified Strains
China has approved its first strain of genetically modified
rice for commercial production, potentially easing the way for
other major producers to adopt the controversial technology.
The approval of the locally-developed rice, as well as China's
first GMO corn, shifts the global balance of power in food trade
and could prompt other countries to follow suit, experts said.
It will also enable China, the world's top producer and consumer
of rice, to grow more GMO rice amid shrinking land and water resources.
The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture's Biosafety Committee issued
biosafety certificates to pest-resistant Bt rice with large-scale
production to start in 2-3 years.
"We expect that with the Chinese approval of Bt rice it
will be much easier for other countries to do this," said
Robert Zeigler, director general at the Philippines-based International
Rice Research Institute, which is developing a number of GMO strains
But Greenpeace called the move a "dangerous genetic experiment"
and said it had previously exposed illegal cases of genetically
engineered (GE) rice in China.
"If the Ministry of Agriculture cannot even control the
illegal cultivation of GE rice, how can they manage the risks
of large scale cultivation?" Lorena Luo, Greenpeace's food
and agriculture campaigner in China, asked in an emailed statement.
China, which wants to raise grain production 8 percent to 540
million tonnes a year by 2020, has splashed out on GMO research,
with $3.5 billion going on rice, corn and wheat.
The phytase corn was also locally developed by China's Academy
of Agricultural Science and Origin Agritech Ltd.
The rice and corn strains are China's first GMO grains approved
for commercial production, although it already permits GMO papaya,
cotton and tomatoes.
The strains still need to undergo registration and production
trials before commercial production can begin in restricted areas,
which may take 2-3 years, the scientists said.
The scientists declined to be identified as the government has
not officially published the information. Officials at the Agricultural
Ministry's biosafety office declined to comment.
"According to our sources, our information is yes, there
was a meeting of the Biosafety Committe on GE rice and corn and
the meeting has granted certification," said Greenpeace's
Exports of GMO rice would be likely to face tough scrutiny abroad.
Most of China's rice exports go to South Korea and West Africa,
although there are buyers globally, including the United States,
South America and Europe. China exports much more rice in prepared
food, such as rice pasta or baby food.
The European Union's executive body, the European Commission,
said in July that China needed to tighten export controls on rice
products because shipments might contain traces of the Bt-63 strain,
which is not authorised in the European Union.
While China is not yet growing GMO rice commercially, there are
numerous field trials going on around the country.
The advent of commercial GMO production in China could affect
global prices for rice, which rocketed in early 2008, sparking
fears that the bedrock of Asian cuisine might be in short supply.
But lower prices could also slow the spread of GMO rice.
"Suppose rice prices remain low in the next few years, countries
will be reluctant to take in technology if they have some concerns
about it," said Samarendu Mohanty, a senior economist at
"If rice prices remain high, then countries will be more
willing to consider Bt or any other technology to boost production,"
he said. "So the market has a role to play."
Reference Sources 89
December 4, 2009