China All-in With GMO As Government Issues New Permits For Studies

Posted: January 7, 2015 in Society and Culture, Technology and Energy


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Chinese government backs further studies of genetically modified crops

Permits renewed for research on several rice and corn strains, a move hailed by some scientists as a big step towards commercialisation

06 January, 2015

By Stephen Chen

A researcher checks test strains of genetically modified rice in Hubei province. Photo: AFP

The central government has renewed permits allowing scientists to grow three varieties of genetically modified rice and corn on the mainland, more than three months after they expired, suggesting the technology has the continued backing of the authorities.

Some scientists had feared that the Ministry of Agriculture might stop research on the projects. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some members of the public are wary about the safety of GM crops, amid a succession of food safety scandals on the mainland.

GM rice cannot be sold as food – the government says it has to be sure that new strains are safe – but the country already imports huge amounts of genetically modified soya beans, mainly from the United States.

The permits issued by the ministry allow two scientific research groups to produce two types of pest-resistant rice and a type of high-yield corn for five years, according to a report by Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.

The rice plants were developed by a team at Huazhong Agricultural University in Hubei province and the corn by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences’ Biotechnology Research Institute in Beijing.

They were originally granted bio-safety permits in 2009, which all expired on August 17 last year.

The fresh permits allow the scientists to grow the crops in open fields and gather data about potentially distributing the strains to farmers in the future.

To renew their permits, the research groups submitted new data on the crops’ environmental safety and the results of tests on animals to prove the strains were not dangerous to eat, according to the People’s Daily report.

One of the strains of genetically modified rice under development carries a bacteria gene that can kill numerous pests, which could help significantly cut the use of pesticides on farms.

The GM corn variety can absorb phosphorus in the soil more efficiently, allowing it to grow faster than conventional strains of the crop.

Scientists welcomed the decision on the permits.

“This is a decisive event on the road to commercialise GM technology in China,” said in a front-page report.

The website was set up by scientists from top research institutes, including the Chinese Academy of Sciences, to promote the technology behind genetically modified food.

Environmental pressure group Greenpeace said the permits’ renewal did not mean the GM crops would be sold to the public anytime soon.

Any leak of the products onto the market would be illegal, it said.

The ministry’s decision came four months after the government released details of a speech President Xi Jinping made in support of developing GM technology.

In the speech, the president said he was deeply concerned about ensuring the country’s food supply.

Xi said that one of the most unforgettable experiences of his life was the suffering caused by the lack of food during periods of the Cultural Revolution, an era of political upheaval in the 1960s and 1970s.


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