China has approved the safety of its first gene-edited crop. It comes as the country cautiously embraces science to boost their agriculture production, with an eye on food security.
The crop, a soybean, was developed by the privately owned Shandong Shunfeng Biotechnology Company. It contains two edited genes that increase the level of healthy fat oleic acid in the plant. The safety of the crop was approved for five years from April 2023.
According to a company representative who spoke to Reuters, the company is also working on other genetically edited crops including higher yield rice, wheat and corn, herbicide-resistant rice and soybeans and vitamin C-rich lettuce. However, there are more steps to go before farmers will be able to use it, including the approvals of seed varieties with the tweaked genes.
In recent years China has laid out clearer regulations for the approval of genetically edited and genetically modified crops as the country pushes for greater self-reliance and food security. In late 2020 China’s leadership said the country needed to use science and technology to improve its seed industry.
In January 2022, new regulations for genetically edited crops meant it could only require a year or two for approval for a gene-edited crop.
Related Articles: Will Russia Block or Renew the Black Sea Grain Deal? | The Use of Gene Editing to Adapt to the Climate Crisis | Is China Living Up to Its Climate Commitments? | China’s Fence-sitting On the War In Ukraine
Late 2021 also saw new regulations that clarified and simplified the process for approving genetically modified crops. Rules were brought more in line with other markets such as America.
Genetically edited crops change the pre-existing genes of a crop, while genetically modified crops involve the addition of new genes.
Since 2019, China has given safety approval to 16 corn strains and three soybean varieties.
In January this year, China also approved the import of eight foreign genetically modified crops. This includes the import of genetically modified Alfalfa after a 10 year wait. Alfalfa is a plant, also known as lucerne, that is used as feed for livestock.
China’s President Xi Jinping himself has increasingly supported the technology, which he says is crucial to bolstering China’s food security.
This is a view that is shared in other parts of the world, including Europe, despite initial opposition to genetically modified crops. As droughts, war, and concerns about global trade linger, there has been increasing concern about food security.
Genetically modified and edited crops allow for much greater efficiency in farming. In China, corn fields yield only about 60% as much corn on average as in the United States, which is the top producer as a result of using primarily genetically modified corn.
America eclipsed China as the largest producer of soybean in 1996, the year it first approved genetically modified soybeans.
Despite the changes to regulations and the approval of genetically modified and genetically edited crops, representing a big shift compared to the past, China still remains cautious in their approach to genetically modified and edited crops.
This year less than 1% of its corn fields will be planted with genetically modified corn. Several varieties will be planted in certain regions of Inner Mongolia, Jilin, Hebei and Yunnan provinces. This represents more of a large-scale trial, than a full rollout of genetically modified crops.
In a policy document on the topic, China’s cabinet said it would “orderly expand the trial area and regulate the management of planting.”
China still lags behind other countries in genetically modified and edited goods.
While they are taking a cautious approach, the flurry of activity in recent years suggests China is serious about catching up.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Fields in Southern China’s Yunnan province, 2008. Featured Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.