GMO COMPASS - Information on genetically modified organisms
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Stories

China plans to invest US$3.5 billion in GM crops R&D and consumer education


It’s been a decade since China first authorised the commercial planting of four GM crops, but faced with land degradation, chronic water shortages, and a growing population that already tops 1.3 billion, it is turning to a transgenic green revolution to secure its food supply. As reported in Science magazine (Vol 321 dated 5 September 2008), the government was expected to initiate a US$3.5 billion R&D programme in September on genetically modified plants.

Rice: the most important crop in China
Copyright: pixelio/Carsten Raum

 

 

The initiative is basically two-fold: to spur the commercialisation of GM varieties and to educate the public about GM crops.

Of the transgenic plants currently allowed in China, cotton was the first to become commercialised back in 1997, followed by petunia the same year, and tomato and sweet pepper in 1998. The government then moved cautiously, granting only two further approvals for small-market species: poplar trees (in 2005) and papaya (in 2006). By 2006, the government had granted permits for 211 field trials of 20 GM crops, including the six approved for commercial production.

Cotton was the first GM crop to become commercialised in China

As in other countries, the commercialised varieties of GM crops authorised are equipped with genes to resist pests, tolerate herbicides, or stay fresh longer – not genes that directly boost yields. Only one GM crop – insect-resistant cotton – is now planted on a wide-scale basis with 64 varieties grown on 3.7 million hectares, or about 70% of the area devoted to commercial cotton, averting the use of 650,000 tons of pesticides.

Up to now, China has balked at commercialising GM versions of staples such as rice, corn and soybeans, but that may change now that its leaders are fully embracing GM as a solution to the food problem. It is expected that the new initiative will break the government’s reluctance to tinker with the country’s most important crop: rice. Field trials of GM rice – for boosting yields and reducing pesticide use on plots - have been going well for the past several years and it is now on the verge of commercialisation.

Test planting with Bt poplars and conventional poplars in mixed cultivation

 

Educating the public about GM crops is another major component of the programme. Consumers in China, like everywhere, are worried about the safety of GM plants. While the types of protests that have marred field trials and commercialisation in Europe are unlikely to occur in China, there is still some disquiet in the general population. Authorities are confident that GM food safety will be adequately demonstrated, though some are concerned that the new initiative might push China to move too fast in the commercialisation process. Others, however, feel that not pushing ahead with GM crops to combat China’s ability to feed itself could be more detrimental than any theoretical hazard. Huang Dafang, former director of the Biotechnology Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing said, "Any kind of new technology may have risk, but legitimate concerns should not be overshadowed by scare tactics designed to mislead the public in the name of environmental protection."

 

 


An EU Research Project

What are the risks of growing GM crops?

What are the benefits?

Numerous studies have addressed the potential impacts of genetically modified (GM) plants. Yet the existing evidence on the effects of GM plants is often contradictory and the quality of scientific research varies widely.

Therefore, the GRACE project will establish new tools for assessing the quality of existing studies and will conduct comprehensive reviews to identify health, environmental and socio-economic impacts of GM plants.

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October 17, 2008 [nach oben springen]

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