High food prices push China towards GMO
BEIJING (Reuters) – Rising food prices and concerns over grains security have caused a shift in Chinese regulators’ attitude towards genetically modified crops, a prominent Chinese researcher and GMO advocate said on Wednesday.
More than two-thirds of Chinese cotton fields are planted with biotech cotton, but the government has stalled on approving biotech rice to be grown commercially despite expectations it would get the go-ahead a few years ago.
However, soaring grains and food prices in 2007, and a relentless decline in arable farm land, may change the approach of bureaucrats who prize the nation’s ability to stay self-sufficient in grains.
“I feel that over the next few years, things will move more quickly than in the last few years,” said Huang Jikun, director for the centre for Chinese agricultural policy at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“The government slogan has now changed to ‘regularize oversight’ from ‘toughen oversight’, and as we all know, ‘toughen oversight’ basically meant ‘block it’.”
Huang said it was impossible to predict when China might approve biotech rice, and added that work on soy and wheat was less advanced.
“They have changed their ideas because they see the usefulness of technology for maintaining grains security, raising rural incomes and other policy goals,” he told reporters
“High food prices are influencing government considerations. Of course, they want technology that can help lower food prices.”
China is also trying to develop its own strains of genetically modified corn, but Huang said work was progressing slowly, adding that he hoped the nation would establish cooperations with overseas institutions to speed research.
Rice and cotton have to date attracted the most investment in China, which has also approved petunias, delayed-ripening tomatoes, sweet peppers, poplars to combat desertification and a virus-resistant papaya.
Most work in China to date has focused on strains that are tolerant of herbicides or resistant to pests, in line with “first generation” biotech crops internationally, Huang said.
The second generation will be crops that have “stacked” traits, or more than one modification, and those that can survive drought or excessive salt incursions, said Clive James, chair of the board at the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA).
More than a third of biotech crops grown in the United States — world leader for GMO crops — have multiple traits, James said.
He expects drought-tolerant corn to be commercially available in the U.S. by 2011, while wheat is currently being tested in drought-stricken Australia and India is working on drought-resistant rice.
“This may be the most promising set of genes. No farmer in the world can afford to be without it,” James said
Humphrey Feeds Comment: Maybe UK retailers will have to follow the pragmatic way of the Chinese, and not insist on NonGM – because it is simply running out!