GM crops gaining ground in China

By Zhang Yiwei and Liu Linlin Source:Global Times Published: 2013-3-7 0:28:01

China has 4 million hectares planted with genetically modified (GM) crops, making it one of the world leaders in biotech farming, according to a report on the status of commercialized GM crops.

The annual report of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), an international NGO that promotes the use of agricultural biotechnology, claims that China has the sixth largest area planted to GM crops. The other leaders are the US, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and India.

The main biotech crop in China is cotton, followed by papayas, poplar trees, tomatoes and sweet peppers.

Last year, GM crops planted by developing countries accounted for 52 percent of the world total, rising 2 percent year on year.

Worldwide 10.3 million hectares were planted to GM crops with an increase of 6 percent over the year before.

Globally the area planted to GM crops has risen from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 170.3 million hectares in 2012.

GM crop technology has been adopted faster than any other planting technology in modern history, Clive James, chairman of ISAAA, was quoted by the Beijing News as saying.

James suggested that China should ease restrictions on bio-technology and promote the use of GM food crops, Caixin Media reported. In 2009, China certified GM rice and maize strains that were developed by Chinese scientists, but it still has not permitted the crops to be grown.

According to James, China spent billions of US dollars on imported maize, and developing its own technology would reduce its dependence on food crops and fiber materials from other countries.

Fang Zhouzi, an expert in chemical biology, told the Global Times that developing intellectual property rights on GM crops should be fully supported.

Fang doesn't believe GM foods are a risk to human health, pointing out that the US and Canada have applied the technology for nearly 20 years without apparent health affects. He said GM crops even benefit the environment by reducing the use of pesticide.

"The soybean oil sold in China is mostly made from GM soybeans imported from overseas," said Fang, "Why are we letting other countries make money from us, instead of doing it ourselves?"

He Bingsheng, president of China Agriculture University, told the Global Times Wednesday that China should  take a cautious approach to the use of GM crops, which he believes is inevitable. "Research into all forms of biotechnology should be expanded," said He.

GM food remains a controversial topic in China with many consumers holding conflicting opinions. Many people are wary of consuming GM foods but also understand the need to expand crop yields.

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