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Promising harvest for trial GMO planting

By LI LEI | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-09-23 08:08
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Success with corn, soybean a boon to the country's commercialization effort

A trial planting of genetically modified corn and soybean crops outside lab settings in multiple sites across China is projected to have a bumper harvest as autumn nears, according to officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

Officials from the ministry's agricultural GMO safety management office released the news last week at a media briefing.

They said that the yield of the GMO crops would be about 5.6 percent to 11.6 percent higher than their conventional counterparts, a result of strong resistance to pesticides and destructive pests such as fall armyworm.

The trial, the officials said, was launched in 2021 as part of a national drive to commercialize the production of homegrown GMO corn and soybean amid rising protectionism and food security concerns induced by climate change, the pandemic and regional conflicts.

By this year, the trial has been conducted in various environments in 20 counties in Hebei, Jilin, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, they said.

Experts said the trial's success provides a boon to the country's fast-aging rural food producers in the run-up to the Chinese Farmers' Harvest Festival on Saturday, the autumn equinox.

Properties that the crops have gained through gene-editing technologies help reduce the labor needed to manage croplands and pave the way for more efficient, large-scale mechanical farming.

Speaking at the briefing, Xu Zhihong, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a renowned crop scientist, said GMO ranks among the cutting-edge technologies being tapped by the science community to meet ever-increasing food demand.

"China is a front-runner in GMO-related research but lags behind in the technology's commercialized use," he said.

Xu said China's attempts to commercialize the GMO food production in recent years have helped its research and products gain a competitive edge globally.

Chinese scientists have also identified genes that can be used to develop homegrown high-yield crops with resistance to pests, pesticides and drought, he added.

Guo Yong, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and a soybean breeding expert, noted that the homegrown pesticide-resistant soybean varieties can help farmers save labor, curb costs and reduce pollution.

Wang Youhua, a CAAS researcher, said as conditions mature for promoting GMO crops on a larger scale, authorities must promote public acceptance of GMO products through popularizing the technology's basics.

Corn and soybean supplies, as crucial raw materials to make cooking oil and animal feed, are still reliant on imports.

Official figures showed that China's demand for soybean has almost tripled since 1996, reaching more than 100 million metric tons last year, as a result of increased consumption of meat in China.

Domestic soybean could only supply 18.5 percent of its needs last year despite recent efforts by the central government to bolster the self-sufficiency of oil crops.

Though having been imported in large amounts for years, GMO corn and soybean are yet to be planted for commercial consumption in China.

Cotton and papaya are the only GMO crops that have been planted commercially in the country so far.

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