13 November 2001
China endorses gene crops
By Gilly Johnson
THE Chinese government has endorsed a big expansion of genetically modified crops in the country by issuing new biotechnology-friendly regulations.
GM cropping has already made significant inroads in China since 1997, but the introduction of official guidelines is an important development, experts believe.
“It is a positive move towards healthy, science-based regulation,” says Dr Eddie Zhu, Far East regulatory affairs manager for biotech company Monsanto.
Labelling, bio-safety assessment and release procedures are detailed in the new rules.
China recognises that this move could damage exports to anti-GM Europe, but these concerns are outweighed by the need to boost domestic agricultural efficiency.
GM cropping is considered the best route to achieving this, and the technology has already been accepted wholeheartedly by Chinese farmers and consumers.
However, the new regulations do not solve problems with counterfeiting and copycat patent breaking which biotech companies face in China.
Monsantos Bt cotton variety, modified to resist the cotton bollworm, must compete against Chinese-produced GM cotton varieties and farm-saved GM seed.
The company has just a 30% share of the GM cotton market; locally produced GM varieties and farm-saved seed make up the remainder.
GM cotton is planted on 1.5 million hectares, which is 30% of the total Chinese cotton area.
Once there is better protection of intellectual copyright, Monsanto plans to introduce delayed-ripening, anti-viral tomato and pepper, and virus-resistant tobacco.
GM herbicide-tolerant maize, soya and wheat, pest-resistant maize and rice, and GM varieties with improved output traits are also in the pipeline.