Beijing Gives Nod to Modified Rice
By Andrew Batson And James T. Areddy
Wall Street Journal online
December 1, 2009
China's government declared two strains of genetically modified rice safe to produce and consume, taking a major step toward endorsing the use of biotechnology in the staple food crop of billions of people in Asia.
In a written reply to questions from The Wall Street Journal, China's Ministry of Agriculture said Monday that it had issued safety certificates to domestically developed strains of genetically modified rice and corn, after a years-long process involving trial production and environmental tests. Further approvals are required before the strains can be grown on a commercial scale, the ministry said, and industry participants said it may take two to three more years for the rice to reach production.
Foreign companies that produce genetically modified crops welcomed the news. "It's good news in the context of commercial introduction of biotechnology in crops in China," said Andrew McConville, the Singapore-based head of corporate affairs in Asia for Syngenta AG, a Switzerland-based agribusiness firm.
China is the world's top producer and consumer of rice, so its use of modified varieties has the potential to alter the grain's global supply patterns. Widespread production has the potential to complicate trade with places such as Europe that restrict genetically modified foods.
On the other side, U.S. companies have been urging China to speed up its approval process for genetically modified crops.
Chinese officials have been less constrained by public pressure over the sometimes-controversial use of biotechnology in food than officials in other countries. The government has long supported research into agricultural biotechnology as part of a drive to ensure the nation remains self-sufficient in staple crops.
"This is an important achievement in independent intellectual property from our country's research into genetic modification technology, and creates a good basis for commercial production," the Ministry of Agriculture said.
Genetically modified corn, cotton and soybeans are grown in the U.S., Canada, Argentina and other countries, but genetically modified rice hasn't been grown on a major scale anywhere. Most such crops now available, including the ones developed in China, have been modified to resist pests or herbicides -- traits that appeal to farmers eager to boost output.
Recent efforts at genetic modification have aimed at creating benefits more noticeable to consumers. The International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines has been working on developing so-called golden rice, which is genetically modified to include vitamin A.