China will allocate more resources to GM crop R&D, according to a five-year plan for science and technology progress published Monday by the State Council.
The plan lists science and technology targets for the 2016-2020 period, as well as the government action needed to achieve the proposed results.
China has identified GM as an important area on many occasions, ordering research and supervision to be improved, the development of a GM food evaluation system and the industrialization of certain GM food crops.
A GM research project, approved by the State Council in 2008, explored the creation of new GM varieties alongside their application value and proprietary intellectual property rights. The project was part of a wider push to ensure the sustainable development of China's agriculture.
"Since 2008, China has built a GM technology system," according to an official with the Ministry of Agriculture. "The system covers gene cloning, genetic transformation, new variety breeding and safety evaluation."
The new plan, with its emphasis on innovation, advantages of hybrids and breeding by molecular design, will help elevate GM research to the next level.
"Innovation is extremely important in the industry," said Zhang Shihuang, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
Agricultural experts had predicted, for example, that the industrialization of genetically modified corn would be realized in the next five years, but a suitable breed has yet to be identified. Zhang attributes this to a lack of innovation.
SAFETY SHOULD BE PRIORITY
GM remains shrouded in controversy due to safety concerns. The new plan reveals that China is taking a prudent attitude toward the research and application of GM crops. Safety, however, has always been, and will always be, put first.
China has a sound safety evaluation system for genetically modified crops, according to Guo Anping, a member of the country's GM crop bio-safety committee and vice president of the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences.
"China's safety evaluation system on genetically modified crops is the world's strictest in terms of technical standards and procedures," said Wu Kongming, from the Chinese Academy of Engineering and also a member of China's GM crop bio-safety committee.
Compared to China's regulation on GM crops over the past five years, which places emphasis on improving the GM organism cultivation and safety evaluation systems, the new plan proposes that a standardized bio-safety evaluation technical system should be established over the following five years to ensure the safety of GM products.
The safety management of GM organisms must be improved to avoid any risks to people, micro-organisms, animals and plants as well as the environment, Guo said.
From field experiments to application, every procedure concerning GM organisms requires a rigid evaluation and approval process, he continued.
Experts said China should focus on GM research of fields that can solve agriculture problems, such as insect resistance, water scarcity as well as high yield and high quality.
For GM crops, China currently only allows insect-resistant cotton and antiviral papaya for commercial purposes to be planted.
For instance, China has cultivated 147 species of GM insect-resistant cotton, which has helped reduce pesticide consumption by 400,000 tonnes, saving 45 billion yuan (6.78 billion U.S. dollars).
China has released a GM crop roadmap, giving priority to the development of non-edible cash crops, according to official Liao Xiyuan, with the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), in April.
Next in line comes indirectly edible and then edible crops, reflecting China's prudent attitude to GM crops, said Liao.
CALL FOR SUPPORT, SUPERVISION
Although China has made discoveries, especially with regards to GM technology, it still has a way to go in the industrialization of GM products.
A total of 28 countries around the world have planted GM crops. China was the sixth largest GM crop grower in 2015, following the United States, Brazil, Argentina, India and Canada, according to a study by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).
GM researchers say the new plan is inspiring but it lacks a general framework, and detailed policies and actions are needed to ensure implementation.
Agriculture officials say they hope the plan will improve GM crop safety. Severe punishment will be given for any unauthorized GM crop sales, planting and field trials, according to Liao. Endi