Scene set for commercial cultivation of GM maize and soy in China

Wednesday saw the release of two standards that clear the path for the cultivation of genetically-modified (GM) crops in China. 

Designed to control the authenticity and effectiveness of varieties of GM soybean and maize, they were released by the National Crop Variety Approval Committee, which sits under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MOA).

In China, GM crop varieties need to receive both a safety certificate and a “variety approval” before they can be commercially cultivated. Since 2019, 11 GM maize and 3 GM soy varieties, developed by both private companies and public institutions, have been granted safety certificates. But none has yet received variety approval due to the absence of standards. Now these are available, the approval and commercialisation of such GM crops are on the horizon.

For many years, only GM cotton and GM papaya have been permitted for commercial growing in China, as the public continues to express safety concerns with GM food crops. On the other hand, the government has been steadily promoting the development and commercial cultivation of GM grains. It sees this as an essential building block for the “modern seed industry” it is trying to forge, and for food security. 

This January, the MOA made wholesale revisions to a series of regulations governing variety approval and GMO safety, setting the scene for wider adoption. Public consultation drafts of the two variety approval standards had been released last December.

Big seed companies and their investors are celebrating the promulgation of the standards. It is estimated that domestically grown GM maize and soy will reach the market by 2023, if not sooner. They’re expected to help with the supply of domestic edible oil in a time of global supply shocks.