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China drafts new rules to allow gene edited crops

While Beijing is expected to allow the planting of GM corn as early as this year, it may soon promote gene-edited crops too.

By: Reuters | Beijing |
January 25, 2022 11:24:49 am
China gene editingThe new guidelines come amid a raft of measures aimed at overhauling the country's seed industry (Wikimedia Commons)

China has published trial rules for the approval of gene-edited plants, paving the way for faster improvements to crops.

The new guidelines, published by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs late on Monday, come amid a raft of measures aimed at overhauling the country’s seed industry, which is seen as a weak link in efforts to ensure national food security.

Beijing has also recently passed new regulations that set out a clear path for approval for genetically modified (GM)crops. Gene editing is a newer technology that is seen as less risky than GM because it does not involve adding any foreign genes to a plant.

Instead, scientists ‘edit’ or alter genes already in a plant to improve or change its performance, aiming for better yields or increased nutrients. The technology’s precision makes it much faster than conventional breeding or genetic modification, and also lowers the cost. Regulation is also less cumbersome in some countries.

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“This really opens the door for plant breeding. It’s an infinite opportunity to improve crops more precisely and much more efficiently,” said Han Gengchen, chairman of seed company Origin Agritech.

The draft rules stipulate that once gene-edited plants have completed pilot trials, a production certificate can be applied for, skipping the lengthy field trials required for the approval of a genetically modified plant.

China’s leadership said in late 2020 that the country needed to use science and technology for an urgent “turnaround” of its seed industry, which has long struggled with overcapacity and little innovation.

While Beijing is expected to allow the planting of GM corn as early as this year, it may soon promote gene-edited crops too.

The country’s research institutes have already published more research on market-oriented gene-edited crops than any other country, according to Rabobank. “Given the strong investment of the Chinese government in genome editing, we expect the release of a relatively open policy in the coming years,” it said in a recent report.

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