Update: China okays large-scale field testing of GM rice
Bejing/Brussels – China is the first country in the world to begin the commercialisation of a locally developed genetically modified (GM) rice variety. On 1 December, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture officially approved commercial field testing of a GM rice variety developed by researchers at the Huazhong Agricultural University. The “Huahui No.1” Bt maize, a marker-free GM rice that was back-crossed into Bt Shanyou 63 rice plants, expresses the cryA toxin, making it resistant to the rice stem borer and leaf roller. According to experts, it has the potential to reduce pesticide input by 80%, and to increase yield by up to 8%. However, it must still pass registration trials, which could take 2-3 years. With the development of the insect-resistant GM rice, which has been tested in smaller field trials for a number of years, China is trying to find a means of feeding its swelling population, currently 1.3bn strong. Experts predict that GM rice in China could be planted on 50% of the countries' rice fields (15m ha) in the end. Traces of transgenic Bt63 rice varieties have been periodically detected in food imports to Europe since 2005, and the event has been classified as “not safe” by UK authorities. According to market projections from Prof. Jikun Huang, Director of the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy in Beijing, an adoption of GM rice could reduce China’s dependence on rice imports by more than 20%, as well as increase its export rate for rice products such as rice noodles by 66%, generating a net gain of 4bn dollars for the Chinese economy (more…). With an annual output of 190m tonnes, China is the world’s top rice producer (world production in 2008 was 650 million tonnes). While Europe has implemented strict safety testing for GM crops not approved by the bloc, the US is still seeking ways to obstruct the inflow of transgenic species developed in countries such as China, India, or Brazil, who are all trying to commercialise locally developed GM crops (see USDA-OIG report 50601-17-Te). China has set up a 2bn-dollar research program that is aimed at the commercialisation of GM crops. The field testing of other rice varieties that carry blight resistance (Xa21 rice), or a Bt rice expressing the cry1Ab and the cpT1 gene, have been underway since the late 1990s. Countries including Indonesia, Pakistan, and Iran have also been testing GM rice varieties in field trials, but none of these have reached commercialisation. Last year, Nature magazine reported that gene flow from GM rice to its wild or weedy relatives could become an issue (Nature 455, 850-852). According to biodiversity researchers headed by Lu Baorong (Fudan University, Shanghai), the rate of gene flow from GM strains to wild and weedy rice is 3-18% and 0.01-0.05%, respectively. In contrast, experts say that gene flow of riece is near zero because it is a self-pollinating crop.