BEIJING, China (Reuters) — Chinese funding for genetic modification research has fallen by 80 percent over the last four years, says a member of a parliamentary advisory body.
The revelation comes as Beijing faces public unease over a technology it has been promoting to boost food security.
The government has urged its scientists to take a global lead in GM research, although it has been reluctant to commercialize GM crops because of public concerns over health risks.
Safety approvals were completed as early as 2009 for pest-resistant B.t. rice and phytase corn, which was designed as a more environmentally friendly feed for pigs. However, China, which is the world’s largest buyer of imported GM soy and cotton, has not approved commercial production of GM grain.
It has also delayed approval of new strains of imported GM corn, such as the MIR162 variant developed by Syngenta.
China’s spending on GM research has fallen to $7.24 million last year, down from as much as $360 million in 2010, Ke Bingsheng, president of the China Agricultural University, said in an address to Premier Li Keqiang during the annual session of parliament.
Ke said agriculture technology, particularly genetic modification, was crucial for a rapidly urbanizing China to increase food production from its shrinking farmlands and water resources.
“GMO technology is extremely important to increase yields and efficiency,” Ke said.
Beijing had initially agreed to a budget of $4.7 billion to fund GMO development under a 12-year program launched in 2008.
Ke did not say why the funding had fallen.
“It depends a lot on leadership,” said Huang Dafang, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences’ Biotechnology Research Institute.
“If they have wavered, the funding could have been cut, although we need to verify the data.”