China continues to warm up to ag biotech

China's ministry of agriculture has been instructed to construct seed "production bases" to modernize the country's seed industry and to expedite major biotechnology breeding projects. | File photo

Canada’s crop sector is pleased that China appears to be changing its stance on genetically modified crops.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that there has been a notable development in China’s annual policy guidelines for agriculture and rural development.

“The central government’s emphasis on supporting seed development, including biotech seeds, is a new feature,” stated the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service in a report issued on April 2.

China’s annual policy document has been issued for 18 consecutive years since 2004.

The 2021 version instructs China’s ministry of agriculture to construct seed “production bases” to modernize the country’s seed industry and to expedite major biotechnology breeding projects.

That is music to the ears of Brian Innes, vice-president of public affairs with the Canola Council of Canada.

“It’s very positive that China is recognizing the importance of biotechnology for crops,” he said.

“That hasn’t always been the case.”

Ian Affleck, vice-president of plant biotechnology with CropLife Canada, shares that enthusiasm.

“To see that integrated into their policy formally, it’s a very positive step forward,” he said.

There have been other steps as well.

Sixth Tone reports that China granted approval for its first GM crop for cultivation in 10 years at the end of 2019 in an effort to ease rising food security concerns.

Beijing Dabeinong Science and Technology Group Co., a Chinese agriculture biotechnology firm, has received three GM corn and one GM soybean cultivation approval since 2019. Other Chinese companies have as well.

China also agreed to a 24-month approval process for new biotech traits in its Phase 1 agreement with the U.S.

“It is showing in a number of fronts that they are modernizing their approach to agriculture,” said Affleck.

Canada has had corn, canola and alfalfa products awaiting approval from China for between four and nine years.

He is hopeful the country’s new attitude will expedite approvals of those traits and future ones so Canadian farmers can have access to the latest seed technologies.

Innes said the canola industry’s market access policy is that traits must be commercialized in all key export markets before being grown in Canada.

China, the European Union and Mexico are the three jurisdictions that have been holding up commercialization of new traits.

“We want all three to speed up,” he said.

The average time for a trait to receive approval in the EU is six years.

But Canada is better able to work with the EU and Mexico on improving approval times due to some policy transparency in those markets and closer government and industry ties between Canada and those two regions.

So he is pleased that the potentially most troublesome market appears to be taking steps toward softening its stance on GM crops.

“We are hopeful that it translates into action,” said Innes.

Contact sean.pratt@producer.com

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