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2011: Chinese Year of the Rabbit or GMO rice?

Consider the implications of China issuing biosafety certificates.

By Dwight Roberts
President and Chief
Executive Officer
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For those of you who follow the Chinese Zodiac, you know that 2011 is the Year of the Golden Rabbit, a lucky sign. According to Chinese tradition, the rabbit is a year of calming nerves, negotiation and not trying to force issues because, if you do, you will ultimately find failure. So why, according to the official Xinhua news agency has China’s National People’s Congress (parliament) proposed new legislation with regards to genetically modified food? Has the time come? Could 2011 really be the year of the GMO rice?

The proposed law would govern the import and export of both genetically modified food and production, including development and research. At the same time, China’s Environmental Protection Minis-try is developing a GMO safety law, while parliament committees on agriculture and rural affairs are suggesting a law that addresses GMO food, stopping short of saying when it would go into effect.

Biosafety Certificates Issued

China is the world’s largest producer of genetically modified cotton but has managed GMO food issues with more caution. In 2009, the biosafety committee of China’s Ministry of Agriculture gave a green light approval for strains of rice and corn that is expected to result in large scale commercial production of these strains within one to two years. While the strains need registration and production trials, “the issuing of biosafety certificates has great implications as it is the first time a major grain producer is endorsing the use of GM technology in a food staple,” says Xue Dayuan, professor of biotechnology at Minzu University of China.

With a growing demand to improve food production for 1.3 billion people, the Chinese parliament is expected to approve a draft grain security law during 2011 that will give more authority to local government officials to increase grain production.

Will The Philippines Follow Suit?

According to Huang Dafang, a member of the Biosafety Committee at the Minis-try, China faces reduced farmland and a growing population and will turn to GMO technology to ensure food security. The Chinese government has a goal of increasing grain production by 50 million tons between now and 2020.

“Once GMO technology is used for mass production, it would definitely help China achieve that target and feed its 1.3 billion people,” says Huang, a research specialist with the Biotechnology Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

“It will be of great political and economic significance and is an inevitable trend for global agriculture,” he adds.

After China, the Philippines may follow as the next Asian country to approve the production of GMO rice, according to Ro-bert Zeigler, director general of the Inter-national Rice Research Institute based in the Philippines. The country is one of several Asian countries currently with GMO rice field tests. Could 2011 be the year of not just the rabbit?

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