China Approves Biotech Rice and Maize in Landmark Decision
China Completes its Approval of a Troika of Key Biotech Crops – Fiber (Bt cotton), Feed (phytase maize) and Food (Bt rice)
by Dr. Clive James, Chair of ISAAA and author of the ISAAA Annual Brief on Biotech/GM Crops
In the ISAAA 2008 Brief, I predicted "a new wave of adoption of biotech crops….providing a seamless interface with the first wave of adoption, resulting in continued and broad-based strong growth in global hectarage". This prediction started to become a reality in the latter half of November 2009, when within the short span of one week, China's Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) granted two biosafety certificates, and approved biotech Bt rice, (rice is the most important food crop in the world that feeds half of humanity), and biotech phytase maize, (maize is the most important feed crop in the world). The two approvals have momentous positive implications for biotech crops in China, Asia and the whole world. It is important to note that the MOA conducted a very careful due diligence study, prior to clearing these two critically important biotech crops for full commercialization in about 2 to 3 years, pending completion of the standard registration field trials which applies to all new conventional and biotech crops. It is noteworthy that China has now completed approval of a troika of the key biotech crops in a logical chronology – first was FIBER (cotton), second was FEED (maize) and third was FOOD (rice). The potential benefits of these 3 crops for China are enormous and summarized below ·
The above advantages of Bt cotton, Bt rice and phytase maize, (importantly, all developed by Chinese public sector institutions) also offer similar benefits to other developing countries, particularly in Asia, (but also elsewhere in the world) which have very similar crop production constraints. Asia grows and consumes 90% of the production from the world's 150 million hectares of rice, and Bt rice can have enormous impact in Asia. It could not only contribute to increase productivity but could also make a substantive contribution to the alleviation of poverty for poor small farmers who represent 50% of the world's poor. Similarly, there are up to 50 million hectares of maize in Asia that could benefit from biotech maize. China's exertion of global leadership in approving biotech rice and maize will likely result in a positive influence on acceptance and speed of adoption of biotech food and feed crops in Asia, and more generally, globally, particularly in developing countries. The approval and deployment by China of the most important food and feed crops in the world, biotech rice and maize, to maintain "self-sufficiency" as opposed to "food security", (the distinction is important) can serve as a model for other developing countries which could have substantive implications for:
Finally, Bt rice and phytase maize should be seen as only the first of many agronomic and quality biotech traits to be integrated into improved biotech crops, with significant enhanced yield and quality, which can contribute to the doubling of food, feed and fiber production on less resources, particularly water and nitrogen, by 2050. The approval by China of the first major biotech food crop, Bt rice, can be the unique global catalyst for both the public and private sectors from developing and industrial countries to work together in a global initiative towards the noble goal of "food for all and self sufficiency" in a more just society.
Reference: Huang, J., R. Hu, R. Scott and C. Pray. 2005. Insect-Resistant GM Rice in Farmers' Fields: Assessing Productivity and Health Effects in China. Science: 308:5722 (688-690). http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1108972
This article is part of the Crop Biotech Update, a weekly summary of world developments in agri-biotech for developing countries, produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, International Service for the Aquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications SEAsiaCenter (ISAAA)