Crop Protection

China’s pilot industrialization of GM soybean, GM corn in process, with apparent yield, efficiency increase

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16 February 2022, China: The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs recently issued the “Resolution on GM Biosafety Evaluation Management Measure” (Draft for Comment), which will make amendments to some of provisions of previous management measures, in line with the latest GM development requirements. China is expected to start commercial GM breeding soon. 

In order to solve the problems caused by Spodoptera frugiperda and weed damage faced by current agricultural production, in 2021, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs initiated an industrialization pilot program for herbicide-tolerant GM soybean and insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant GM corn, which has been granted a production safety certificate. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, the pilot program was noticeably beneficial.  

The pilot results revealed that insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant GM corn and soybean performed very well, with their yields and efficiency increasing and their ecological effects being remarkable. The results also showed high-yields, higher efficiency, and greener and more simplified production. GM soybean’s weeding effect reached 95% or above, which could reduce weeding costs by 50%, with a yield increase of 12%. GM corn’s effect in controlling Spodoptera frugiperda could reach 95% or above, with a yield increase of 10.7% while costs were reduced significantly. 

The tracking and monitoring of the process of industrialization revealed no adverse effects on insects, soil and animals while the planting of GM corn could reduce the use of pesticides, benefitting ecological safety. At the same time, GM corn is less likely to get moldy due to its lower levels of mycotoxin, while quality is better than conventional corn. The use of the same low-residue herbicide on GM herbicide-tolerant corn and soybean can solve the problem of interaction among different herbicides, which is good for the intercropping and rotation of soybean and corn, to achieve efficient production.

Promoting the industrialized growing of GM soybean and corn is important, and there is also a practical need to do so. The development of biological breeding is an approach that has to be taken to achieve self-reliance and self-improvement in the seed industry, and promoting the industrialization of biological breeding is a strategic measure that will ensure national food security and secure supplies of major agricultural products. 

China is a large country with a population of 1.4 billion, where the leading stature of agriculture should never be ignored. To fulfill the country’s food needs, by 2030, it is estimated that food production must increase by 15% while meat, egg and milk production must increase by 30% to 50%. Combined with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and international market fluctuations, the prices of commodities, such as food grains and agricultural materials, are running at high levels. Under this circumstance, the exportation of some traditional food grains has been restricted to maintain a stable supply of food grains within the country, which is quite challenging. 

Currently, the potential to increase planting area in China is quite limited. Breakthroughs can be made only through the adoption of more advanced technologies. Therefore, GMO has become a strategic focus in many countries in order to obtain a leading position in research and development, as well as in the international agricultural industry.

In China, with the continuous improvement in research and development, administration and public opinion, it is now the time for the industrialized application of biological breeding. 

Specifically, the technical level of China’s GM breeding capacities ranks at the top of tier 2 of the world’s GMO industry, having established an innovative pattern of development covering independent genes, independent technologies and independent product varieties. The market share of Chinese insect-resistant cotton has increased from 10% in 1999 to 99% or higher, while independently developed GM soybean and corn have excellent traits and are competitive against the similar products of other countries. So far, four insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant GM corn varieties and three herbicide-resistant GM soybean varieties have been granted safety certificates for production and application. 

In terms of regulatory administration, China follows internationally-recognized and authoritative safety evaluation standards while referencing some practices in the United States and the European Union. Under this framework and taking into account Chinese characteristics, China has drafted a series of laws and regulations, technical specifications and an administration system covering the entire process, from research and production to processing, import and labeling management. Currently, China has established a five-stage safety evaluation management mechanism covering experimental research, intermediate testing, environmental release, and productive testing and application for safety certificate, which involve the implementation of a four-level safety evaluation system. Under the system, any proceedings identified at any stage as unsafe to health and the environment will be terminated immediately.

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