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China Approves GM Wheat Crops

By Ryan Hanrahan

Reuters’ Mei Mei Chu reported Wednesday that “China has approved the safety of gene-edited wheat for the first time as Beijing cautiously moves forward with commercial growing of genetically modified food crops.”

“The approval for the gene-edited disease-resistant wheat is seen as a milestone, as the ingredient – used to make pasta, noodles and bread – is predominantly grown in China for food consumption,” Chu reported. “China is the world’s largest wheat producer and consumer.”

“China has in the past year ramped up approvals of genetically modified (GM) corn and soybean seeds that are higher-yielding and resistant to insects and herbicide to secure its food security, but the uptake remains slow and cautious due to concerns about the impact to health and ecology,” Chu reported.

GM Corn and Soybeans Approved Previously

Chu reported in a different article in January that China’s “agriculture ministry approved the domestic production of six more varieties of genetically modified corn, two of soybeans and one of cotton, and another two of gene-edited soybeans, a notice on the ministry’s website said.”

“China, the world’s second largest corn grower, has moved cautiously on deployment of technology for genetically modified organisms (GMO), but is steadily opening up to the cultivation of GMO crops,” Chu reported. “In December (2023), China issued licences for a first batch of 26 companies to breed and sell GM corn and soybean seeds domestically after years of pilot testing.”

Despite the approval, Reuters’ Dominique Patton reported in February that “China will likely plant less than 1% of its corn fields with genetically modified varieties this year (2024), said two people familiar with the plans, dashing hopes for a full market launch of the technology in the world’s second-largest corn market.”

“The agriculture ministry has designated around 4 million mu (267,000 hectares or 660,000 acres) to be planted with genetically modified or GMO corn this year, said a senior manager at a Chinese seed developer briefed on the plans,” according to Patton. “…The slower-than-expected rollout is disappointing to seed companies that were expecting to boost revenues in a fragmented, highly competitive market.”

Overall, however, “China is pushing for higher domestic crop yields this year to ensure food security and wants to reduce its reliance on soybean and grain imports, now at more than 100 million tonnes a year,” Chu reported.

Lessening Reliance on Imports

Bloomberg’s Hallie Gu reported in January that “soybean shipments to China climbed 11% last year to 99.41 million tons, almost matching the all-time high in 2020, customs data showed this month. Any big jump in the local crop that finds its way into commercial crushing could significantly cut the country’s buying on the global market.”

China buying less on the global agriculture market could have an especially significant impact on United States agriculture, as China is the No. 1 U.S. agriculture export market, according to the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Over the past 3 years, China has accounted for an average of $33.32 billion of exports. In 2023, that included $15.16 billion in soybean exports and $1.65 billion in corn exports.

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