China approves its first gene-edited wheat to enhance crop production — Reuters

Yellow wheat field and blue sky

China has approved the safety of its first gene-edited wheat, marking a cautious but pivotal step towards the commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) food crops. This approval is part of a broader strategy by Beijing to increase the adoption of advanced agricultural technologies to enhance crop yields. Over the past year, China has accelerated the approval process for genetically modified corn and soybean seeds that boast higher yields and resistance to insects and herbicides. Despite these advancements, the adoption of GM crops for food consumption has been slow, hindered by public concerns over potential health and ecological impacts.

Gene editing, which differs from traditional genetic modification by altering existing genes to improve a plant’s performance rather than introducing foreign genes, is seen by some scientists as a less risky alternative. While China predominantly imports GM crops like corn and soybeans for animal feed, it grows non-GM varieties for human consumption, reflecting widespread consumer apprehensions about the safety of GM food crops.

The newly approved gene-edited wheat, which is resistant to diseases, represents a milestone for China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of wheat. This crop is a staple ingredient in foods such as pasta, noodles, and bread, which are predominantly consumed within the country. “It is a big step, we can see the light for China to open up approvals for other food crops,” said a seed industry executive, highlighting the significance of this development.

Further regulatory changes are on the horizon, with Beijing expected to introduce new rules for the labeling of genetically modified crops used in food products later this year, as reported by state media in March.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs also announced the approval of a new variety of genetically modified corn that is both herbicide and insect-resistant, alongside a gene-edited corn variety known for its higher yield. Among the GM corn approved is a variety developed by Origin Agritech (SEED.O). These safety certificates, issued on May 5, will remain valid for five years.

As the world’s largest importer of soybeans and corn, China aims to boost domestic production through these higher-yielding seeds and reduce its grain imports, which exceed 100 million metric tons annually.

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