China hopes GM crops will feed its growing population.
Government funding puts Chinese plant biotechnology second only to US
While westerners vacillate about the risks and benefits of genetically modified (GM) crops, China is embracing the technology. A new survey shows that the Chinese are working on more plant biotechnology products than anyone outside North America1.
Chinese research institutes claim to have developed 141 GM plants, 65 of which have been approved for release into the environment. Scott Rozelle, an agricultural economist at the University of California, Davis carried out the survey.
Whatever the potential benefits of genetic modification, environmental and food safety concerns loom large. China has strict regulations regarding the testing of GM crops before release into the environment, but "less has been done on consumer safety", admits Rozelle. "My gut feeling is that most Chinese look to the US for guidance in this area," he says.
Freer regulations in China may be borne out in the figures. China’s plant biotechnology industry is in its infancy compared to America’s yet already has 65 plants licensed for environmental release. Fewer than 50 have been approved in the U.S.
And the developing world’s investment in agricultural biotechnology could be drawing important resources away from research into other farming practices that may be better in the long term, argue GM sceptics.
"Biotechnology may well become another short-term solution to long-term problems," says Jane Rissler of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington DC.
There are other low-cost solutions to problems that GM technologies seek to overcome, Rissler points out. For example, planting different varieties of rice together to combat disease would also benefit from more research in China2.
TOM CLARKE | © Nature News Service
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