China grants more access to US GM food

Move to expand bilateral trade ties, meet domestic demand

China has granted more access for the US-developed genetically modified (GM) crops into the domestic market, a move to carry out the commitment to expand agricultural trade with the US and also to meet domestic demand, experts noted.

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China approves imports of GM crops from the US

China, the world’s largest importer of soybean, has approved importation of new varieties of GM crops from the U.S.

The demand for more soybeans increased in China over the past decade because of the rise in meat consumption in the country. Thus, more supply of soybean is needed to be used as animal feed.

Chinese officials will strive to speed up the assessment of the new varieties of GM crops from the U.S. which is part of a “100-day plan” to open up trade. Last year, China approved only one variety of GM crop for import. The agriculture ministry also renewed the approvals for import of 14 other GM crops including corn, sugar beet, and rapeseed, which will be valid for three years.

Read the original news from FT.com and Scoop.

-Published in ISAAA’s Crop Biotech Update.  See original article link here.

Non-target arthropod risk assessment for Bt rice in China

Researchers have previously developed genetically engineered (GE) rice lines that produce insecticidal Cry proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to control lepidopteran pests and minimize yield loss. However, before a Bt rice line can be cultivated, the risks to the environment must be assessed. This includes potential adverse effects on valued non-target arthropods (NTAs) and the ecosystem.

A team from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the Huazhong Agricultural University in China, as well as Agroscope in Switzerland had conducted a study to identify NTAs present in the rice-growing regions of Central and Southern China and their known food web interactions. The team also evaluated the level of exposure of the NTAs to the plant-produced Cry2A-protein during field experiments held in 2011 to 2012.

A total of 13 nontarget herbivores was collected and analyzed. Planthoppers, both nymphs and adults, contained trace amounts of Cry2A. In contrast, the level in smaller meadow katydids was almost 2.5 higher in samples collected. On the other hand, predators, especially spiderss did not contain measurable amounts of Cry2A and were much lower than those in plant tissues.

No Cry2A protein was detected in samples of predatory beetles collected before rice anthesis. However, the beetles and lacewings contained significant amounts during anthesis, but significantly lower than those in plant tissues. Parasitoids were also collected but Cry2A levels were below the limit of detection.

These data shows a reduction in Cry protein concentrations from lower to higher trophic levels. This is in accordance with field studies from other Bt-transgenic crops producing different Cry proteins.

For more on this study, read the article in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

-Published in ISAAA Crop Biotech Update. See original article link here.

China to evaluate U.S. agricultural biotechnology product

Under the new deal, China’s National Biosafety Committee will meet to assess the safety of eight products made by four major U.S. agrochemical companies.

China will evaluate eight pending U.S. agricultural biotechnology product applications, potentially opening the door for sales by Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer, Monsanto, and Syngenta.

According to a news source, China agreed to conduct the evaluations as part of an agreement unveiled by the White House on May 12. The two countries reached the trade deal after a meeting in April between U.S. President Donald J. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

U.S. officials have prodded China for years to speed up its lengthy process for deciding whether to approve the import of new genetically modified (GM) crops. It typically takes six years to win Chinese clearance of a GM variety, twice as long as other major nations take.

Under the new deal, China’s National Biosafety Committee will meet to assess the safety of eight products made by four major U.S. agrochemical companies.

Dow AgroSciences is seeking approval for its corn and soybean seeds, while Syngenta and DuPont Pioneer have each applied to sell a GM corn variety in China. Monsanto makes four of the products pending approval, including herbicide-tolerant corn, soybeans, and two alfalfa varieties that have been under review for nearly six years.

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), an industry trade group, wants to make sure China lives up to its commitment.

“The ultimate test of success will be for China to follow its process and quickly approve the eight pending biotechnology applications and establish a synchronized, timely, and predictable process going forward,” says Joseph Damond, senior vice president for international affairs at BIO.

Published in BioSpectrum India.  See original article link here.

China aims to sow a revolution with GM seed takeover

Summary

The planned takeover of Swiss seed giant Syngenta by Chinese state-owned chemical company ChemChina stands to change the outlook for biotech research in China. Although China imports preapproved genetically modified (GM) foods and generously funds GM research, the Chinese government has never approved a staple biotech food crop for cultivation. That may soon change, however. If the Syngenta takeover clears regulatory hurdles, the emergence of a massive state-owned company in possession of competitive GM seed lines could help speed along commercialization of key GM crops like corn. Researchers will still face an uphill battle, though—a Chinese public wary of government food safety claims largely opposes GM crops.

-Written by Mara Hvistendahl in Science Magazine.  Read the full article here.

China: China’s Planting Seeds Market Continues to Grow

China is the second largest seed market in the world, annually planting 12.5 million tons of seed, with a market value at $17.2 billion. MOA reported that as of September 1, 2016, its Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Office had accepted 17,108 PVP applications and approved 7,824 applications. Increases in PVP applications indicate improving breeding capacity (more varieties) and improved awareness of plant variety protection.

China: China’s Planting Seeds Market Continues to Grow

Published by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service as part of its Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) Report.  View article link here.

China: Agricultural Biotechnology Annual

China is the world’s largest importer of genetically engineered (GE) crops and one of the largest producers of GE cotton in the world, but it has not yet approved any major GE food crops for cultivation. As a part of its rule revision plan, in 2016, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) released the “Revised Administrative Measures for Safety Assessment of Agricultural Genetically Modified Organisms” (MOA Decree 7 [2016]). The “13th Five-Year Plan for Science and Technology Innovation” aims to push forward the commercialization of a new domestic type of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, Bt cotton, and herbicide-resistant soybeans by 2020. At the same time, delays in import approvals continue to worsen, causing unpredictability for traders and delaying the adoption of needed new varieties in exporting countries such as the United States.

China: Agricultural Biotechnology Annual

Published by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service as part of  its Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) Report.  View article link here.

 

China releases first report on biotechnology in developing countries

Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

The first report on biotechnology in developing countries revealing an overall picture of their biotechnology growth and competitiveness was released on November 15 on the 27th TWAS General Meeting held in Kigali, Rwanda.

The report was organized by CAS-TWAS Centre of Excellence for Biotechnology (CoEBio), a jointly supported center by Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries (TWAS).

Release by Professor LI Yin, director of CoEBio, this report focused on scientific publications and patents in 32 categories of industrial, agricultural and medical biotechnologies covering 141 developing countries during the time from 2004 to 2014, as well as collaborations among those countries.

“This report is the first extensive document summarizing the development status of a specific technology area in the developing world. It provides a strong, valuable assessment of biotechnology activities in developing countries, as measured in scientific publications and patents,” said BAI Chunli, President of CAS and TWAS, in the foreword of the report.

The report reveals that among the 141 developing countries, 128 countries have references published in biotechnology and only 30 countries have patents granted. In the five regions of TWAS, TWAS East and South East Asia and Pacific Region and TWAS Sub Saharan Africa Region (TWAS-SSA) have the most references and patents; while, TWAS-SSA has the most active cooperation.

According to the report, China, India, Brazil and Mexico have the most references and patents, while Saudi Arab, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Algeria have the fastest growth in references. China has the most references and patents among all.

The report was a joint work of CoEBio and Clarivate Analytics (formerly the IP & Science business of Thomson Reuters). It has a compared study of development and characteristics among five regions in TWAS, with a detailed analysis of each country, which provides a macro-reference of the subject for TWAS and UNESCO in understanding the current status and future trend of biotechnology development in developing countries.

CoEBio was formally established in 2013, based on the Institute of Microbiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. It is an integrative platform aiming to strengthen the biotechnology innovation capability of developing countries and to provide biotechnological solutions to the problems in developing countries through strategic intelligence analysis, scientific cooperation, technology training and education relating to biotechnology.

-Published in EurekaAlert.  See article link here.

The Chinese Really Hate GMOs — Or Do They?

The United States and China have a couple things in common when it comes to genetically engineered crops. In both countries the government embraces them; in both, the people distrust them.

Keep those similarities in mind as you peruse the following headlines:

“China Wants GMOs. The Chinese People Don’t.” (Bloomberg)

“Can the Chinese Government Get Its People to Like G.M.O.s?” (The New Yorker)

“China Hates GMOs. Problem Is, China Really Needs GMOs” (Wired)

“In Push for G.M.O.s, China Battles Fears of 8-Legged Chickens” (The New York Times)

Notice that the United States goes unmentioned in these headlines. The story line that pops up again and again from Googling “China” and “GMO” is that China’s citizens loathe genetic engineering with a unique passion. Yet much of the evidence cited for this proposition has remarkable American parallels. Are the Chinese really so violently and uniquely anti-GMO?

For biotech agriculture, China is the future — the make-or-break country. China grows only 3 million acres now, mostly cotton. But the government has made developing a biotech-ag industry a top priority. Whether it will succeed depends on whether it can overcome the purportedly ferocious resistance of the Chinese people.

And, to be sure, the articles I just cited are studded with vituperative quotes from anti-biotech Chinese. In one, a GMO advocate is vilified as a “traitor.” In another, ChemChina’s acquisition of Syngenta is called “suicidal.” An army general says GMOs are a foreign conspiracy — “biological weapons” aimed at destroying the Chinese people’s health.

Yet if you follow these issues in the U.S., you know the Chinese have no monopoly on hyperbolic verbal abuse of biotechnology. “GMO foods are killing us,” cries a headline on an American website. “Monsanto is poisoning you,” an American demonstrator’s sign declares. Internet conspiracy theorists even blamed Chipotle’s food-safety problems last year on “bioterrorism attacks” by the biotech industry.

In both China and the U.S., then, some chunk of the population seems to really despise genetic engineering. Could the chunk be bigger in China than the U.S.? Possibly. In a Chinese poll 84% considered GMOs unsafe, while only 57% responded that way in an American poll. Neither poll, however, was entirely convincing.

Going by the old maxim to watch what people do rather than what they say, please note that in both countries people eat GMO food. There’s no sign of big consumer boycotts in either. There’s reason to suspect that in both countries most people know little about GMOs.

Perhaps, then, Chinese fears of GMOs aren’t so deeply rooted that an authoritarian government determined to create an ag-biotechnology industry couldn’t allay them.

What is different in China is the public’s distrust of the safety of food generally. The 2008 contaminated-milk crisis is just one of many food scandals still fresh in people’s minds. These memories incline them to believe wild charges, like the rumor last year that KFC was serving genetically modified chickens with six wings and eight legs.

Make no mistake, it won’t be easy for China’s government to change the public’s mind. But the task isn’t hopeless. Because the government sees GMOs playing a crucial role in the country’s food security, because developing an ag-biotech industry ranks high on its industrial-policy wish list, it’s certain to give it a try.

If it succeeds, China could end up five or ten years from now growing more of its own GMO soybeans and importing fewer from the U.S. and Brazil. Alternatively, the country’s demand for animal feed could continue to increase, requiring both imports and domestic production.

Or, fear of eight-legged genetically engineered chickens could make success impossible. That’s what the predominant story line suggests will happen. You have to wonder, though, about the evidence supporting that line.

**

Curious about where China’s demand for imported food and agricultural products is going? At the DTN/The Progressive Farmer Ag Summit in Chicago this December 5-7, Informa Economics CEO Tom Scott will give a sneak peak into the company’s research on export prospects to China and other large commodity markets.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Ag Summit. The editors have put together a strong lineup of presentations and breakout sessions. And with several hundred leading producers expected to join us (last year, total attendance topped 700), there will be plenty of networking opportunities, as well.

To get more information and register, check out http://tiny.cc/5wligy

-Written by Urban Lehner in The Progressive Farmer.  See article link here. Urban Lehner can be reached at urbanity@hotmail.com.

China Wants GMOs. The Chinese People Don’t.

The latest food safety scandal in China might be its most damaging. Earlier this week, a former doctoral student at one of the country’s national testing centers for genetically modified organisms went public with allegations of scientific fraud, including claims that records were doctored extensively, that unqualified personnel were employed under illegal contracts and — most seriously — that authorities refused to take action when his concerns were aired privately.

On Wednesday, China’s Ministry of Agriculture responded to a social media storm by suspending operations at the center.

That might take care of the current scandal, but the Chinese public’s hostility toward GMOs won’t go away so easily. Those concerns have only grown over the past decade as the government has increased its support of GMOs, including approval of the state-owned ChinaChem Group’s $43 billion takeover offer for the Swiss seed giant Syngenta.

These efforts have galvanized a very public opposition that transcends China’s typical political fault lines, and created one of the government’s most intractable headaches.

Feeding China’s huge population has never been easy. But over the last three decades, the challenges have become considerably greater as urbanization devoured farmland, and pollution made even more of it unusable. Today, the government is faced with the task of feeding 21 percent of the world’s population with 9 percent of its arable land. Its reliance on foreign goods has made China the world leader in imports since 2011. Officials now fear the country could become dependent on foreigners for its food supply and the government remains committed to maintaining self-sufficiency in rice, wheat, and other key grains. As a result, the political pressure to increase yields is considerable.

In fact, this pressure is centuries-old. Domesticated rice first appeared in the Yangtze River Valley at least 8,000 years ago, and Chinese farmers and scientists have been innovating ever since. In 1992, China became the first country to introduce a GMO crop into commercial production, when it sowed a virus-resistant tobacco plant on 100 acres. Since then, the government has issued safety certificates for a wide range of GMO crops, ranging from chili peppers to petunias. Yet, so far at least, only cotton has gone into wide cultivation. Other GMOs — especially rice, a staple of the Chinese diet — are still awaiting approval to be domestically cultivated.

Safety concerns have long been the favored excuse for the lack of approvals. But that’s not credible when the scientific consensus within and outside of China is that GMOs are safe, and the Chinese government itself has long allowed importation of GMO soybeans and corn for use in animal feed and cooking oil. Instead, the government is clearly worried about widespread public opposition to GMOs, which is showing up on social media and among the urban middle class.

The first source of that opposition is a widespread belief that GMOs are a foreign conspiracy against Chinese health. This isn’t merely a fringe idea on social media. In 2013, a major general in the People’s Liberation Army wrote an op-ed for China’s hyper-nationalist Global Times newspaper that compared GMOs to biological weapons.

“The consequences will be far worse than what the Opium Wars wrought,” he wrote. “Shall China develop a biological weapons program?”

As nationalism has become amplified under President Xi Jinping, that sentiment has become more prevalent. In 2014, Guangzhou military officials requested a ban on GMO food for their troops (the request was later censored).

But the far more damaging source of anti-GMO sentiment is the broadly held certainty that the government is incapable of ensuring a safe food supply — GMO, or otherwise. It’s a legitimate concern. For three decades, China has suffered through a string of food safety scandals, including dead pigs floating in the Yangtze River and rats masquerading as hotpot mutton.

In response, China has enacted new food safety laws, but they appear to have made little difference. Two weeks ago, for example, police seized 1,000 tons of substandard frozen meat, much of which was soaked in bleach. Meanwhile, a few weeks earlier a farmer in far western China found himself the target of a national social media storm when local authorities revealed he’d been raising GMO corn on his land (the farmer claimed he’d been duped by a company that had hired him to cultivate its crop).

Yet these failures and suspicions haven’t dented official confidence in China’s GMO program. Xi recently encouraged further GMO research, the government’s current five-year economic plan calls for the commercialization of domestically-grown GMO corn and soybeans, and Syngenta is expected to catalyze a new era of Chinese domination in the field.

Nonetheless, until the Chinese government addresses the lack of confidence in its food safety programs, in particular, it’s likely to face considerable and growing opposition to a GMO program that has a very small constituency outside of elite circles. That’s not just a commercial problem, either. Like China’s notorious air pollution woes, widespread public frustration has the potential to mutate into widespread political opposition. As the Chinese government seeks to solve the country’s food problems on its own terms, that’s a particularly unappetizing development.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Adam Minter at aminter@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net

-Written by Adam Minter in Bloomberg.  See article link here.

China lays groundwork to be major producer of GMO crops

China has a fifth of the world’s population, but only about 7 percent of its arable land. Farming plus safe and healthy foods are national obsessions. So it came as no surprise that government-owned ChemChina is poised to snap up Swiss-based Syngenta, one the world’s largest seed and pesticide companies. It’s a bet on the future by the country’s ruling elite.

The biggest challenge is overcoming widespread public skepticism. Resistance from groups like Greenpeace and the ultra-Maoist group Utopia that regularly vilify biotechnology research has had a great impact. In one recent survey, 84 percent of respondents opposed GMOs.

Despite this public wariness, agriculture and biotechnology topped the Communist Party’s wish list in its Central Document for the 14th straight year. The government has signaled it will actively encourage their development in order to boost food production.

The agriculture blueprint published in August recommended “pushing forward the commercialization of new pest resistant cotton, pest resistant corn and herbicide resistant soy beans.” The government has also designated biotechnology as a “strategic emerging industry” and has funded a large research program for GE crops.

The government also appears to be putting money where its directives are. According to to Wired, Caixia Gao, a plant geneticist at the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, has used money from the Chinese Ministry of Science to engineer rice for herbicide resistance and corn for drought resistance. “We want to put our product on the market as soon as possible,” she says.

At present only two GE crops have been approved for cultivation: a virus resistant papaya authorized in 2006 and insecticide resistant cotton, which is engineered to include a natural bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that naturally repels insects, approved in 1996. The use of the Bt bacterium dramatically reducing the need for pesticide use. Two GM rice crops have received Ministry of Agriculture safety certificates but the government has not approved them for commercialization. China also plants millions of Bt GM poplar trees that have been shown to have no harmful impact on the environment.

Bt cotton is the major GE crop grown. As of 2015 it accounted for 96 percent of the country’s total cotton acreage. China is the second largest producer of cotton in the world behind India, which is also a major grower of Bt cotton. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), incomes of cotton farmers have increased “by approximately $220 per hectare due, on average, to a 10 percent increase in yield and a 60 percent reduction in insecticides” as a result of the use of Bt cotton.

In an attempt to stir public opposition to GE crops, Greenpeace alleged last January that farmers in northeast China were growing GM corn. It claimed 93 percent of samples taken in 2015 from corn fields in five counties in Liaoning province, which is one of the major grain growing regions of the country, tested positive for GMOs. If the allegations proved true, the crops were not sanctioned by the government and were instead the result of GMO plants tested in field trials being sold illegally to farmers. There have also been allegations of the illegal growing of GM rice in Hubei province.

A series of food scandals have contributed to the erosion of public trust in the food supply system. In 2008 milk and infant formula products were found adulterated with melamine. As a result, 54,000 babies were hospitalized and six died after developing kidney stones.

Other food scandals include: watermelons exploding after excessive use of growth hormones, borax in beef, bleach found in mushrooms, the sale of cooking oil recovered from drains and soy sauce made from arsenic.

These scandals have made the public leery of government food safety, increasing public suspicion about government-backed GMOs. A 2014 poll indicated that less than 1 percent of those surveyed accepted that GE foods were safe. Worries about the safety of GM crops have been exacerbated by unfounded rumors, often spread by Greenpeace and other NGOs, that they might cause infertility, cancer and other health problems.

“Many people in China still have limited knowledge about biotechnology, and rumors and misinformation is widespread,” noted a report on the food security challenges in China by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “A common and persistent misperception is that consumers in biotechnology producing countries, such as the United States, do not themselves consume genetically modified food. The emerging media, such as the MicroBlog, WeChat, and on-line forums, are often used by opponents of agricultural biotechnology.”

Although the government has been hesitant about sanctioning the growing of GM crops, it has approved their large scale importation. China is the world’s largest importer of GMO soybeans, which along with imported GE corn is used as animal feed. In addition, it also imports soybeans to produce soybean oil, rapeseed oil made from GE rapeseed and sugar derived from GE sugar beets.

In 2013, President Xi Jinping signaled to the public a more accepting stance towards GMOs when he said China must “occupy the commanding heights of transgenic technology” and not yield that ground to “big foreign firms.”

In an attempt to cut down on its reliance on foreign biotechnology, the government has actively funded a major GM research program, disbursing at least $3 billion to research institutes and domestic companies to develop home-grown disease and drought resistant wheat, disease resistant rice, drought resistant corn and soybeans that produce more oil. In addition, there have been field trials and research conducted on GM peanuts.

“Agricultural biotechnology is one of the few technologies in which China is on an equal footing with the world’s best,” said Yan Jianbing, a corn genomics researcher at Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan. Yan works at the University’s laboratory of crop genetic improvement, which is a government designated GMO research facility.

A senior agriculture ministry official, Liao Xijuan, recently said the government plans to focus on new types of insect-resistant cotton and corn. There is a particular focus on developing China-engineered products and not depending on imported patented technology.

“We cannot lag behind others in GMO research,” said Han Jun, the deputy of the Central Office for Agricultural Work. “Our GMO market should not be saturated by foreign brands.”

To hasten that reality, the government backed the $43 billion ChemChina takeover of Syngenta.

In addition to investing in GM crops, China is also spending heavily on gene editing as a means of modifying plants and animals. Chinese scientists claim they are among the first to use CRISPR technology to make wheat resistant to a common fungal disease, disease resistant tomatoes and to make pigs that have leaner meat. Paul Knoepfler, an associate professor of cell biology and human anatomy at UC Davis School of Medicine, said he “would rank the U.S. and China first and second” in CRISPR-Cas9 technology.

Given the Chinese public’s distrust of GMOs, cultivation will likely proceed at a gradual and cautious pace. The government is likely to embark upon a major education campaign to reassure the public that GE foods are safe to consume before any major commercialization begins.

As part of its reassurance campaign for GM crops, the Agriculture Ministry indicated this summer that it will support new food labeling laws “based on a certain threshold” of GE content “at a suitable time.”

The government clearly recognizes the need to increase farm productivity at a time when arable land is increasingly disappearing as a result of spreading urbanization, curb the damage done to crops by pests and deal with the threat of climate change—all factors which will necessitate the application of GE technology to grow drought and flood resistant crops.

If China does utilize transgenic and gene editing technology to produce food on a large scale it could encourage other Asian nations to also grow GE crops given that China is the region’s largest trading partner and a major source of foreign assistance and investment.

Steven E. Cerier is a freelance international economist.

-Written by Steven E. Cerier in Genetic Literacy Project.  See article link here.