China Approves Gene-Edited Grain Crops in Food Security Push

(Bloomberg) -- China approved two gene-edited wheat and corn varieties as safe to use, boosting its drive to raise output and improve food security.

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The government granted a biosafety certificate valid for five years, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said in a statement late Wednesday. This is just one of several steps before the seeds can be planted. The gene-edited varieties China cleared aim to improve corn yields and make wheat more disease-resistant.

China, which historically has been hesitant to use new seed technologies, has recently begun easing restrictions as it seeks to boost domestic harvests. The government approved a gene-edited soybean crop last year, the first time the technology was approved there.

“This is a substantial step and could raise production significantly, as gene-editing crops have really great potential,” said Gengchen Han, Chairman of US-listed Origin Agritech, an agricultural biotechnology company specializing in crop seed breeding and genetic improvement. Yields for gene-edited corn, for example, can rise by as much as 50%, according to Han.

China is the world’s biggest grains market and has in recent years become a top importer of corn and wheat, in addition to soybeans. That has become a concern for the top leadership, who have attached ever more importance to the country’s food security agenda amid rising geopolitical tensions.

The country has also taken steps toward commercially planting genetically modified corn and soybeans, a technology that differs from editing as it can involve introducing foreign DNA into organisms. In the Wednesday statement, China approved a new variety of genetically-modified corn with herbicide and insect-resistant traits, developed by Origin Agritech.

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