China could use its newly approved strain of geneti -cally modified (GMO) rice for up to 40 per cent of its rice crop, once it becomes commercially available, a Chinese expert on plant diseases said Feb. 26.
China approved the safety of the insect-resistant Bt strain of rice last November, opening the door to widespread introduction of the GMO crop, along with a GMO strain of corn, within about three years.
“There is no need to plant the genetically modified rice in all of the country,” said Wu Kongming, head of China’s State Key Laboratory for Biology of Plant Diseases and Insect Pests.
Every year, about half of the country’s rice is damaged by borers, insects that eat the crop, across most provinces south of the Yangtze River.
“One-third or 40 per cent of Bt strain could save the use of pesticides and control borer outbreaks completely in heavily stricken areas,” said Wu, also a member of the country’s biosafety committee.
But his estimate was not a prediction, he said.
Beijing has called for speeding up genetically modified crop commercialization as the world’s most populous country faces dwindling farmland and loss of harvest and water resources.
A survey conducted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) showed that Bt rice could cut pesticide use by as much as 80 per cent and save labour costs for farmers, boosting net income by $72 per hectare.
More than 20 GMO crops have been approved for field trials, including wheat, soybean and rapeseed, according to the CAS report published this week.
China also may be the first country to approve biotech wheat, possibly within five years, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).
Traits such as disease resistance are well advanced while sprouting tolerance and enhanced quality traits are being field tested.
The biotech advocacy group said China’s approvals of genetically modified rice and corn crops place it on track to be a global leader in specialized grain crops.
China, the world’s sixth-largest genetically modified crop grower, plans to allocate 26 billion yuan ($3.81 billion) to biotech research by 2020, a leap from 1.65 billion yuan in 2003 and about 800 million yuan in 2000, according to CAS.
China grew only 3.7 million hectares last year, far below the top grower, the United States, with 64 million hectares.