China may approve biotech rice in 1-2 yrs, says analyst

August 5, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- Reuters, 08/03/04: China was likely to approve the planting of biotech rice in the next year or two, potentially starting a global stampede for genetically modified crops, including wheat, the author of a report on Chinese agriculture said.

Commercial versions of rice and wheat are not on the market, although research was under way in a number of countries. Biotech varieties of corn, cotton and soybeans are popular in the United States, but have met resistance in some areas such as Europe.

Monsanto Co._(MON.N: Quote, Profile, Research) , a U.S. biotech pioneer, said in May it would not introduce the world's first biotech wheat because of widespread opposition to tinkering with a key food crop.

Scott Rozelle, an agricultural economist at the University of California-Davis who focuses on China's farm sector, said China was in the fifth year of field trials of biotech rice.

"We're fairly confident that, within one or two years, they will" commercialize insect-resistant rice, Rozelle said at a presentation sponsored by the International Institute on Economics.

Rozelle wrote a policy analysis on Chinese agriculture for the institute with Dan Rosen, a consultant on Asian economic development, and Jikun Huang, an economics professor in China.

"Almost certainly," China will follow gene-altered rice with the release of biotech wheat and corn, said Rozelle.

Biotech crops typically have a special gene inserted to help a growing plant fight destructive insects, or to tolerate a herbicide product known as Roundup.

In May, the head of the International Rice Research Institute said it would be three to five years before the first biotech rice crop was grown. China, India and the Philippines were running field tests, he said.

India also was conducting field trials of biotech mustard, potato and cauliflower. It approved transgenic cotton in 2002.

Chinese adoption of GMO rice and other crops could prompt other countries to approve biotech varieties as well to remain competitive with varieties credited with a 20 percent increase in productivity.

"This is another way China is going to have a big impact on world trade," said Rozelle. In their policy analysis, "Roots of Competitiveness: China's Evolving Agriculture Interests," Rosen, Rozelle and Huang said most of China's 250 million farm families would benefit from freer world trade in agriculture.

Because of that, China could support smaller farm subsidies and removal of trade barriers during ongoing world trade talks, said Rosen.

About 20 million Chinese farm families, mostly inland growers of corn, cotton and soybeans, would suffer an overall 7 percent loss in income from freer trade, the report said. Trade rules give China enough latitude to make up the loss through direct aid or other steps.


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