BRUSSELS, Belgium, Posted March 10, 2005, Jeremy Smith, Reuters via
CropChoice.com: China could open the door to
biotech rice within two years, paving the way for the
GMO crop to enter the food stream across Asia, the head
of a trade group said Monday.
"Rice is likely to be approved in China in the
near term, maybe in two years," said Clive James,
chairman and founder of ISAAA, a group with industry
and public foundation support that promotes biotech
as a way to halt global hunger.
"And once China approves rice, this will move
through the rice countries of Asia -- like India, Pakistan
and the Philippines -- where rice is king," he
said in an interview.
Knocking down the barriers to using GMO (genetically
modified organism) rice would be a major coup for industry
and other backers of GMO crops.
Rice is the staple of half the world's more than six
billion people. China has long been seen as the pioneer
in GMO rice, and is the world's top producer and consumer
of the commodity.
As yet no GMO rice is produced commercially, but China
is at the forefront of developments and is poised to
approve the commercialization of modified strains that
can resist insects and diseases.
Many governments are wary about authorizing GMO crops
due to consumer concern over possible risks to human
and animal health. But the global biotech industry says
GMO crops can help feed millions of the world's hungry,
particularly in developing countries.
Pressure to launch GMO rice comes at a time when Beijing
faces a tough task in raising the country's grain output
and in narrowing the income gap between farmers and
China's 2004 rice crop is expected to rise to about
180 million tons from 161 million last year, the lowest
since 1994. The country's supply deficit is around 10
"Once China does (approves) rice, it's a momentous
decision. It's the most important food crop in the world.
They've worked on this very carefully and had large-scale
field trials for several years, so there's a substantial
database," said James, the full name of whose organization
is the International Service for the Acquisition of
China is already the world's top grower of insect resistant
GMO cotton, known as bacillus thuringiensis cotton,
which has been effective in controlling damage from
the bollworm pest.
Around 20 percent of China's annual investments in
crop biotechnology were earmarked for rice, and the
country looked set to become the world's second largest
investor in this area after the United States, he said.
"There's fairly good evidence that in China, they
are investing $200 million minimum a year, with the
intention to increase that to $500 million. And that's
only in crop biotechnology -- China is already a very
Maize was another area where China was likely to develop
GMO strains since demand was expected to jump by 80
percent between 1997 and 2020, he said, adding that
consumer demand for a richer diet meant that more maize
would be used in animal feed.
"China and India alone have tremendous opportunities,"
said James. "The policy of China is to be least
dependent on outside territories: rice, maize and, maybe
in the medium term, wheat."