The Van Trump Report

China is Suddenly Speeding Ahead on GM Crop Adoption

After two decades of cautiously tiptoeing around the commercial adoption of genetically modified crops, China recently seems to have done a complete 180. The country has been revving up its approvals of new GM crop varieties and pushing farmers to adopt the seed technology, marking one of the Chinese government’s most significant steps in recent history toward achieving food self-sufficiency.

China has made no secret of its overarching goal to reduce reliance on foreign grain and oilseeds. The country’s reliance on grain and oilseed imports stems from a multitude of factors but they all boil down to one basic truth – they can’t grow enough food. Admittedly, it is a big order. China accounts for one-fifth of the world’s population but has less than 10% of the planet’s arable land.

China today imports more soybeans, corn, wheat, and rice than any other country in the world. What you may not realize, however, is that China has been a net importer of ag products only since 2004. And in the 1980s, the country was a pioneer in the GM technology space. Not only did the country spearhead research into GM crops, it also became the first to commercialize a GM plant – virus-resistant tobacco – in 1988.  

Similar to other countries, public concerns about the long-term safety of GM crops began to grow in China starting around the early 2000s. China in turn began to slow down its GM pursuits, sometimes even using those unfounded concerns and opaque policies to block trade and shore up its domestic markets.  

Still, the Chinese government has called for the domestic commercialization of GM crops going back to at least 2014 in order to ensure the country’s food supply. That official policy has not amounted to much but many believe the latest attempt might actually have legs. According to the USDA, as of December 2023, China for the first time approved 37 GM corn varieties for commercial production. The government has additionally issued 85 seed production and operation licenses, including 26 GE corn and soybean seed production and operation licenses. Additionally, the government expanded the planting zones for most of the varieties from “ecologically suitable” areas to the entire country. USDA says  the amount of acreage sown with GM corn in 2023/24 is less than 1% of total area but could likely growth to 10% to 15% by as early as 2025/26 if favorable conditions develop.  

Industry insiders in China agree that adoption may be slow but also believe GM crops will account for a significant portion of the country’s production. Chinese GM seed developer Beijing Dabeinong Technology believes GM crop penetration could reach 85% in three to five years. Keep in mind, even if consumers and producers remain skeptical of GM technology, being the authoritarian that it is, the Chinese government doesn’t have to care.  (Sources: DimSums, Reuters, USDA)

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