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Genetic modification way of future

By Zhang Lei | China Daily | Updated: 2014-02-04 07:49

Genetic modification way of future
Li Feng/China Daily

The onus of convincing a distrustful public of the benefits of this technology lies with scientists, policy makers and opinion leaders, reports Zhang Lei. 

Genetic modification way of futureLooking back, 2013 has proven to be a turbulent but also an inspiring year for genetically modified (GM) food. As public doubt over GM safety continues, the Ministry of Agriculture finally stepped in last month, proclaiming they will make greater effort in applying stricter standards on GM food and keeping the consumers well informed.

But more importantly, the ministry said the country will not fall behind in the field of transgenic technology development.

According to Chen Xiwen, deputy chief of the Central Rural Work Leading Group, transgenic molecular-scale seed breeding technology is in the vanguard of world life science.

Another shot in the arm for GM scientists is the support from Yuan Longping - China's "father of hybrid rice".

Genetic modification way of futureHe dropped a bomb last month, saying he is working with other scientists on transforming a certain gene of corn into rice, which would improve photosynthetic efficiency and output. And it was also the first time he proclaimed publicly that transgenic technology is the trend.

Huang Dafang, a researcher from the Biotechnology Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences who was repeatedly targeted by an anti-GM lobby, said it is a waste of time to be dragged into the public spat.

"Currently we are at a critical time for transgenic technology, especially biological breeding. If we fall into the safety spat and become hesitant, we will lose the prime time for GM development. The advantage our research and efforts have formed for many years is in peril," he said.

Genetic modification way of future"The worst result would not only be our biological breeding market controlled by foreign countries. Once a threat to national security such as droughts or severe natural disasters occurs, which is constantly recurring in Chinese history, there won't be enough food, so the consequences could be disastrous."

As China's urbanization accelerates, its food security is hitting its bottom line. According to Huang, the self-sufficiency rate was 95 percent several years ago, but it dropped to less than 90 percent last year. The entire production of edible crops was 590 million metric tons in 2013, but the consumption was 660 million tons. The gap of 70 million tons had to rely on imports. The past few years have seen increasing imports of soybeans and corn.

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