China will push for the commercialisation of GMO soybeans over the next five years as it seeks to raise the efficiency of its agriculture sector, potentially boosting output of the crop by the world’s top soy importer and consumer.
China, which has spent billions of dollars researching GMO crops, has already embraced the technology for cotton but has not yet permitted the cultivation of any biotech food crops amid fears from some consumers over perceived health risks. In its latest five-year plan for science and technology to 2020, China for the first time outlined specific GMO crops to be developed, including GMO soybeans – used in food products such as tofu and soy sauce and for animal feed – and corn.
The blueprint, recently published on the government’s website, recommended “pushing forward the commercialisation of new pest-resistant cotton, pest-resistant corn and herbicide-resistant soybeans”. The use of the technology for corn was flagged in April when an agriculture official said that Beijing could greenlight GMO crops in the next five years. Corn is used mostly for animal feed and industrial products like starch and sweeteners, and a move to biotech crops could be less contentious than with soybeans.
But cultivating GMO soybeans is likely to face strong resistance from consumers and a local industry that sells GMO-free soybeans at a premium to imported beans. “The major production areas for key commodity crops shouldn’t be planted with GMO soybeans,” said Liu Denggao, vice-president of the Chinese Soybean Industry Association. “Domestic soybeans are extremely desired and trusted by consumers for food.”