The Ministry of Agriculture gave a press conference and briefed the media on China’s developments of GMO in Beijing on April 13, 2016. Director General of the General Office and spokesperson of MOA Ye Zhenqin chaired the press conference. Director General of Department of Science, Technology and Education Liao Xiyuan as well as the Academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and GMO expert Wu Kongming attended the conference.

Soybean imports

China imported 81.7 million tonnes of soybean products in 2015, 87.8 percent of its total demand. Liao Xiyuan noted that many of the imported soybean products are genetically modified as such products accounted for 82 percent of total soybean planting areas in the world in 2014.

China became the world's largest net importer of soybean in 1996 with a total import of 1.11 million tonnes.

In the coming years, China will plant more non-GMO soybean and improve yields to fill the gap between supply and demand, Liao added.

By 2020, China will expand its soybean planting area to 140 million mu (9.3 million hectares), and yield per mu will be raised by 15 kilograms to 135 kilograms.

Roadmap for genetically modified crops

China has mapped a plan for the future of genetically modified crops, giving priority to development of non-edible cash crops.

Liao Xiyuan noted that next in line comes indirectly edible and then edible crops, reflecting China's prudent attitude to genetically modified crops.

"China's safety evaluation system on genetically modified crops is the world's strictest in terms of technical standards and procedures," said Wu Kongming,.

For genetically modified crops, China currently only allows the plantation of insect-resistant cotton and antiviral papaya for commercial purposes, Wu said, adding that genetically modified imports include soybean, corn, rape-seed oil, cotton and sugar beet.

Industrialization of genetically modified crops will focus on cash crops and industrial crops from 2016 to 2020, while beefing up the R&D and promotion of insect-resistant cotton and corn, Liao added.

Greater oversight to prevent sale of unauthorized GM seeds

Liao Xiyuan noted that the ministry would focus on key agricultural seasons to prevent unauthorized seeds from flowing into the markets.

Liao's remarks follow a report from environmental nonprofit organization Greenpeace in January that claimed farmers were illegally growing genetically modified corn in northeastern China.

The organization claimed that 93 percent of samples taken from corn fields in five counties in Liaoning province last year tested positive for GM contamination.

China's agricultural authorities have to approve GM grains before they are marketed, with only domestic GM papaya and cotton having so far been approved for commercial cultivation.

Cultivation of pest resistant GM corn

China could push forward with the commercial cultivation of pest resistant, genetically modified corn over the next five years.

Liao Xiyuan said that the country was considering the move during the 13th Five Year Plan (2016-20) period.

He said the agricultural authority will also prioritize the commercial cultivation of GM cotton in the next five years.

"We will push forward industry strategies that emphasize commercial crops and crops that serve as industrial raw materials during the 13th Five-Year period," he said.

Liao added that China cannot afford to be left behind in the GM sector and will continue to push forward with its independent innovation efforts.

Adapted from reports of MOA website, Xinhua News Agency and China Daily