Chen Xiwen, deputy director of China's Central Agricultural Work Leading Team.

January 22, 2014 (TSR) – China seeks self-reliance in staple production, including wheat and rice, following growth in domestic grain output over the past decade, a senior Chinese agricultural official said on Wednesday.

Currently, more than 97 percent of key grain supplies, including rice and wheat, come from domestic crops, said Chen Xiwen, deputy director of the Central Agricultural Work Leading Team, a top decision-making body for agriculture-related work.

“The amount of grains China imports is not heavy,” Chen said, when comparing imports with domestic grain output.

Chen Xiwen, deputy director of China's Central Agricultural Work Leading Team.
Chen Xiwen, deputy director of China’s Central Agricultural Work Leading Team.

Official data on grain imports in 2013, including rice, wheat and corn, have not been released, but Chen predicted a moderate increase to roughly 15 million tonnes, up from 13.98 million tonnes in 2012.

Government data showed the nation’s grain output set a record high of 601.94 million tonnes in 2013, up 2.1 percent year on year. Around 90 percent of the grain output, or 541.75 million tonnes, was rice, wheat and corn, he said.

“On simple calculation, China’s grain imports were less than 2.7 percent of its output,” Chen said.

China’s grain imports do not suggest lack of domestic supply, but rather the need for diversified grain varieties, he said. Meanwhile, the imports are partly due to more competitive rice prices in recent years from Southeast Asia due to production increases, according to Chen.

Chinese authorities on Sunday said the country will make further efforts to ensure “absolute” security of staples and maintain grain self-sufficiency.

Chen said that currently soy beans account for the majority of Chinese grain imports, but soy beans are not included as a grain in global calculations. The official also predicted an increase in corn imports to be used as feed and industrial materials in the future.

No modification on GM Food Rules

As consumer concern rises in China, an agriculture official also insisted that strict standards still apply to genetically modified (GM) foods.

GM products must go through substantial testing before they reach consumers, said Chen Xiwen, deputy director of the central agricultural work leading team, the top authority on agriculture

“China ensures that GM products carry no side-effects before they are approved for the market, otherwise, they may not be promoted as a commercial products,” Chen said.

Currently, China has a wide acreage under GM crops, but papaya is the only GM food grown in the country and officially allowed to reach household menus. The most common GM crop is cotton, according to Chen.

Agricultural authorities have granted certificates of safety to several GM produce, including genetically modified beans, cotton, corn, and rapeseed, ect. However, most of them have been used in food processing, and not sold as edible food.

Chen also rejects an earlier online post, which listed allegedly GM food as being allowed to be sold to consumers, including cherry potatoes, sweet peppers, and other vegetables.

Globally speaking, the main purpose of GM breeding is to strengthen resistance to disease and pests in order to reduce the use of pesticides.

GM products must go through substantial testing before they reach consumers in China, noted Chen.

Consumers have every right to know whether a product is GM or non-GM through clear labeling, he said. “With appropriate information, it is up to the consumers to decide whether to buy or not,” he said.

China has maintained rigid standards on GM food as no consensus has yet been reached on whether it is harmful to humans. GM foods were introduced to the commercial market nearly two decades ago.

China imported 58.38 million tons of GM soybeans in 2012, mostly from the United States, Brazil and Argentina, because the country produces about 14 million tons of soybeans while the demand exceeds 70 million tons annually.

Soybeans account for most of China’s imported GM food, Chen said in response to a question about the future of GM food in China, at a 2013 press conference held on the sidelines of the annual parliamentary session, that the country will continue to import genetically-modified (GM) soybeans in order to cater to domestic demand.

He said the GM crops China plants on a large scale are mostly cotton instead of food.

China’s GM technology must not lag behind other nations, said Chen, emphasizing that, as a major agricultural nation, the country must work harder to keep up.

Globally speaking, GM is generally used to strengthen resistance to pests to reduce use of pesticides.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture Chen Xiaohua said last week that the nation will be “active” in research to develop new GM strains with own intellectual property rights.



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