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China approves gene-edited soybean for crop planting

The soybean, created by Shandong Shunfeng Biotechnology, has undergone genetic editing of two genes. (Image source: Adobe stock)

In an effort to enhance food production through scientific innovation, China has granted approval for a gene-edited soybean, marking its first authorisation of this technology in a crop

The soybean, created by Shandong Shunfeng Biotechnology, a private entity, has undergone genetic editing of two genes, leading to a substantial increase in the plant's oleic acid, which is a healthy fat. 

In contrast to genetic modification, where foreign genes are introduced into a plant, gene editing alters pre-existing genes. This technology is believed to be less hazardous than GMOs and is subject to lighter regulation in some nations, including China, which established guidelines for gene editing last year. The safety certificate for the soybean, which is valid for five years from 21 April, was granted and disclosed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. 

The company is in the process of researching around 20 other gene-edited crops, including higher yield rice, wheat and corn, herbicide-resistant rice and soybeans and vitamin C-rich lettuce, according to a company representative.

US-based company, Calyxt, also developed a high oleic soybean, producing a healthy oil that was the first gene-edited food to be approved in the US in 2019.

Before Chinese farmers can cultivate the new soybean, there are additional requirements to be met, such as securing approvals for seed varieties with the modified genes. This authorisation arrives as Beijing faces mounting concerns about feeding its population of 1.4 billion due to trade tensions, volatile weather patterns, and the conflict in Ukraine, a significant grain exporter. 

Additionally, the expanding middle class is experiencing a rise in diet-related health problems. China is also endorsing GMO crops, having initiated extensive testing of GM corn this year. However, gene-edited crops are expected to make it to the market more quickly due to fewer steps in the regulatory process. Japan, as well as the United States, has sanctioned gene-edited food, including faster-growing fish and healthier tomatoes.

To read more about China's efforts to ramp up soybean production, click here.