September 19, 2005

China approves new GMO cotton to raise output

BEIJING (Reuters) - China, the world's top grower of
genetically modified (GMO) cotton, has approved commercialising
a new hybrid variety, which should help the country cut its
production shortfall in the commodity, a government scientist
said on Monday.

The hybrid variety of insect-resistant Bt cotton -- which
contains a bacteria that kills bollworms -- would yield 26.4
percent more cotton than the current strains, including one
developed by biotech giant Monsanto Co., said the scientist.

"The new hybrid strain won approval this year and we expect
it will be grown in large areas from the year after next," said
Zhang Rui, a member of the research team under the Chinese
Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

China, the world's top consumer of cotton, is expected in
the 12 months to August 2006 to import as much as 3.2 million
tons of the fiber, the largest amount ever imported by a single
country, due to smaller acreages and larger textile exports.

Many farmers have shifted to wheat from cotton as Beijing
has promoted grain production to ensure its food security.

Zhang said the strain could produce 100 kg per mu (0.07
hectare) of cotton, or 26.4 percent more than the Monsanto
variety. It would be planted in a demonstration area of 10,000
mu next year in northern provinces along the Yellow River.

Last year China produced 6.32 million tons of cotton, of
which 60 percent was Bt cotton developed either in China or

Some scientists have warned the pest was developing
resistance against the gene-spliced Bt cotton, commercialized
in China in 1996.

Xue Dayuan from Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences
has also said Bt cotton was not effective in controlling
secondary pests, such as cotton aphids, and that the population
of some pests had increased to replace bollworms as primary

"In theory, such resistance exists, but so far we have not
found such cases during large-area expansion," said the
academy's Zhang.

(Additional reporting by Nao Nakanishi in Hong Kong)