China approves first gene-edited soybean to boost food production

China has granted its first-ever approval for a gene-edited crop, signaling a growing reliance on scientific advancements to enhance food production. The soybean, created by Shandong Shunfeng Biotechnology Co., Ltd, a privately-owned company, features two modified genes that significantly increase the healthy fat oleic acid content.    

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs issued a safety certificate for the gene-edited soybean, valid for five years starting April 21.    

Gene editing, unlike genetic modification, alters existing genes rather than introducing foreign ones. This technology is deemed less risky than GMOs and is subject to lighter regulation in certain countries, including China, which established gene-editing rules in 2022.    

Shunfeng celebrated this milestone, stating that the safety certificate approval is a "shot in the arm" for the team. The company seeks to be the pioneer in commercializing gene-edited crops in China and is currently researching approximately 20 other gene-edited crops. These include high-yield rice, wheat, and corn, herbicide-resistant rice and soybeans, and vitamin C-rich lettuce.    

China's novel soybean still requires several steps, including approval for seed varieties containing the modified genes, before farmers can cultivate it.    

This approval comes amid Beijing's growing concerns about feeding its 1.4 billion population due to trade tensions, unpredictable weather, and war in Ukraine.    

While China is also promoting GMO crops and initiating large-scale GM corn trials this year, gene-edited crops are expected to reach the market more quickly due to a streamlined regulatory process.