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China proposes new rules to ease GMO approvals

Changes to its seed regulations will make it easier to approve genetically modified crops, a move seen as a critical step toward commercializing GM corn.

BEIJING, Nov 14 (Reuters) - China is planning changes to its seed regulations that will make it easier to approve genetically modified crops, a move seen as a critical step toward commercialising GM corn.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs published a draft document late on Friday proposing a series of amendments to several different regulations that cover GM crops.

The changes implement decisions by the Communist party's powerful Central Committee and the cabinet on safe management of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, and development of a modern seed industry, according to the statement.

China's leadership last year called for an urgent "turnaround" in the country's seed industry, which is struggling with overcapacity and rampant infringement of intellectual property that has stifled innovation in the sector.

Top policymakers also urged progress in biotech breeding, widely seen as GM crops, and seen as key to ensuring food security.

Beijing has invested heavily in GM research and development for years but has been cautious about commercialising plants that enter the food chain and has never permitted planting of GM soybeans or corn even though they can be imported for use in animal feed.

Among the many proposed changes, a GM trait applied to an already approved hybrid would only need to undergo a one-year production trial before receiving approval, rather than going through the full round of trials needed for new varieties.

"I believe that this is a significant step for GMO commercialisation," said Han Gengchen, chairman of Origin Agritech Ltd , the first Chinese company to develop GM corn crops.

"It clarifies the procedures for GMO variety approvals and simplifies the process. It will accelerate GMO corn commercial production," he told Reuters.

The proposals came after last week's plenum, or closed-door meeting of more than 300 top leaders of the party's Central Committee.

The draft is open to public comment until Dec. 12. (Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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