China finds illegal work on genetically modified corn, cotton seed

BEIJING, Feb 9 (Reuters) - China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said on Tuesday it had found eight companies and research institutes that illegally produced or carried out research on genetically modified (GM) seeds.

The companies included two seed marketing companies in northeast Liaoning province and two corn breeders in northwest Xinjiang province who were producing GM corn seed. The ministry said seeds were confiscated and the companies fined.

China does not permit the production or planting of GM corn.

The ministry’s announcement that it had found illegal production of GM seeds is the first in years.

The ministry also highlighted four cases of illegal research into GM cotton. Though GM cotton is permitted in China, the ministry said the institutes and companies involved were working on genes that had not previously been authorised.

China’s top leadership said last year that biotechnology would be part of a campaign to improve food security, signalling Beijing could soon take a further step towards commercialising new GM crops.

Removing illegal GM seed from the market, said in previous years to be widely available, would be necessary before regulated GM crops can be commercialised, experts say.

Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Edmund Blair