EXCLUSIVE-China gives safety approval to GMO rice

* China approves pest-resistant Bt strain as safe

* Large scale production could start in 2-3 years

* Approval follows phytase corn clearance last week

* Corn, rice approvals are first for grains in China (Adds background, detail, quote)

By Niu Shuping and Tom Miles

BEIJING, Nov 27 (Reuters) - China, the world's largest rice producer and consumer, has approved a locally-developed strain of genetically-modified rice, paving the way for large-scale production in 2 to 3 years, Chinese scientists said on Friday.

The Ministry of Agriculture's Biosafety Committee has issued biosafety certificates to Bt rice, a pest-resistant genetically modified strain, two committee members told Reuters.

Along with GM phytase corn approval announced last week, this is China's first two approvals for grains, although it already permits GM papaya, cotton and tomatoes.

But the strains still need to undergo registration and production trials before commercial production can begin in restricted areas, which may take 2-3 years, the scientists said.

The scientists declined to be identified as the Chinese government has not officially published the information. Officials at the Agricultural Ministry's biosafety office declined to comment.

China is the world's top producer of rice, growing 59.5 million tonnes in the 12 months to October, but it exports only around 50,000 tonnes a month as most is consumed domestically. Exports of GM rice would be likely to face tough scrutiny abroad.

The European Union's executive body, the European Commission, said in July that China needed to tighten export controls on rice products, such as baby food, because shipments might contain traces of the Bt-63 strain, which is not authorised in the EU.

While China is not yet growing GM rice commercially, there are numerous field trials going on around the country.

Bt rice, developed by Huazhong Agricultural University, would help reduce the use of pesticide by 80 percent while raising yields by as much as 8 percent, said Huang Jikun, the chief scientist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"We believe more genetically-modified technology will be used in agriculture production in future to increase production and reduce inputs," said Huang.

Phytase corn, developed by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science, will help animals such as pigs digest more of the phosphorus in corn, enhancing growth and reducing environmental phosphorus pollution via animal waste and fertiliser runoff. (Editing by Michael Urquhart) ((; +86 10 6627-1210; Reuters Messaging: ((If you have a query or comment on this story, send an email to