The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture announced in November that it had approved biotech varieties of rice and corn, with large-scale commercial production slated to begin in two years. The new crop varieties were created by researchers inside China. Analysts estimate that planting the strains will boost yields by 30 percent.
The Chinese corn produces phytase, which helps animals absorb phosphorous, a major manure-based pollutant. Corn modified to resist pests and herbicides is a staple in the U.S. and 16 other countries, but until now no biotech rice varieties have been approved for commercialization. China, which grows about 30 percent of the world's rice, is the top producer and consumer of the grain. The European Commission, which tightly regulates biotech crops, has ordered that all Chinese rice products be tested for genetic modification before they can be imported.
Meanwhile, the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines is finally scheduled to release golden rice, a variety that has been genetically enhanced to produce the precursor to vitamin A, in 2011. Nearly 40 percent of children in developing countries consume inadequate amounts of vitamin A, which can lead to blindness and impaired immune systems.