Reports in the Chinese media this week state that four varieties of GM rice were submitted for approval to the recently concluded Biology Safety meeting, sponsored by Ministry of Agriculture.
According to a news report from the Peoples' Daily, the project leader and biologist Professor Zhu Zhen says that the promotion of GM rice is important for China, a country with 1.3 billion people whose main food staple is rice.
As global rice consumption continues to outpace production, supporters of the rice claim biotech rice could be the key to unlocking food security in major rice-growing areas.
Environmental and health concerns over GM foodstuffs will have to be considered by the Chinese regulatory bodies before clearing the way for GM rice onto the local and exporting markets.
Exports of GM rice into Europe will meet with opposition from certain member states, reflecting European consumer concerns, who continue to resist the entry of new GM foods in the food industry.
A recent poll of British consumers found that more than six out of 10 people (61 per cent) said they were concerned about the use of GM material in food production - up from 56 per cent in 2002.
The US department of agriculture predicts global production of rice to reach 401.8 million tons (milled basis) in 2004/05, up 10.8 million tons from 2003/04 but ending stocks are projected to plunge 16.1 million tons, with substantial declines expected in China, Thailand, and Vietnam, implying stronger prices throughout the 2004 and 2005 trade years.
Rice is a staple crop the world over but principally in Asia where the average person eats rice two or three times a day. The average person in Myanmar eats 195 kg of rice each year compared to their European counterpart who consumes just 3 kg a year.
Rice, the source of a starch used to form tender, opaque gels in food formulations, is currently the focus of an international effort to map its genome.
In October this year the UN-backed Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) singled out Dr Youyong Zhu, president of Yunnan Agricultural University in China and Dr Takuji Sasaki, director of the genome research department at the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences (NIAS) in Japan for their contribution to the advancement of rice research.
Dr Takuji Sasaki and his team won first prize in the rice breeding category for the paper, 'The genome sequence and structure of rice chromosome 1', the longest chromosome in the rice genome.
Sasaki's rice genome breakthrough is slated to help breeders in determining gene function, thereby making it possible to more efficiently identify and select rice varieties with beneficial traits.