China has given approval to the first gene-edited soybean in the country. The crop, developed by Shandong Shunfeng Biotechnology, is expected to raise the level of healthy oleic acid in the plant. Gene editing involves altering existing genes rather than introducing foreign ones, making it less risky than genetic modification. China, which published regulations on gene-editing last year, is now looking to science to enhance food production. Shunfeng is also researching other gene-edited crops, such as herbicide-resistant rice and vitamin C-rich lettuce. The approval comes amid growing concerns over feeding China’s population of 1.4 billion people, as well as a rise in diet-related diseases among its expanding middle class.

The soybean has been granted a safety certificate for five years, starting from April 21, 2023. Shunfeng has hailed the approval as a significant achievement for the company, and it is hoping to become the first to commercialize gene-edited crops in China. United States-based company Calyxt produced a high oleic soybean, which was the first gene-edited food to be approved in the US in 2019.

While China is promoting GMO crops and starting large-scale trials of GM corn this year, gene-edited crops are expected to reach the market faster, given fewer steps in the regulatory process. Japan has also approved gene-edited foods, including healthier tomatoes and faster-growing fish.

However, there are concerns about the implications of gene-editing on food production and the environment. Critics argue that the technology could create unintended consequences that may pose risks to human health and the environment. They also suggest that it could lead to a concentration of power among a few large corporations who can afford to develop gene-edited crops, resulting in a loss of biodiversity and the displacement of small farmers.

Despite these concerns, China’s approval of the gene-edited soybean suggests that the country is willing to take risks with new technologies to address food security concerns. With the world’s population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, ensuring a sustainable and sufficient food supply will be one of the most pressing challenges of the century. Whether gene editing will play a significant role in meeting this challenge remains to be seen.

By Impact Lab