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Origin expects to grow China's first GMO corn in 2013

By Niu Shuping and Ken Wills

BEIJING (Reuters) - Origin Agritech Ltd said it expects the Chinese government to approve its genetically modified organism (GMO) corn for production in 2013, China's first GMO strain in commercial production, its chairman Han Gengchen said on Friday.

China gave the phytase corn biosafety approval in November 2009 and at the time scientists had expected large-scale production could happen as early as 2012, but a complicated approval process for use as seed has delayed the expectation.

"We have bred the gene on local hybrid seeds which are popularly used and generate high yields. The safety approval process (for seed use) would be faster and likely be this year and we will start production next year," Han told Reuters.

Once approved, the U.S-listed firm expects the acreage for its phytase corn to account for 10 percent of the country's total corn acreage within 10 years, said Han.

The Beijing-based company is working on the biosafety approval for the other two strains of GMO corn, the glyphosate tolerance and insect-resistant, and did not give any schedule as when these two can be approved by the government.

Phytase corn can help pigs digest more phosphorous, enhancing growth and reducing pollution from animal waste. China is the world's largest pig breeder and also the top consumer of pork.

GMO CORN FIRST

China, the world's second-largest corn consumer, planted about 33 million hectares of corn last year, but rising consumption from animal feed production in response to more meat demand as well as industrial use has exceeded the growth of its production.

China's rising needs could lead Beijing to give priority to corn for commercial production first before Bt rice, which Beijing also offered biosafety approval for in 2009, said Clive James, founder and chair of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

"What I hear is that they (the government) gives priority to corn... The government is very cognizant to the fact that corn imports increase yearly...if you want to antidote that, it must be commercialization," he told Reuters.

China has turned into a net corn importer since 2010. The rise of imports of genetically-modified corn last year, all from the United States, for state reserves has sparked concerns that the country's imports could surge in future as it did for soybeans.

The expected commercial approval of biotech Golden Rice in the Philippines in 2013/14 will be of significance to China in commercial production of its own GMO rice, he said.

"China's agriculture trade deficit increased by 41 percent (last year)... which shows the need is increasing very fast, the speed of action in making decisions is crucial," said James.

China ranks 6th worldwide in the area of biotech crops in 2011, with a record 3.9 million hectares of Bt cotton during the year at the highest adoption rate of 71.5 percent, according to ISAAA.

China is the world's largest importer of GMO soybean, with annual imports accounting for about 60 percent of global traded soybean.

(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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