ASIA/AUSTRALIA – The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and its network of Biotechnology Information Centers, in partnership with Murdoch University, have held discussions focused on the latest scientific and regulatory updates on gene-edited (GEd) plant products in Asia and Australia.

ISAAA is a non-profit international organization that shares agricultural biotechnology, focusing on genetic engineering.

The aim was to share knowledge and advice about the technology and regulations related to it to provide the intended beneficiaries with advice on the production and international trade of the GEd products.

The virtual webinar under the theme “Food Futures: Commercialization of Gene-edited Crops in Asia and Australia” was hosted by the ISAAA SEAsiaCenter.

The event was graced by a total of 168 participants from 41 countries. Resource persons from China, Japan, India, and Pakistan were invited to talk and highlight the different country perspectives for research, policy approaches, and implications of market trade.

Specifically, they talked about their current country policies related to the commercialization of gene-edited crops, the GEd products in the pipeline within their country with corresponding timelines for commercialization, and the potential benefits for industry collaboration.

The resource speakers were Dr. Wei Xun, an Associate Professor at the University of Science and Technology in Beijing; Dr. Mieko Kasai, Professor at the Center for Environment, Health and Field Science in Chiba University in Japan; Dr. S. R. Rao, Vice President of Sri Jalaji Vidyapeeth University Puducherry of India; and Dr. Shahid Mansoor, Director of the National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering, Pakistan.

Resource persons from the industry were also invited to speak about their perspectives on the research policy approaches and implications for market and trade. Mr. Osman Mewett, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Seeds Federation as well as Dr. Khay Khoo, Regulatory Manager for Biotechnology in the Asia Pacific for BASF provided the industry perspectives and insights.

GM regulations in China and Japan

During the open discussions, it was discussed that China does not have regulatory policies implemented by the local government, but the Chinese State Council or the Minister of Agriculture are tasked in handling the regulations.

Also clarified during the discussions was that the Japanese government is not involved in the commercialization efforts of the private companies that produce biotech products. Japan implements an unusual approach to GM crop regulations

The legislation in Japan requires that cultivation approval be obtained for imported products only ever destined for food, feed or processing purposes. In this way, the authorities have the opportunity to evaluate the environmental risks associated with that GM crop in the event of spilled GM grain or unintended mixing with conventional, non-GM seeds.

The experts also explored the impact of having different regulations in each country with reference to international  trade and movements of biotech products, hence the importance of flexibility in these regulations. In relation to this, Dr. Mewett discussed that countries with experience in planting genetically modified crops seem to be more open to regulating GEd products given that the regulators already have the knowledge and experience on how to conduct risk and food safety assessments.

Since the very beginning of GM crops, China has promoted biotech research with plenty of investment in an effort to ensure food security and world-leading agricultural biotechnology. Currently the Ministry of Agriculture has proposed a series of regulatory changes to boost the competitiveness of China’s seed industry.

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