Chinese officials have given their blessing to a handful of strains of alfalfa, canola and other crops, offering a sense of optimism that the wheels may be turning on the country’s notoriously slow approval process.

According to media reports, China’s agriculture ministry recently approved eight genetically modified crops for import into the country, including several domestically developed technologies. Beth Ellikidis, who heads up the agriculture and environment issue area for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, called the news “a positive step toward resolving the long-standing challenges developers face” in China.

“We are hopeful this is a recognition by the Chinese government on the importance of agricultural innovation to sustainably increase agricultural production and bolster food security,” she said.

Streamlining the biotech approval process was included in the “phase one” trade deal with China inked during the Trump administration, but little progress had been observed. In November 2022, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service issued a report noting the process still “lacks transparency and predictability,” but also said China was “preparing for commercial cultivation of domestically developed” GMO crops.

Ellikidis said BIO wants the U.S. government to “continue to engage with China to fully comply with the ‘phase one’ commitments, including finalizing submission approvals within two years. Honoring these commitments will help China implement a transparent, predictable, efficient, science- and risk-based regulatory process for safety evaluation and authorization of products of agricultural biotechnology.”

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According to reports, the approvals include a pair of GMO alfalfa traits developed by Forage Genetics International, a subsidiary of Land O’Lakes, as well as canola traits developed by Corteva.

Glenda Gehl, vice president and general manager of FGI, said the approval of the traits “further reinforces the safety of these technologies and is a positive step toward opening a valuable export opportunity for U.S. agriculture. This is about feeding a growing global population and supporting American farmers, agricultural retailers and the rural communities they serve.”

A Corteva spokesperson told Agri-Pulse the company is awaiting “the official safety certificate” but said Optimum FLY canola hybrids “are expected to be commercially available in Canada, U.S. and Australia pending applicable regulatory reviews.”

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