In a landmark decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a Chinese strain of genetically modified rice has been approved for sale in the United States.
Developed by Huazhong Agricultural University scientists, Huahui-1 is a rice variety that has been genetically engineered to express an insecticidal protein, improving its resistance to lepidopteran insect pests, ECNS reports.
Dennis M. Keefe, director of the FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety in the U.S., noted in his letter sent to the scientists and posted on the FDA website that “it is our understanding that Huazhong has concluded that human and animal foods from Huahui-1 rice grain are not materially different in composition, safety, and other relevant parameters from rice-derived human and animal food currently on the market.”
Chinese researchers announced the exciting development in an online statement on Saturday, noting that the food regulatory agency has found “no safety or regulatory issues with food derived from Huahui-1 rice,” deeming it safe for consumption.
According to the South China Morning Post, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted a similar approval earlier.
“This means that the rice can now be exported to the U.S. and sold to the general public there,” HAU biotechnologist Professor Yan Jianbing was quoted as saying.
“It’s also an important step for a possible international trade of the product in the future. If it [can’t be grown] at home, it might be worth trying to grow it in other countries.”
He celebrated the approval as a milestone in the field which “shows that the US completely agrees with our methods and data in assessing the safety and nutrition of the rice”.
To secure the approvals from the necessary American agencies, Zhang’s team engaged in a series of extensive consultations, coordinating with the USEPA in 2009 and the USFDA in 2016.
However, the scientists would still require an approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be able to grow the rice on American soil.
While the U.S. has potentially paved the way for the new rice variety to be commercialized in the country, China is more apprehensive. The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture has so far approved the rice and other GM crops solely for research, but not for consumption or general cultivation.
The Chinese authorities have also restricted planting to experimental fields, posing a huge challenge to the scientists to be able to start marketing the rice to the U.S. anytime soon.