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China is set to launch a US$3.5 billion research project for genetically modified (GM) crops to help address the demand for food in the world's most populous nation.

The initiative is expected to be rolled out later this month. Exact details have yet to be worked out, but the State Council, China's cabinet, approved the research initiative in July, after Premier Wen Jiabao told senior scientists that the country needs "big science and technology measures" like GM to solve its food problem.

China has already widely planted insect-resistant GM cotton, which occupies 70 per cent of the area devoted to growing the crop in China. Chinese scientists have also successfully developed several types of GM rice, whose field trials have shown higher yields and less pesticide uses. But the government has delayed commercialisation of GM rice due to biosafety concerns.

The new initiative will also include a public education initiative to try to ease public safety concerns over GM. Chinese scientists say that legitimate concerns over GM crops' biosafety should not be used to mislead the public in the name of environmental protection.

Link to full article in Science