BEIJING (Commodity Online) : World's largest cooking oil consumer China said the country needs to step up agricultural innovation, including development of its own GM varieties, in response to climate change and to reduce reliance on foreign technologies.

According to Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), the Chinese consume millions of tons of genetically modified (GM) soybean oil every year without fuss despite the fact that attitudes toward GM food remain as divergent in the nation as they are in the rest of the world.

The genetic modification of food involves the insertion of genes from one variety of a crop to another in order to transfer certain desired characteristics such as insect-resistance or drought tolerance.

The technology is controversial. Critics say it is inherently risky to mess with nature. Supporters say it will prevent food shortages.
GM crops can provide solutions to various problems facing the ecosystem such as limited land and water resources, scientists at the CAAS said.

China has been a net importer of soybeans since the mid-1990s. Imported soybeans from the United States and Argentina are mainly genetically modified.

China consumes about 10 million tons of soybean oil and about 40 million tons of soybean meal per year in processed food and animal feedstuff, industry analysts said.

More than 80 percent of the total is imported GM soybean oil or made from imported GM soybeans. Approval has not been given by China for the import of GM crop seeds.

International companies such as Monsanto, which have already sold seeds of GM cotton and conventional crops in China, have started exploring the potential GM market in.