HA NOI — Large-scale growing of genetically modified crops could start as early as next year, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Bui Ba Bong said.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat (right) and other agricultural experts view genetically modified corn that is expected to better withstand harsh weather conditions. — VNA/VNS Photo Dinh Hue
Addressing a seminar in Ha Noi last Wednesday, he said genetically modified plants and trees would be able to better withstand the harsh weather conditions caused by climate change.
"Wide-spread planting of GM crops offers benefits but also presents challenges, particularly in Viet Nam where they were only recently introduced," Bong said, adding that the planting of GM crops would be closely monitored.
"We also need to enhance co-operation with developed countries and international organisations in this field," he added. Viet Nam has begun growing GM crops, including vitamin-rich rice, herbicide-resistant and worm-free corn and drought tolerant beans.
Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy, vice director of the Agricultural Genetics Institute, said GM corn grown in the northern province of Vinh Phuc had been very successful.
Crop yields had been 30-40 per cent higher than previously under the same conditions, she said.
"GM corn quality is also better and the population of corn-eating worms in these crops has dramatically reduced," Thuy said.
Nguyen Tri Ngoc, the Crop Cultivation Department director, said biological safety standards were of the highest to ensure the natural biodiversity of the country was not negatively affected.
Le Van Dung, deputy director of the Vinh Phuc Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said large-scale planting of GM corn should be allowed because it would dramatically boost farmers' incomes.
"Farmers would also not have to spend so much money on pesticide," he added.
Farmers typically spend about VND2 million (US$97) on pesticides per hectare of crops per year. They could save $1.94 million on 20,000ha of crops in Vinh Phuc Province if they grew GM crops.
However, Le Huy Ham, the Agricultural Genetics Institute director, said more tests needed to be conducted.
The pilot project will continue until the end of the upcoming winter crop season when final tests will be conducted to assess the safety and quality of the GM corn.
While developed countries are spending more on developing this technology, Viet Nam is strictly monitoring GM crops and trees to ensure everything is safe. After all, there is no going back once GM technology has been introduced because the pollen is in the environment, Ham said.
Over the next two months, the institute will submit a biological safety report to the National Biology Safety Council. GM corn will then undergo a larger-scale test at four typical ecological areas before being freely allowed in the rest of the country.
"We have to be very cautious before offering farmers a biotech product. That's why GM trees have to go through these tests," Ham said.
Viet Nam spends on average nearly $3 billion a year importing GM corn, beans and some other cereals.
As a result, the price of cattle-feed in the country is usually 10-15 per cent higher than in neighbouring countries such as Thailand and China.
Domestic yearly demand for cereals is forecast to reach 50 million tonnes by 2020 and 80 million tonnes by 2050, while the agriculture land area is shrinking and yields of traditional crops are near their maximum level.
"If the country is looking for a breakthrough in crop yields, GM crops are the only solution," said Ngoc. — VNS