China GM crop cultivation shrinks - Headlines, features, photo and videos from ecns.cn|china|news|chinanews|ecns|cns China's genetically modified (GM) crop planting areas declined in 2014 amid heated discussions over safety concerns, a study revealed on Wednesday. Chinese farmers grew 3.9 million hectares of GM cotton in 2014, down some 300,000 hectares from the previous year, according to a study done by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). ISAAA attributed the drop in cotton cultivation mainly to low prices and high stockpile in China. GM papaya growing areas expanded nearly 50 percent to some 8,500 hectares from a year earlier. Southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region joined Guangdong and Hainan provinces to plant the disease-resistant species. China now approves only the production of GM cotton and papaya and prohibits commercial production of any GM staple foods. But it is major importer of GM farm produce. The country remained the sixth largest GM crop grower globally in 2014, according to ISAAA. GINGERLY GROPING GM technology has long been a controversial issue. Supporters believe it can increase yields on marginal lands, reduce chemical use and be engineered to contain nutrition like vitamin A and iron. But opponents argue GM crops have uncertain long-term effects on human health and the environment. China keeps very cautious about large-scale production of GM crops. Most recently, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) reiterated its stance on the issue, saying a line must be drawn between research and production. "We need to be daring on scientific research and innovation, but very prudent on production," said MOA spokesman Bi Meijia. Currently, only two GM rice species hold MOA safety certificates and neither are allowed to be grown for commercial purposes. However, some farmers secretly plant GM rice and some of the produce was sold in supermarkets in central China's Hubei Province. The rice has been taken off shelves. To keep consumers well-informed, China has adopted a mandatory labeling catalogue covering 17 GM food items under five categories namely soybean, oilseed rape, corn, cotton and tomato. The European Union is also careful about GM crops and only Monsanto's insect-resistant corn is approved for commercial use in the region. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) supports a science-based evaluation system that would objectively determine the benefits and risks of each individual GM organism. "This calls for a cautious case-by-case approach to address legitimate concerns for the bio-safety of each product or process prior to its release," Percy Misika, FAO's representative in China, told Xinhua. GLOBAL EXPANSION Despite the decline in China, ISAAA data showed global planting area of GM crops grew about 6.3 million hectares in 2014 from the previous year. A record 18 million farmers in 28 countries planted 181.5 million hectares of GM crops last year. Global cultivation grew by more than 100 times from 1.7 million hectares in 1996, when GM technology began to be commercialized. The United States, Brazil and Argentina ranked the top three GM crop growers in 2014. "Biotechnology is the fastest adopted crop technology in the world," said ISAAA emeritus chair Clive James.