The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs ("MARA") is the responsible governmental body for the regulation and management of GMOs in China, and an operator which is engaged in such production and processing will need to obtain the relevant licenses. On January 27, 2021, the MARA  issued the 2021 Work Plan for the Supervision of Agricultural GMOs. See http://www.moa.gov.cn/govpublic/KJJYS/202101/t20210127_6360586.htm.

Among the Plan's key objectives include the supervision of agricultural GMOs, including the examination and approval of varieties, production as well as import, processing and operation of seeds. The Plan also requires the relevant operators to strengthen the management of various aspects of agricultural GMOs.  

In China, only a few GMO crop varieties are approved, including cotton, corn and papaya. The Plan suggests a new renewed effort by MARA to supervise and regulate the GMOs in order to ensure food safety and human health. This can be seen in another MARA's recently issued circular detailing 8 agricultural GMOs violations. 4 of the cases concerned genetically modified corn seeds while the remaining 4 cases involved genetically modified cotton. The circular suggests MARA is stepping up to regulate the GM crops in China, especially those relating to GM food. In the corn seed cases, all of them were either confiscated or destroyed, and fines were also imposed.

These are very interesting developments and it remains to be seen how the MARA will govern this space. For example, many plant and seed breeders are heavily investing into gene edited varieties and it will be interesting to see if the MARA will relax its current strict requirements and set up a regulatory system to classify crops and plants developed through gene editing technology as traditionally bred varieties.