SHANGHAI/BEIJING, Dec 19 (Reuters) – China will industrialise biotech breeding as part of a campaign to improve food security, top leaders said in a policy statement late on Friday, signalling Beijing could soon take a further step towards commercialising genetically modified (GM) crops.

According to a statement issued after the annual Central Economic Work Conference held on Dec.

16-18, China needs to make better use of science and technology to achieve a „turnaround“ in its seed industry.

„The key to ensuring food security lies in implementing the strategy of storing grain in the ground and storing grain in technology,“ according to the statement, published by the official Xinhua news agency.

The statement identified the seed industry and the state of China’s arable land as major priorities over the next year.

It said the country needed to prevent the misuse of land and build a „national food security industrial belt“.

Beijing has invested heavily in GM research and development, and it made a breakthrough last year when it decided to issue biosafety certificates for domestic strains of genetically-modified soybean and corn.

However, it has been cautious when it comes to the commercialisation of GM crops.

Though the statement did not refer specifically to GM, analysts said it emphasises the role new technology must play in China’s food security efforts, now a major priority as the country tries to insulate itself from trade disruptions and ensure it makes the most of its scarce farmland.

„The meeting proposed the orderly advance of the industrialisation of biotech breeding,“ said Mao Yifan of Industrial Securities.

„With the combination of the arrival of genetically-modified corn strains at the end of 2019 and the significant increase in corn prices, genetically-modified corn seeds with improved efficiency will be promoted or accelerated in China,“ Mao added.

The Central Economic Work Conference is an annual gathering in which top leaders and policymakers plot the country’s economic course for the following year.

(Reporting by David Stanway and Dominique Patton; Editing by Michael Perry)