China has published trial guidelines for gene-edited plants approval, setting the stage for faster crop improvement as the country works to strengthen its food security.

The new rules, published late Monday by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, come in the wake of a slew of measures aimed at realigning China's seed industry, which is widely regarded as a weak link in efforts to feed the world's largest population.

The country's rise to dominance in the field of genetically modified crops represents a remarkable 180 degree-turn for China, where the government has been unable to convince the public that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are harmful to human health.

Around 75% of agricultural gene-editing patents are issued in China, according to Erik Fyrwald, chief executive officer of Swiss agricultural giant Syngenta, in a recent virtual interview at the Fortune Global 500 Summit in Hangzhou.

Gene editing - or modifying a plant's genes to alter or improve its performance - is viewed as less risky by some researchers than genetic alteration, which involves transferring a foreign gene.

Additionally, Beijing recently enacted new regulations that establish a clear path for the approval of genetically modified (GM) crops.

While it has debated for years whether to allow the planting of genetically modified crops to feed its people and livestock, it is ahead of some countries in outlining clear and relatively quick procedures for gene-edited crops.

Considering the Chinese government's significant investment in genome editing, Rabobank predicted in a December report that "we expect the release of a relatively open policy in the coming years."

According to the report, China's research institutes have already published more research on market-oriented gene-edited crops than any other country.

China's concerns about food security appear to have trumped consumer concerns about genetically modified organisms and genetically modified foods.

Crops that have been genetically modified to withstand adversity such as drought, pestilence, or even pesticides assist farmers in increasing yield and providing more food.

The precision of the technology enables it to be more efficient than conventional breeding or genetic modification, while also lowering the cost.

The draft rules provide that once gene-edited plants have successfully completed pilot trials, they can apply for a production certificate, bypassing the lengthy field trials required for approval of a GM plant.

This means that it could take only a year or two to obtain approval for a gene-edited plant, compared to around six years for genetically modified ones, Han Gengchen, chairman of seed company Origin Agritech, said.