Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Thursday, February 26, 2004

Gene-altered crops are safe: officials

China will make sure the controversial genetically modified (GMO) crops don't cause negative impacts on the country's bio-environment, the Ministry of Agriculture said Wednesday.


China will make sure the controversial genetically modified (GMO) crops don't cause negative impacts on the country's bio-environment, the Ministry of Agriculture said Wednesday.

The ministry on Monday awarded its first batch of safety certificates for foreign genetically modified crops used for processing purposes in China, after a two-year period of safety assessments were made. During that time, the importers were giving temporary safety certificates.

"The crops have to pass the tests of a panel composed of 58 specialists from the agricultural, environmental, foreign trade authorities as well as the Chinese Academy of Sciences and universities,'' said Fang Xiangdong at a policy-explanation meeting Wednesday in Beijing.

"The evaluation process indicates the Chinese Government's highly responsible stance in protecting bio-safety, ecological environment and human health.''

Fang stressed that the certificates are not permanently valid due to the uncertainty of the biotech crops' impacts.

"There is no permanent safety certificate at all,'' she said. "We need to keep our eye on genetically modified crops for a long time, as the impact on environment and human health are still uncertain.''

The certificates for the genetically modified soybeans and maize will be valid for three years, and cotton five years.

The foreign R&D companies can apply for a renewal six months before a certificate expires, according to the new rules.

The new rules won plaudits from both domestic and foreign companies involved in the trade of genetically modified crops, especially those dealing in soybeans.

"It's good news for the importers and processing enterprises in our country,'' said Shi Zhijun, trading department assistant executive of EastOcean Oils & Industries Ltd, one of the largest soybean processing enterprises in China.

Monsanto, the largest American soybean exporter to China, told China Daily it is happy that the new policy will benefit the growers and ensure the normal operation of trade.

The ministry also emphasized that both the importers and providers are obliged to make sure the genetically modified crops do not threaten the environmental safety during transport, storage and processing.

But experts are still not satisfied with the authority's safety measures, saying they were only initial responses under today's limited technological conditions.

"When science and technologies develop in the future, there might be big problems found with these crops, like the irony with the invention of DDT,'' said Xia Youfu, foreign trade professor at the University of International Trade and Economics.

The pesticide that once won a Nobel prize was eventually banned in the world for its great harm to the environment, Xia noted.

Xia said it is important for the government to push for labelling system, in order to ensure people's right to know and to choose the modified products.

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