Experts warn of GM foods

09:02, February 24, 2010      

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Campaign groups and agriculture experts issued fresh warnings Tuesday about genetically modified (GM) foods.

The statements follow a recent announcement of the government's plan to commercialize such domestically produced foods.

Rural sectors are being urged to promote the commercialization of new GM foods based on scientific evaluations and management, according to a document issued January 31 by the central committee of the Communist Party of China.

And in November, the Ministry of Agriculture for the first time granted safety certificates to domestically produce two types of GM paddy rice and one type of GM corn.

The bio-engineered crops are being planted in central Hubei and eastern Shandong Provinces on trial bases and are "expected to be served at Chinese dinner tables within five years," Zhang Qifa, a professor at Huazhong Agricultural University who studies GM rice, told the Xinhua News Agency.

GM plants, often created to resist pests and insect damage, can indirectly improve output, and GM products are relatively cheaper than traditional foods.

A survey conducted by the official People's Daily website last month polled 50,000 Web users, 84.3 percent of whom said they wouldn't risk their health by buying GM foods, while only 14.2 percent said they would try such foods.

"Rice is the staple food for Chinese people. The government should take a prudent approach toward GM food. We are extremely worried about the risk of GM food to people's health," Fang Lifeng, Greenpeace China spokesman, told the Global Times.

A report released by the World Health Organization in October 2002 suggested that "GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods."

"If the world has not reached a consensus on GM food safety, it would be too proactive and risky to commercialize GM crops on a large scale," Zheng Fengtian, vice dean of the Rural and Agricultural Development Institute at the People's Uni-versity of China, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

And Xue Dayuan, a chief expert on biodiversity at the Nanjing Research Institute of Environmental Sciences, told the Global Times that "although some GM foods are considered safe to consume based on the existing assessment technology, it could still pose safety hazards if more advanced technology is available in the future."

The safety of such foods is also a major point of concern worldwide.

In 2007, French scientists proved that a type of GM corn produced by Monsanto, the world largest seed company, damages people's livers and kidneys.

And in a report published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2008, American scientists said they found that the immune systems of white rats fed with GM corn for extended periods were compromised.

"We don't oppose developing GM grains, which definitely have great potential. But we can't rely too much on them. Traditional grain breeding should still be our priority," Xue said.

"European Union countries react more strongly against GM foods, so the commercialization of GM rice and corn is likely to affect China's export of crops and other related processed foods to the EU countries," Xue added.

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