Govt 'has an open mind' on GM food

08:30, March 04, 2010      

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Safety is country's top concern as transparent approval process urged

The government has an open attitude toward genetically modified (GM) food despite controversies swirling around the issue, experts have said.

The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) has only made it clear that "there is no commercial planting of GM food crops in China now but it hasn't stated whether it will allow it later," Jiang Gaoming, professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Botany, told China Daily on Wednesday.

In response to widespread media coverage on GM foods, the MOA said approval has not been given for import of GM crop seeds.

An MOA official was quoted by Xinhua News Agency as saying on Tuesday that import certificates have been given only to cotton, soybean, maize and rapeseed to be used as processed materials or as animal fodder.

In November, the ministry issued bio-safety certificates to two strains of pest-resistant GM rice and corn in what was considered a major development in promoting the research and planting of GM crops.

The strains still need registration and production trials - which will take three to five years - before commercial planting can possibly begin.

But, said Clive James, founder of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Application (ISAAA) - a nonprofit group that deals with biotechnology applications - China has "already endorsed the use of GM technology" and will "lead other countries in Asia, even the whole world, in using it" .

Huang Dafang, a member of the Biosafety Committee affiliated to the MOA, said the two GM rice strains, developed by Huazhong Agricultural University, will help reduce the use of pesticide by 80 percent while raising yield by as much as 8 percent.

"It will generate an additional income of $4 billion for some 440 million farmers," Huang said.

Besides, using GM technology will help the country achieve the target of increasing grain output by 50 million tons, or about 10 percent of the total, between 2009 and 2020, he added.

The safety of GM food has long been a public concern.

"The safety of GM technology has not been approved in many countries yet. However, since early 2000, Unlabeled GM products, such as papaya, soybean oil, tomatoes and potatoes have been available in the domestic market," said Fang Lifeng, spokesman for Greenpeace China's GM program.

Experts have urged the government to implement an open and transparent approval process for GM technology.

"More details on GM crops getting safety certificates and the process of growing crops commercially should be publicized so that people can choose whether they buy GM food or not," Jiang said.

Source:China Daily
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