List of approved GM food clarified

Updated: 2013-09-17 08:17

By Jin Zhu (China Daily)

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Chinese agricultural experts have clarified a list of genetically modified food that has been officially approved, a move in response to wide debates over the safety of such products in daily life.

At present, the country's biosafety certificates have been issued for some GM strains of cotton, rice, corn and papaya, among which only cotton and papaya are allowed to be commercially planted, Xie Jiajian, a researcher on plant protection at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, was quoted by People's Daily as saying on Monday.

Meanwhile, import certificates for GM crops in China have been given only to soybeans, corn, rape, cotton and beets, allowing them to be imported as raw materials for domestic processing, he said.

The article also stated that some vegetables, such as cherry tomatoes and colored bell peppers, which are common in markets, are cultivated in conventional ways instead of using GM technology.

Twelve lawyers from across the country issued an open letter to the China Food and Drug Administration and the Ministry of Agriculture last week, asking them to make related information on GM food in China known to the public.

Related information includes the varieties of GM food in China, official procedures before approvals, names of enterprises that are producing and selling GM food, and punishment for GM products without clear labeling, said Shi Baozhong, a lawyer who signed the letter.

"After the open letter, I received a call from the China Food and Drug Administration, saying it was not within its jurisdiction. And so far, there has been no response from the Ministry of Agriculture," he said on Monday.

Domestic debate over the safety of GM food has grown since the Ministry of Agriculture issued biosafety certificates to two strains of pest-resistant GM rice and corn in 2009.

The strains still need registration and production trials - which will take three to five years - before commercial planting can possibly begin, according to the ministry. But it was the first time a major grain producer endorsed the use of GM technology in a staple food.

In June, the ministry issued biosafety certificates to three new overseas varieties of genetically modified soybeans, allowing them to be imported as raw materials for domestic processing.

At present, four-fifths of the global population is eating GM food and it is false that GM food causes tumors and affects the ability to give birth, the ministry said on its website.

"The ministry's assertion is not reliable since it only presented its final conclusion. But where such statistics and results came from has not been stated clearly," Shi said.

Meanwhile, Fang Zhouzi, a popular science writer, and China Central Television's star host Cui Yongyuan, debated the safety of GM food on the Internet, after Fang led more than 20 volunteers to eat GM corn at an experimental field at China Agricultural University in early September.

Fang refuted the claims, and the dialogue grew heated, drawing many netizens and experts into the discussion.

"Government authorities really need to enhance their efforts on popularizing knowledge about GM technology among the public. Also, increasing transparency on official information, such as approval procedures for GM crops, is also necessary," said Huang Dafang, a former member of the country's biosafety committee in charge of agricultural GM organisms.

(China Daily USA 09/17/2013 page5)