Official words can lift GM food awareness

Updated: 2015-02-03 08:15

(China Daily)

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Official words can lift GM food awareness

One product in China sold with genetically modified beans is oil. [Photo provided to China Daily]

As usual, the top leadership's first "document" of the year was exclusively agricultural.

This is the way it should be because agriculture and rural development remain a drag on the country's overall progress. Which is why, even without much new stuff to include, the topic has been No 1 Central Document year after year.

Actually, there are new proposals, actually quite a few, in this year's document. And one thing is worth particular mention. Studies on genetic modification have been mentioned six times in the annual documents, but this year's document is the first to incorporate the proposal to popularize scientific knowledge related to the use of genetic modification.

This is a worthy initiative in that the authorities eventually appear to have decided to break their long silence. Which is good.

For too long, the discourse over genetically modified crops in China has been more like furious name-calling between those for and against - the advocates of GM accusing the opponents of fear mongering, while the opponents of GM accuse its supporters of either having been bought over by foreign seeds companies, or ignoring the threat to public health or national food security.

One strange thing throughout the discourse, however, has been the conspicuous absence of the authorities.

The government has been sponsoring related studies all these years. And there have been sporadic reports on unauthorized commercialization of research achievements.

But the authorities have been misers when it comes to words. Not only has there been little mention about exactly what is going on in the labs and experimental plots. They have been notoriously mute on the safety of GM crops.

Given GM technologies' relatively short period of existence, it may indeed be premature to make definite statements from the perspective of long-term influence. Yet that does not suffice to justify such reticence. At least the public deserves to know what is being done, and why. And such knowledge will be conducive to their understanding of the issue.

Occasionally, there have been government officials complaining about the public's ignorance about and "demonization" of GM technologies. But none of them have bothered to explain to a worried public why their fears are unfounded.

GM technologies, GM food in particular, have been unpopular thus far not because they have proven unsafe, but mostly because the authorities have been unnecessarily quiet.

Speaking up is the first of their must-do steps.