Rules for trading, planting GM food items

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 March, 2010, 12:00am

Be careful what you do with the seeds of the fruit and vegetables you eat - they could land you in jail.

Under a new law, anyone who keeps the seeds of genetically modified (GM) food items and plants them in their garden or plot without government permission will commit an offence punishable by six months' imprisonment.

The law applies even if they did not know they were GM items.

Green Foundation director Chan Choi-hi said those practising small-scale farming in the New Territories might inadvertently break the law.

'Many papayas are now genetically modified. Not knowing the source of the fruit, a person can be sent to jail for planting the fruit for leisure or personal use,' Chan said.

Under the law, a GM organism intended for release into the environment cannot be exported or imported without the government's approval.

Consumers can still buy or consume GM organisms, or feed them to animals, but they may be in breach of the law if they keep the seeds for planting because it means allowing the GM crop to enter the soil and affect the environment. The law empowers officials to search vehicles, commercial premises and homes for unauthorised GM products.

Otata Lai, marketing executive of Hai Kang Life, a biotech testing company, said the industry stood to gain from the legislation since traders could no longer import or export products without checking for GM elements. 'Many traders do not know the source of their products or whether they have been genetically modified or not. After the legislation is passed, they will have to go to companies like us for testing,' she said.

Chan said the law would not have much effect on ordinary citizens since there is no law requiring the labelling of food made with GM ingredients.

'The labelling system is so far voluntary and many consumers still don't know whether the food they eat is genetically modified or not,' he said.