Beijing moves to root out GM crops
A ban on genetically modified crops is finally set to become law amid claims that mainland diners are unwittingly being served up transgenic rice.
The issue has sparked heated debate following media reports that GM rice has already made it on to the dinner plate, but the draft law has been met with criticism that it does not go far enough.
Public opinion on the draft law, which was released by the State Council on Monday, will be sought until the end of the month.
Under the proposals, GM research, field experiments, production, sales, imports and exports of GM grain seeds would all have to adhere to 'relevant' regulations, and organisations and individuals would not be allowed to apply GM technology to major crops without official approval. Rice, wheat, and corn are considered the three major crops in China.
'This is actually the first initiative that deals with GM food legislation at the state law level,' said Fang Lifeng, food and agriculture campaigner at environmental group Greenpeace.
But he warned that the loopholes in the law needed to be closed, especially given uncertainties over GM food's impact on human beings and biological diversity.
'This law needs to clarify what 'relevant laws and regulations' can be applied to regulate GM crops,' he said. 'We urge legislators to accelerate the drafting of the Genetically Engineered Organisms Bio-safety Law and also to enhance the supervision of GM food and other products. Otherwise, this law will only be lip service.'
Greenpeace says the central government has spent 30 times more on GM technology over the past two decades than on environmentally friendly agriculture. The mainland issued biological safety certificates to two GM rice varieties and one GM corn variety two years ago but has banned commercial planting.
The draft Grain Law sets out rules from production to processing, sale and storage. It dedicates a whole chapter to enhancing food quality, following media coverage of successive food safety problems in recent years.
Zheng Fengtian, a researcher from Renmin University's school of agricultural economics and rural development, said lawmakers had reacted to public concerns. 'It's especially important since grain is the very source of all processed food products,' he said.
In response to dramatic fluctuations in farm produce prices in the past couple of years, which have been widely blamed for increased inflation on the mainland, the draft law would ban activities that manipulate market prices, including malicious hoarding and spreading false information on price rises.
It also says that a fund should be established to control supply risks in order to stabilise the market.
Huang Dejun, general manager of Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultant, welcomed the law. 'It's always better to have a law to abide by, especially when we're facing a future where China's grain supply, either per head or in total, is coming under question,' he said.
He estimated that by 2030 the mainland's annual grain production would be 70 million to 100 million tonnes short of meeting demand.
The percentage of the US soybean crop that is genetically modified. While much of the developed world shuns GM food, the US has embraced it