Shenzhen to impose HK$126,000 fines on companies that mislabel genetically modified food

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 August, 2014, 1:24pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 August, 2014, 6:22pm

Shenzhen has imposed the country’s highest fine yet against improper labelling of genetically modified (GM) food, with offenders facing up to 100,000 yuan (HK$126,000) in penalties.

The harsh sanction – said to be a first in the mainland – was included in a new draft regulation on ecology and environment protection and is set to take effect later this year.

All businesses producing or selling GM food must register with the municipal food safety department and label the ingredients clearly.

Though China has food labelling regulations in place, requiring product makers to declare GM ingredients, the existing regulations mete out lenient punishments for those who break the law. Violators face fines of just up to 10,000 yuan.

And in practice, the regulations have been largely ignored and offenders have been seldom punished.

But Shenzhen’s new rule, issued by the municipal commission on human settlements and the environment, marks a further step towards strengthening control of GM food products, which have sparked controversy mainly over the safety of eating genetically altered food.

Illegal and secret facilities planting genetically modified crops such as rice have been found in some parts of China, prompting public panic and anger.

In April, the Hainan provincial agriculture department said it discovered GM goods in the cities Sanya, Lingshui and Ledong, along with several counties during a December 23-27 inspection. It examined 107 crop samples, from which it identified and destroyed nine genetically modified corn and cotton strains undergoing trial testing.

Shenzhen’s new regulation calls for a “real-time monitoring and alert system” to trace GM organisms and to evaluate the risks of using them in human food and animal feed.

The policy has been published on the website of Guangdong’s Standing Committee of the Provincial People’s Congress for public review for 10 days from August 6.

"I extremely welcome such a rule. It is right for the city to require proper labelling of GM foods so that the public can have the right to choose whether they want to buy it,” said Tang Ying, a Shenzhen resident.

Apart from GM controls, Shenzhen’s draft regulation will seek to control and limit the production and sale of disposable consumer goods such as plastic bags and one-time-use chopsticks.

Factories that manufacture and stores that use plastic shopping bags which are less than 0.025mm thick will be fined between 10,000 and 30,000 yuan.

The owners of vehicles with engine capacities of 2.5 litres or above will be charged an additional pollutant discharge fee.