• Fri
  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 5:10pm

GM foods in limbo in China as safety certificates expire

Rice-tasting events continue as developers await nod for commercial sales

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 5:36am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 6:13pm

Safety certificates for the only homegrown experimental genetically modified staple food crops to have the credentials expired yesterday, with no sign that the Ministry of Agriculture will renew the documents.

But advocates of the technology staged GM rice-tasting events in Beijing and 22 other cities across the mainland, with some expecting the government to give the nod for commercialisation of one crop in five years.

Watch: Advocates of GM rice hold tasting events in China

The ministry issued the certificates for one GM corn and two GM rice varieties five years ago to great controversy because they were the first staple foods to get the endorsement. The ministry insisted the crops were safe but have since repeatedly stressed that commercial planting and sales were strictly banned.

"It's like admitting a car is safe to run on the road but not giving it a licence plate," said Jiang Tao, senior engineer at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology.

Jiang said the expiration would not have an immediate impact on GM food research, but scientists would need to spend more time going through procedures if they wanted to commercialise the foods.

Neither the ministry nor the certificate holders commented on either renewal or approval for new strains.

But Wang Qinfang, a member of the Chinese Society of Biotechnology, said yesterday that four corn strains were expected to gain the safety certificates in three to five years and one could get the go-ahead for commercial planting.

"As consumption of meat has climbed with rapid urbanisation in China, demand for corn as feed for animals has also grown quickly," said Wang, who is also a senior regulatory affairs manager with major seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

"If China imported corn like it does soybeans, the government would face great pressure. So it won't let it happen," she said, referring to the GM soybean imports used for producing edible oil.

According to the ministry, 17 GM products from five plant species - soybeans, corn, oilseed rape, cotton and tomatoes - are sold on the mainland. GM cotton and papaya are the only crops approved for commercial planting on the mainland.

Wang spoke on the sidelines of a GM food-tasting event in Beijing attended by more than 80 GM food advocates. Organisers called off an event in Chongqing on the direction of local authorities, according to the man who first proposed the tastings, Fang Shimin, better known by his pen name Fang Zhouzi.

"The tasting is a special kind of promotion of scientific knowledge … We're not forcing people to eat GM rice but we want to make sure those who are willing to eat can have it," Fang said.

The rice was supplied by a GM research professor at Huazhong Agricultural University, owner of the two rice varieties whose safety certificates just expired.

But opponents dismissed the tastings as a publicity stunt.

"Strictly speaking, [the tastings] are illegal because any experiment on GM food should be approved by the authorities," Greenpeace agricultural campaigner Wang Jing said. "But now they're in a grey area because they said all the participants had volunteered."


For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

GM is sold to the world as improving productivity. In some cases it does, in others, India's BT being a case in point, it doesn't and leads to a huge increase in the number of suicides amongst farmers. The GM problem is not about the crop itself really; it is about the evil corporations that enslave the farmers that get involved with the likes of Monsanto. Whether the actual food itself is safe or not, it is the contracts with the farmers that absolutely MUST be regulated by Government. I am personally against GM because the problems facing the worlds starving will not go away even if there is a crop that will grow in any environment. The major problems are political ones and those related to the creation and distribution of money in the global money supply. If those issues were solved, normal crops would be viable.
Taste is not the main reason for opposing GM food. its very nature and safety to the people is important and ownership of seeds and all rights thereof should be in Public ownership in perpetuaty.
I think safety should always be the key in any food situation.
GM has played vital role in evolution. Darwin thought that human being was evolved from monkey. I tend to agree but I think that the evolution was helped by GM (naturally). Evolution happens in natural environment but it is impossible for monkey changing to human without process of genetic modification (mutation). I can imagine that in the long, long time ago, some monkeys in some areas (on the earth) had exposed to high (or low) dose of radiation for a long time. Then their genes started change. Generation by generation, those monkeys became more intelligent and eventually first generation of human being was evolved. Therefore GM has made Darwin’s evolution theory more applaudable. If this is true, GM food may help human to improve its ability (super human) or it may bring human back to monkey.


SCMP.com Account