Agriculture Minister Han Changfu says there is no reason to fear genetically modified food and that he regularly eats it himself.
The statement was the most public effort yet by a senior mainland official to dispel anxiety about the safety of GM foods.
"I eat food processed from GM crops, soya bean oil to be specific," he said at a press conference yesterday in Beijing, where the National People's Congress is meeting.
Han said most soya bean oil products sold on the mainland were made from imported GM soya beans. He spent over 20 minutes explaining the rigours of the safety assessment and supervision network for GM foods.
The minister also said the outbreak of bird flu should not deter people from eating chicken.
"As agriculture minister, I promise you eating chicken is safe," he said, adding that poultry farms had not been infected with the H7N9 virus. Mainland health authorities have reported more than 120 human cases this year.
According to Han, 17 GM products from five plant species - soya beans, corn, oilseed rape, cotton and tomatoes - are sold on the domestic market. Rules require such products to acknowledge their GM content on their packaging. GM cotton and papaya were the only crops approved for commercial planting on the mainland, he said.
Former state television host Cui Yongyuan, who spent months researching GM food, says GM crops have been planted in at least four provinces: Hunan, Hubei, Guangxi and Jilin.
Cui, who is also a deputy to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, urged authorities to release information about a batch of exported rice that Europe refused to accept in 2006 because a GM variety of the grain was found.
"Developed countries are now seizing the leading edge in GM technology studies, and many developing countries are also actively following," he said. "We cannot have the technology monopolised by others, and the market cornered by others."
The minister noted the effects of pollution on agriculture. The government was beginning pilot programmes in the south of the country later this year to treat heavy-metal-contaminated soil, he said, without specifying the exact areas.
About 3.33 million hectares of farmland is too polluted to grow crops upon, according to a land survey released last year.