The public has been invited by the National People's Congress (NPC) to debate amendments to the Land Use Law. Xinhua said since the law had great national significance, the NPC Standing Committee had agreed to invite public discussion. It did not specify how public debates would be conducted, but said 'ordinary citizens' could express opinions through 'appropriate channels'. A conference in Beijing yesterday to discuss the amendment featured NPC lawmakers and experts from bodies including the State Development Planning Commission, the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources, and Ministry of Agriculture. Much of the Land Use Law, introduced in 1986, had become outdated as the mainland developed into a market-based economy, Xinhua said. Quoting officials from the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources, Xinhua said the amendments were so extensive that the work was comparable to drafting a new law. At present, a draft of the amended legislation has six chapters and 71 articles. Under the amendments, local governments will not be able to sell farmland for any other purpose. 'Through control over the use of land, the state can strengthen its protection over farmland,' Xinhua said. NPC Standing Committee members Qu Geping and Wang Chaowen said the focus of the amendments should be on protecting farmland. They called for a more stringent land approval system to prevent abuses and urged lawmakers to speed up their work. Committee member Zhang Huaixi suggested setting up a warning system to prevent further encroachment on farmland by businesses. Arable land has become more and more scarce in recent years as local officials, ignoring Beijing's orders, have sold farmland to build golf courses or villas. Although there is no threat of an immediate food crisis, authorities fear a population expansion in the next century will put great pressure on food production and force the country to rely on imports.