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No timetable for GM food sales

2014-01-16 09:27 Global Times Web Editor: Li Yan

China's agriculture ministry on Wednesday said that there is not yet a timetable for the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) food, while the safety certificates for the country's GM rice and corn expire soon.

Chen Xiaohua, vice-minister of the Ministry of Agriculture, stated that the ministry will continue to scrutinize the commercial production of GM food, as a response to a question on the expiration of China's first batch of safety certificates for GM rice and corn, which were issued in 2009.

The certificates are scheduled to expire this year but their commercial production is yet to be started.

Chen stressed China's "active and cautious" policy toward GM food.

The ministry will strengthen research and try to breed new GM strains with independent intellectual property rights as soon as possible, he said.

"By 'cautious,' I mean we will work to ensure safety in promoting and applying GM food. That's why we have made strict laws and regulations, and set up a whole set of safety evaluation mechanisms and a regulating chain involving various departments," said Chen.

"The remarks suggested that the commercialization of GM food cannot be approved in the short term due to public fears of its safety," Luo Yunbo, a food science expert with China Agricultural University, told the Global Times.

Luo added that the public don't have much knowledge about GM food, which increases their fear, especially as food safety issues have been a heated topic.

Although the government has stressed that research on GM products is encouraged, scientists may still feel disappointed and unconfident about the future of such research as it is costly and currently cannot make much profit, said Luo.

The promotion of GM food has been a controversial issue for a long time, as some scientists claim the growing food security problem China is facing can only be solved by planting GM crops, while the public is skeptical about its safety.

More than 60 scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering jointly submitted a letter to top authorities in July 2013, calling for promoting the planting of GM rice.

Zhangye in Northwest China's Gansu province banned any enterprises and organizations from growing, trading and using GM seeds, not products, in October 2013 in order to ensure the safety reputation of its agricultural products, which made it the first city in China to issue such a measure.

China has also issued safety certificates for GM strains of cotton and papaya, which may have been commercially planted already, China Radio International reported on Tuesday.

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