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Concern over GM food as US corn returned

2014-07-02 08:45 Global Times Web Editor: Li Yan

Scientists refute safety issues after modified strain found in shipments

The announcement that quarantine authorities have returned 1.25 million tons of US corn shipments after detecting an unapproved genetically modified (GM) strain has triggered concern among Chinese consumers.

Lu Chunming, an official with the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), said at a Monday press conference that Chinese authorities have detected the GM strain MIR162 in US corn shipments since October last year when the first batch of MIR162-tainted corn was found in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province.

MIR162 is a kind of insect-resistant transgenic corn from Syngenta, a Swiss-based bio-technology company, and is not approved by China's Ministry of Agriculture (MOA).

The decision to refuse the corn has seen a public debate over GM food safety, with some scientists saying the concerns are groundless.

"Rejection is an act of popularization of science too," Cui Yongyuan, a former TV host and a firm opponent of GM food, wrote on his Sina Weibo.

His opinion was opposed by Fang Zhouzi, an expert in chemical biology and a GM food supporter.

"Cui has given the public misleading messages. The authorities returned the shipments not because they contain genetically modified products, but because it's not approved for import yet. China has approved other GM strains already," Fang told the Global Times.

Niu Dun, vice-minister of the MOA, told Reuters in March that China is in the process of approving MIR162, and the exact time will depend on the ministry's bio-safety committee.

The AQSIQ also called on Monday for strengthened control on inspection and asked port branches to return or destroy unapproved GM agricultural products.

"Companies should make clear in contracts that exporters must follow Chinese regulations and laws for their exports of corn and dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS)," it added.

Seven shipments totaling over 1,277 tons of unapproved GM DDGS, material used as animal feed, were burnt in Fangchenggang, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on June 15, according to the local government's website.

"The authorities are responding to public pressure which questions the allegedly loose management of GM food. They are trying to prove otherwise," Fang noted, adding that the rejected shipments from the US could be exported to South Korea, where the new strain is approved, but Chinese businesses may suffer financially.

Jia Zhaowu,China's first online community of animal husbandry, said that imports of GM corn and soybeans take up a large proportion of the Chinese market and few animal feed companies can weed out GM materials when domestic production is unable to meet the demand.

"GM food is usually cheaper as the yield is better but it needs less insecticide. China has the full potential to develop our own GM corn to win our share in the global food market where genetic modification is on the rise," Fang said.

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