China's agricultural authority announced Tuesday that it has rejected the national legislature's proposal to set aside special zones for the cultivation of non-GMO (genetically modified organism) soybeans, saying such a step would mislead the public about GMO products.
The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) said on its official website that it disagrees with lawmakers' proposal to set up separate non-GMO reserves, though it noted that relevant departments must further investigate and evaluate the proposed policy. The MOA's statement also noted that China has not authorized large-scale commercial planting of GMOs.
However, an earlier statement released on the MOA's website in June said the government would provide 5.6 million yuan ($840,659) in subsidies for the development of non-GMO soybeans in order to improve food quality and decrease costs.
"There is little difference between the cultivation of non-GMO and GMO soybeans, and they have the same quality. So reserves [for non-GMO] soybeans seem like a gimmick and are not necessary at all," Lu Baorong, a biology professor at Fudan University, told the Global Times.
GMO food has long been a controversial topic in China, as many people oppose the technology for fear that it will jeopardize human health, the viability of Chinese farmland or both.
"No matter where the GMOs come from, they must be marked as GMO products during [food] safety assessment," Lu said.
Tan Zhijuan, a national legislator from North China's Heilongjiang Province, called for creating a special GMO cultivation zone during the government's 2016 two sessions, saying the measure would restore Heilongjian's soybean acreage to its 2010 level of 4.3 million hectares, China Economic Net reported in March.
At the 2012 two sessions, national advisory body member Sun Dongsheng and National People's Congress member Li Jichun called for the planting of only non-GMO soybeans in Heilongjiang to "secure land for non-GMO soybeans against contamination," China Youth Daily reported.
China imported some 820 million tons of soybeans in 2015, the equivalent of the harvest of 333 square kilometers of farmland in China, according to the People's Daily.