China to seek boost in GMO popularity

By Chen Heying Source:Global Times Published: 2015-2-3 23:48:02

Govt to beef up public awareness

The Chinese government will seek to beef up public awareness of genetically modified organisms (GMO), related studies and the supervision of these crops and to become a world leader in GMO technology, agricultural regulators said on Tuesday.

It is the first time that the central government has emphasized the popularization of GM technology in the "No.1 Central Document" - a document that lays out the government's agricultural priorities that has been released every January since 2004.

In previous documents the authorities mainly stressed the promotion of GM research. This year's campaign will see the spreading of knowledge about GMOs so that the public can have a clear and comprehensive understanding of this technology, Han Jun, deputy head of the office for the central leading group on agricultural work, said at a press conference. He added that many Chinese people still "turn pale" at the mere mention of GMOs.

"GM technology is very promising and we must stand on top of GM research as China has quite limited agricultural resources … Our GMO market should not be saturated by foreign brands," said Han. China is a major importer of GM produce, including soybean, rapeseed, cotton and corn. China imported over 71 million tons of soybeans in 2014, the bulk of which were GMOs, according to Han.

Experts agreed that widespread misunderstandings about GM food have hampered the research and commercialization of GM food in China while the latest efforts at popularizing GM technology indicate that the government will now pay greater attention to this field as China has lagged behind.

"Food security will be in grave peril if we remain largely dependent on the import of GM food and if China fails to take the initiative to develop GM technology," said Luo Yunbo, a GM food expert with the China Agricultural University.

Medical advancements aided by GM technology will also lag behind if China fails to further GM research, Luo noted.

"A technology that is not tested by the market cannot progress. But now some people who reject GM food due to safety concerns, will hinder its commercialization," Luo said.

Currently, only papayas and cotton have received clearance for commercial GM production in China.

GMO supporters believe the technology can increase yields on marginal lands, reduce use of chemical and help increase levels of vitamin A and iron in crops.

But opponents argue that the long-term effects of GMOs on humans and the environment are still unclear.

In order to prevent public panic over GM food, the Ministry of Agriculture urged local governments to crack down on advertisements that hint that non-GM food is safer, according to a circular issued on January 22.

Xinhua contributed to this story

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