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Scientists requested central government to plant GM crops

Updated: 2013-10-20 23:22
By Wang Qingyun ( China Daily)

Experts in genetically modified product research have revealed that they petitioned the central government in July to increase the production of genetically modified crops.

More than 60 academicians from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering signed the petition and submitted it to the government, said Li Ning, an academician from the Chinese Academy of Engineering and professor at China Agricultural University.

Speaking to China Daily on Sunday, Li, who also signed the petition, described the GM crop situation in China as "extremely grave".

China is one of the largest consumers of GM produce, but it currently depends on imports, rather than growing and selling its own GM crops, according to Li.

"Since 1996, when the United States started applying GM technology to planting soya beans, the cost of soya dropped dramatically, and China began to need to import such products," he said.

"About three-quarters of the soya on the Chinese market is imported. The government subsidizes soya farmers heavily, but they only produce about 12 million tons of non-GM soya every year, and their products are uncompetitive."

Among the GM staple crops in China, only cotton can be planted on a large scale and sold, said Huang Dafang, a researcher from the Biotechnology Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. He said this poses a threat to food security in China, especially when international food prices begin to rise.

Zhang Qifa, a professor at Huazhong Agricultural University and academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Southern Metropolis Daily that 61 academicians signed the petition in July and asked the Ministry of Agriculture to push for the planting of GM rice.

The two kinds of GM rice developed by his university were certified as safe by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2009, but the certificates will expire on Aug 17, 2014.

What's more, in order to go to the market, GM crops need not only a safety certificate, but also a certificate from agricultural authorities showing that they are profitable and can be introduced onto farms.

The two types of GM rice developed by the university were given safety certificates, but nothing more, and so they failed to become commercialized.

"The Ministry of Agriculture didn't work out a way to commercialize our GM rice due to public objections to GM products. It's a great pity," Zhang said.

In September, the Ministry of Agriculture posted on its website an interview with Lin Min, a member of the nation's committee to evaluate the safety of GM organisms, and stated that GM food is as safe as non-GM food.

The ministry's statement was partly in response to an article published in August by the Global Times, stating that scientific research projects "have proven GM food has a high correlation to tens of diseases such as tumors and infertility".

Both Huang and Li said that GM products certified by the ministry are safe to consume.

In 2012, French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini and his colleagues published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology the results of a two-year study on how GM maize produced by Monsanto Company, a chemical and agricultural company based in the United States, affected the health of rats. The research ignited more public concern over the safety of GM crops by claiming that GM foods increased the death rate and the incidence of tumors in rats.

However, the European Food Safety Authority later stated that the research was defective and its results unreliable.

In November 2012, the EFSA said on its website, "Serious defects in the design and methodology of a paper by Seralini et al. mean it does not meet acceptable scientific standards and there is no need to re-examine previous safety evaluations of genetically modified maize NK603."