Draft law on GM food online to solicit comments

Updated: 2012-02-23 13:31

By Jin Zhu (China Daily)

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BEIJING - China plans to set up a strict law on the management of genetically modified food in response to nationwide concerns about the safety of related agricultural products.

The draft of a new grain law was posted on the website of the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council on Tuesday for public comment until the end of March.

The draft requires that all activities related to GM seeds, including scientific research, field trials, production, sales, imports and exports, be carried out in accordance with the country's regulations.

It is forbidden to use GM technology to develop principle grain cultivars without approval in advance, according to the draft.

The move is seen as a major effort by the central government to deal with safety concerns of GM food.

In 2009, the Ministry of Agriculture issued bio-safety certificates to two strains of pest-resistant GM rice and corn in what was considered a major development in promoting the research and planting of GM crops.

The strains still need registration and production trials - which will take three to five years - before commercial planting can possibly begin, according to the ministry.

The certificates triggered great worries and queries among the public and professionals since the safety of GM technology has not been verified in many countries.

"It showed that authorities now are cautious when dealing with GM food, which could be helpful to prevent GM technology from being abused," Jiang Gaoming, professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Botany, told China Daily.

"Since it is just a draft document now, the government has to make its final decision as soon as possible," he said.

"Currently, there are too many loopholes and weak controls over GM food and technology in China. More clarified and detailed regulations are needed," said Fang Lifeng, a campaigner for Greenpeace China's food and agriculture project.

Agricultural professionals said the draft is the country's first law to ensure grain safety by stabilizing output and intensifying control and supervision over the market.

The draft includes stipulations concerning the safeguarding of grain production and encourages producers to improve storage conditions to ensure quality.

According to the draft, producers are forbidden from processing mildewed grain or grain that has been contaminated by pesticide residue or heavy metals. Contaminated vehicles and packing materials are also banned from transporting grain.

The production, circulation and sale of edible vegetable oil will also be under scrutiny, as it is a daily necessity for most people, the draft said.

The draft states that provincial-level governments are responsible for regional production, circulation, storage and regulation enforcement to ensure quality and supplies.

To ensure market order, the draft bans traders from spreading rumors, manipulating prices, monopolizing the market or cheating customers.

Lu Bu, a researcher in agricultural resources and regional planning at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said that the draft is timely as the country's agricultural production has been increasingly threatened by rapid industrialization and urbanization.

"Similar laws for ensuring grain safety also exist in many developed countries as agricultural production is easily being ignored due to advanced urbanization," he said.

"For instance, in the United States, grain quality has been listed as a top concern rather than grain output, which should be taken as a reference for China," he said.

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