Agriculture minister reaffirms safety of GM foods

By Zhao Huanxin (China Daily)
Updated: 2014-03-07 07:20

In a rare display of confidence in the country's management of genetically modified food, China's top agriculture official said he eats GM food.

"I now also eat food processed from GM raw materials, specifically soybean oil, because it's mainly made from imported soybeans, most of which are genetically modified," Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu said while answering a China Daily question on the sidelines of the annual legislative session on Thursday.

The video clip and news report of the minister's remark went viral on the Internet on Thursday afternoon, a signal that the safety of GM food is a big public concern.

Soybean imports, Han said, have undergone a chain of stringent procedures and had passed safety tests in both exporting countries and in China.

Han's ministry previously said import certificates for GM crops in China had been awarded only for soybeans, corn, rapeseed, cotton and beets. These imports are only allowed to be used as raw materials for domestic processing.

The minister reiterated China's position on transgenic technology that the country must strive to keep up with the world's advanced level and that it must possess its own intellectual property rights.

China has already raked in profits from its GM research. GM cotton, for instance, has not only increased yield and income for farmers, but also drastically cut the use of pesticides, said the minister.

Transgenic cotton accounts for 95 percent of the Chinese market, he added.

"We've actually exercised extreme caution on GM plants," the minister said.

The country has worked out statutes and procedures covering GM research, testing, production, processing, trade, import permits and compulsory identification, he said.

Its transgenic research and application began with non-food plants, such as cotton, then on plants whose products are used for processing and for animal feed, and finally on crops whose products are directly for food, he said.

The country has not approved GM rice planting on a commercial basis, and anyone who breaches the regulations on planting or trading GM crops or products will be severely dealt with, Han said.

The minister also said China's grain imports will unlikely surge, though it will turn to the global market for an "appropriate" amount of imports.

Grain imports have increased over the past years, but not significantly, Han said.

Last year, China imported 13 million tons of grain, but the amount accounted for only 2.4 percent of the country's total grain consumption, Han said, adding that even if the country wanted to import more, there wasn't enough available in the world market.

He said that China will rely on domestic production for food security, and its grain production will be reinforced by supportive policies, improved technology and infrastructure, particularly in irrigation and agricultural mechanization.