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People must not be guinea pigs in GM rice
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-12-13 08:43

Last Thursday, the Nanfang Weekend reported that authorities are still mulling over a decision about whether to commercialize genetically modified rice in China.

The Ministry of Agriculture, which is in charge of granting safety certificates for GM plants, will not make the decision until early next year.

The official decision is up in the air.

Even if some strains of GM rice are certified, the ministry says it will carry out field studies about its safety for at least two years.

There are concerns over GM rice although they have eased somewhat thanks to the authorities' prudence on the issue.

In recent years, the genetically modified organism (GMO) has been gaining popularity in many countries. Genetically altered soybean, cotton, corn and rape seed crops are available in the market.

China has approved field trials for rice, rape seed, corn, wheat, potato and soybeans derived from biotechnology since 1997. The Ministry of Agriculture only granted safety certificates for insect-resistant cotton, tomato, pimento and a species of morning glory.

So far, all these GM plants have only been used in clothing, food processing and animal feed.

There has not been any commonly accepted conclusion about the safety of GM food.

Its impact on human health, the environment and bio-diversity has not yet been thoroughly studied under current levels of science and technology.

Given the short time during which gene engineering technology has developed and been commercialized, it is impossible to fully explore the potential influence of GM food in these aspects.

When it comes to rice specifically, things are more complicated.

Rice is a traditional staple food for the Chinese.

It is already eaten every day without much alteration.

Experiments on animals for months or even several years are not enough to convince consumers that GM rice is safe for humans in the long run.

As well as this basic question, many others should be addressed - what are its effects on the soil it is planted in, and whether it will develop traits after it is planted or cause allergies in certain people?

Scientists do not yet have satisfactory answers.

Some supporters of GM rice said everything incurs risks when it generates benefits. It is not wise to give up the benefits for the potential risks.

But this is true only when the benefits overwhelm the risks. We do not yet know if this applies here.

People should not be used as guinea pigs with food they eat every day.

The authorities must treat the matter with more caution.

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