Opinion / Xin Zhiming

Labeling of genetically modified food

By Xin Zhiming ( Updated: 2014-05-28 14:23

The State Council claimed to strengthen labeling of foods containing genetically modified (GM) organisms on Tuesday, marking a step further toward proper handling of the controversial issue.

The statement is part of a State Council plan to improve food safety this year, indicating the authorities’ heightened alertness of the potential risks posed by the spread of genetically modified foods.

GM foods are highly controversial in China and many parts of the world, with some researchers claiming they are absolutely harmless while others doubt the potential health risks posed by the new strain of food items.

Adding oil to the fire, illegal secret planting of GM crops, such as rice, which is the main part of the Chinese diet, have been found in some parts of China, leading to public panic and anger.

Although the agricultural authorities have vowed to strengthen management of GM crops, those who oppose GM foods have claimed that regulators have simply paid lip service without taking meaningful regulatory steps.

While it takes time for proponents and opponents of GM foods to reach a consensus (if they can), it is right for China to require proper labeling of GM foods so that the public can have the right to choose whether they want to buy it. It is a pragmatic move that caters to the interests of all people before a persuasive scientific conclusion on the safety of GM foods is available.

China has had a food labeling regulation in place, which stipulates that GM foods and those containing GM ingredients must be properly labeled so consumers can choose.

In reality, however, the regulation has been largely ignored, with those who failed to abide by the law seldom getting punished.

The State Council’s new plan reiterated the labeling regulation, which shows the unequivocal stance of policymakers on management of GM foods. Still, it needs to be backed up by enforceable laws so that businesses producing and selling GM foods can be held accountable if they fail to toe the line.

The existing regulation on food labeling is quite lenient in meting out punishment for those who break the law. It only stipulates fines of up to 10,000 yuan ($1,600) for law-breakers. Given the great controversy of GM foods, it is necessary for the top legislators to revise relevant laws and mete out more severe punishments for those who violate the labeling stipulations.


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