Eating event adds spice to GM food debate

By Zhang Lei and Zhong Nan in Beijing ( China Daily ) Updated: 2013-10-23 07:42:35

'Better safe than sorry'

Another reason behind the public distrust of GM foods is the lack of an effective supervision and management system or transparency of information, according to Zheng Yujie, a researcher at the Industry Research Center of CIConsulting in Shenzhen. "Although in some other countries, people also have questioned the use of GM foods, the public attitude (in those countries) is generally calm," he said.

The dilemma was highlighted in August 2012, when a group of children from Hunan province, ranging from 6 to 8 years old, were fed "golden" rice as part of an experiment. Crucially however, the researchers failed to obtain the consent of the children's guardians.

The parents were outraged, despite the researchers' insistence that GM rice is rich in beta carotene, a pigment known to be beneficial to eyesight and the immune system, which helps prevent vitamin A deficiency in children.

The incident hampered public recognition of GM foods, even though no proof that GM rice is unsafe has been published. "Because of such incidents, people inevitably have increasing doubts, even in the face of scientific fact. There is poor supervision of the labeling of GM foods, but even when the products are properly labeled, many people tend to avoid them, because of a 'better safe than sorry' mentality," said Lin.

He expressed the hope that an independent third party or the Ministry of Agriculture will conduct experiments and make the results public to dispel some of the public disquiet. One of the most-widespread rumors about GM foods, that they can cause cancer and sterility, was officially denied by the Ministry of Agriculture, which issued a wide range of evidence to back its claims, on Oct 17. Lin described the government's move as "a good start".

As China has already permitted import of five types of GM products - soybeans, corn, oilseed rape, cotton and beets - Jiang Tao called on the public to overcome the fear of genetic modifications. "I, for one, oppose the concept of 'pure and natural'. It's an absurd concept and only means something in aesthetics. In all other areas, it is meaningless," he said.

"We humans actually cannot directly eat pure, natural food, because the vast majority of natural fruits have their own self-protection mechanisms, such as toxins or thorns. The food we humans can eat has evolved simultaneously with us. We have changed the original form of our food for thousands of years now. "

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