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New carp species to extend scale of GM produce

By ZHANG ZHIHAO | China Daily | Updated: 2017-09-14 06:42
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Muddying the waters

Chinese scientists have also developed a dozen other species of GM fish, including catfish, tilapia and bream. Despite their potential, Wang said it will not be easy for them to reach the market.

AquaBounty's salmon was stuck in regulatory limbo for two decades before it was approved in the US in 2015. Last year, Canada approved sale of the fish, despite wide-spread opposition.

Although the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization have stated that GM foods which have undergone rigorous scientific research and are approved by law are safe for consumption, there are still a number of potential negatives.

Massive cultivation of a single GM crop can potentially undermine biodiversity, introduce mutated genes into the environment, transfer allergenic and antibiotic-resistant genes to other animals, and allow the private sector to dominate the market.

According to Wang, China has enacted more than a doz-en laws to regulate transgenic organisms since 1993. While imported GM soybeans and corn are used as feed for livestock, human consumption of GMO foods is still banned, with the exception of cooking oil and papayas.

Growing public concern

A survey of more than 2,400 people conducted by CAS' Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy between 2002 and 2012 indicated that public acceptance of GM foods fell dramatically during the period, from 67 percent to 31 for GM rice and from 55 percent to 23 for GM soybeans.

The survey also found that knowledge of GM crops remains low. About 50 percent of those interviewed in 2012 said they knew nothing about the effects of GM foods on humans, while 45 percent said they had a negative effect, a rise of 32 percent from 2002.

Negative media coverage, false information on the internet and China's rising imports of GM crops were among the reasons for the controversy, the survey found.

Wang is concerned that the guanli could face the same public pushback as the US salmon. As a result, he said the promotion of such fish should be conducted meticulously to avoid an outcry.

"While we can make the fish as safe as possible, we also need clearer laws and guide-lines on the farming, labeling, selling and export of GM organisms," he said.

Despite that, he is optimistic about the eventual acceptance of GM foods. "For two centuries, Europeans thought tomatoes were toxic. It takes time for people to accept new things," he added.

"Scientists and the media should take every opportunity to educate people. Knowledge and rationality should leap onto the table first, before GM carp."

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