Make me your Homepage
left corner left corner
China Daily Website

Transparency and public discussion needed in GM food management

Updated: 2014-03-19 09:15
By Xin Zhiming (

China has probably become the world’s largest consumer of genetically modified (GM) grain after it imported a record-breaking 63.4 million tons of soybeans, mostly GM, in 2013. It’s a fact that calls for better policymaking transparency and full public discussion if policymakers and researchers want to win public understanding of the controversial crops.

Despite claims from domestic and international scientists that eating GM food does not pose any risk to human health, a large number of people have expressed concerns and raised questions as to the safety of GM crops.

GM crops result from the direct manipulation of an organism’s genome, using biotechnology for purposes such as raising yields and reducing the use of pesticides. In the manipulation process, however, some fear that there could be undesired genome mutation that poses risks to human health after people consume such food.

Transparency and public discussion needed in GM food management

 Xin Zhiming

In response to these concerns, scientists and researchers in the industry have simply shrugged them off as nonsensical and unfounded doubts by people ignorant of science.

Those scientists and researchers, in return, have been accused of being biased and bought by commercial interests.

While it will take time for the public and scientists to reach an ultimate consensus regarding the safety of GM food, policymakers and researchers should reflect on their ways of communication with the public to alleviate their concerns.

For example, many people wonder why, since the EU countries are generally very cautious on the raising and consumption of GM crops, has China has been so aggressive in introducing GM grain.

The EU, together with Japan, has imposed strict restrictions on the import of GM grain and food containing GM ingredients, mainly citing potential health risks.

In the latest move, France on Feb. 17 banned the planting of GM maize, citing environmental risks.

In contrast, Chinese scientists and researchers have been busy lobbying the government to commercialize the planting of GM rice, a staple food for most of the Chinese people. Policymakers have issued certificates and given the go-ahead to trial planting of GM rice.

Given the safety concerns from the public, it is better for Chinese scientists and policymakers to thoroughly explain why the EU and some other countries are so cautious and why China has been so hasty in introducing GM crops, especially a staple food such as rice. Such information would help the public better understand this stance and alleviate suspicions that the haste is tied to commercial interests.

Unrestricted public discussion is also indispensable. Opponents’ voices should not be repressed; instead, they should be allowed so that the public can hear the opinions of both sides, which will help them make reasonable decisions.

What has made many uneasy is that while they have failed to do that, top Chinese agricultural officials have given unreserved endorsement to GM crops and food, citing the many benefits of GM crops that pro-GM scientists claim they have, such as rising yields and the reduced use of pesticides.

For government officials, it is reckless to pick sides over such a controversial issue without respecting public opinions based on full information disclosure and discussion.

Previous Page 1 2 Next Page