China delays GM rice, again

By Dominique Patton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Genetically modified organism, Gm

China, the world's biggest rice producer and consumer, has further
delayed the introduction of genetically modified rice amid growing
concerns about biosafety.

Chinese authorities approved several varieties of GM rice for human consumption in early 2005 but they never cleared the rice for licencing to farmers. Further discussion by the country's biosafety committee last month has brought no further progress in commercializing the crops. At its bi-annual meeting, the committee sent back Bt rice for more testing, one of its members, Lu Baorong from Shanghai Fudan University, told Reuters. Scientists say that the country is under growing pressure from the international community to safeguard biosafety. The latest decision to carry out further safety tests on GM rice follows a move by Europe to step up safeguards against US rice after it exported a shipment contaminated by a GM variety this summer. Neighbouring rice producers in Thailand and Vietnam have made public statements to reassure Europe of their non-GM status while Greenpeace continues to report on contamination of rice around the world with the GM variety from the US. Yet most scientists involved in China's GM research still expect the country to introduce GM rice once it has carried out further testing. China, with the world's largest population, and only 6 per cent of its arable land, needs to boost its food security. Biotechnology promises higher yields from crops that are fighting with urbanization for space. Xue Dayuan, responsible for the Chinese delegation to the UN's biosafety protocol, said there will be increasing funding allocated to GM research in coming years. "The Chinese government is getting richer so you can be sure that there will be more funding for all kinds of crops - rice, rapeseed, soy, wheat and corn,"​ he told AP-Foodtechnology.com. He said further safety testing could see the Bt rice, which contains a bacterial gene toxic to pests, being commercialized in two year's time. If it did, it would be the first country in the world to produce GMO rice, and the first to grow a GM crop largely consumed by humans. Other GM crops like soy are often first fed to animals. This is another factor thought to have led to China's cautious approach. "China does not want to be the first. Should something go wrong, it has to take the responsibility,"​ Chuk Ng, food scientist and managing director of Nutrogen (Dalian) Ltd., a specialist in organic food and food testing, told Reuters. In regulatory management and risk assessment experience, China is far behind foreign countries, like Europe or America .... The government is aware of this,"​ he said. Recent food safety problems have underlined weaknesses in China's risk management. In the last month, Beijing has had to remove eggs containing the carcinogenic dye Sudan Red from supermarkets, halt the sale of fish contaminated with chemicals and stop production of glass noodles made with an industrial bleach. Professor Xue says that China has increased its investment in biosafety, spending up to CNY100million on biosafety related to GM crops to date. New GM research projects are likely to see further spending in this area as China responds to the concerns of the EU, its biggest trading partner. "The government is under international pressure from NGOs and European countries. New projects will certainly include more biosafety research,"​ he said.

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