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GM Rice Trigger Hot Debates in China|
2010-02-22 09:42:57 CRIENGLISH.com Web Editor: Liu Bing
Genetic modification has triggered hot debate in China, as the world's top producer and consumer of rice is strictly evaluating its safety before it would give a green light to grow genetically modified rice on a commercial scale.
Damin has more.
China's Agricultural Ministry declared last November that two strains of genetically modified rice are safe to produce and consume. But further approvals are required for the commercial introduction of biotechnology in the staple food crop, which experts say may take at least three years.
China has long supported research into agricultural biotechnology as part of a drive to ensure the country remains self-sufficient in staple crops.
According to scientists, the two strains, developed by Huazhong Agricultural University, would help reduce the use of pesticide by 80 percent while raising yields by as much as eight percent.
However, some experts and organizations remain skeptical about the safety of genetic modification, and have asked the government to think twice about the commercial production.
Fang Lifeng, Greenpeace China's food and agriculture campaigner, says researchers have found that genetically modified corn causes organ damage in rats, mostly in the liver and kidney.
"Based on preventive principles and the uncertainties of its safety, we should be more cautious about genetically modified food entering our food chain, especially transgenic rice."
Greenpeace also warns that the crop is a direct threat to the environment and biodiversity.
Luo Yunbo, a professor at the China Agricultural University, was a member of the assessment committee.
He refutes the doubts over the long-term risks of genetically modified food, and says approved strains are as safe as non-genetically modified varieties.
"Scientists won't risk people's health. They must provide concrete evidence to prove the safety of the strains before the government gives the green light to them. We won't bet on it and see the result several years later."
While the safety of the transgenic varieties remains a major dispute, some experts also voice concerns over the impacts on China's economic security.
Jiang Yong is a researcher at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.
While admitting that modified crops could have short-term benefits in boosting grain output, he warns that biotechnology may be used by international grain dealers to control China's grain production and trade.
Jiang Yong says those dealers use the so-called "terminator" technologies, under which plants are genetically programmed to become infertile after a set period of time, so that farmers have to return to the market to buy seeds every year.
"At first, those companies, including the U.S.-based Monsanto, provide seeds at a low price or even for free. Once the farmers become dependant on the seeds, they soon push up the prices. Sometimes, those seeds are even comparable to gold in terms of their prices."
What's more, the expert also says growing transgenic rice on a commercial basis may affect China's exporting of rice.
"Internationally, there are prevalent barriers on importing genetically modified products. Against the backdrop of increasing trade friction, it's unwise for China to grow transgenic rice on a major scale."
Damin, CRI news.