It will be at least a couple of years before any
genetically modified (GM) rice is consumed in China, a Ministry of
Agriculture official said on Thursday.
Agricultural authorities are currently examining
several strains but, until yesterday, no safety certificates had
The ministry's biosafety committee is assessing
several insect and disease-resistant rice crops, and is likely to
make decisions early next year.
Even if any of these strains are certified, they
will have to undergo up to two years' field studies before
proceeding to commercialization, said biosafety office director
The biannual GM organisms safety assessment meeting
held this week in Beijing has stirred widespread attention among
the public, as it might lead to commercialization of genetically
altered rice in China.
While the world has seen increasing growth in GM
soybean, cotton, corn and rapeseed crops, GM rice has not been
China, where rice is the main food crop, is
proceeding with caution in its research and development.
In a statement made available to China Daily
on Thursday, the Ministry of Agriculture said the country has made
headway in GM paddy rice research in recent years.
A few developers applied for assessment of their
strains this year, whose yields they claimed are able to resist
pests, diseases, weed killer and can be stored for a long time,
according to the statement.
The ministry declined to identify the developers,
but said they are all Chinese institutions.
It is conducting food safety tests as well as
assessing environmental impact, and strains will have to pass these
before getting the go-ahead for small-scale trial production, the
Since 1997, China has approved field trials for
rice, rapeseed, corn, wheat, potato and soybeans derived from
biotechnology. It only granted safety certificates for
insect-resistant cotton, tomato, pimiento and a species of morning
Professor Zhu Zhen of the Chinese Academy
of Sciences' Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology is
applying for safety assessment of a GM rice strain.
He said they could improve production, and reduce
costs and environmental pollution through minimizing the use of
He was not sure if the application would be
approved, as the issues around GM organisms are very complicated,
and the authorities are very prudent in this regard.
Although acknowledging the role of biotechnology in
improving rice quality and production, Zhu Youyong, president of
Yunnan Agricultural University, said that in the long run a better
method of resisting pests and disease would be biodiversity.
The Beijing branch of Greenpeace yesterday
expressed its concern about developing GM rice strains.
"China is a center of origin of rice," said a
statement from the organization. "The biggest danger is the
contamination of wild and conventional rice varieties with GM rice,
which can encourage more troublesome weeds and will lead to the
loss of wild species."
For commercialized GM crops, the Ministry of
Agriculture said it has established a nationwide supervision and
monitoring system to ensure goods are safe for people, animals and
It says it has set up biosafety branch offices at
27 local agricultural departments, has formed a risk prevention
mechanism and will put GM organisms under long term monitoring.
It also requires all genetically altered soybeans,
corn, rapeseed, cottonseed and tomatoes to be clearly labeled as GM
products when they hit the market.
(China Daily December 3, 2004)