China has delayed the introduction of genetically modified rice and corn as it tries to head off public fears, leading government scientists said yesterday.
Public's fears delay China's production of GM food.[File photo]
The world's largest rice producer and consumer gave safety approvals to Bt rice and phytase corn in 2009, but has not yet begun commercial production, even though it has already spent billions of yuan on research.
"There are some debates ... We have not given the public enough knowledge about GM crops," Peng Yufa, a member of the GM crop biosafety committee under the Ministry of Agriculture, told reporters.
"The crops have to be accepted by consumers who are willing to buy and by farmers who are willing to grow," Peng said, adding that the process may take five years.
The public remains "very concerned" about the safety of GM crops, senior agricultural official Chen Xiwen said, but it was inevitable China would import GM crops in the future.
The large-scale introduction of GM crops has been seen as a crucial part of China's efforts to feed a fifth of the world's population using less than a 10th of the world's arable land.
Senior officials in China have acknowledged the challenges of maintaining food security as the country urbanizes.
China is already the world's biggest buyer of GM soybeans and also the largest grower of GM cotton.
"We have slowed down, especially since 2009, and that is not normal. It might be fine for Europe to slow down but China can't," Huang Dafang, a researcher with the Biotechnology Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said last week.
Beijing-based Origin Agritech Ltd, which has the rights to sell phytase corn, had earlier expected production this year.
Last year, developing countries, particularly Brazil, for the first time accounted for more than half the global biotech crop area, though the United States remains the top consumer of genetically altered crops.