Political advisers call for open-mind on GMO

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At this year's two sessions, discussion of Genetically Modified Food has been a heated topic among the country's political advisers.

When it comes to the subject of GM foods, the public have a lot to say.

"As consumers, we can't tell the differences between GMO and non-GMO. Some food we eat daily must contain GMO. Many say that cherry tomatoes and purple sweet potatoes have both been genetically modified. Now no one has stepped forward to say what is GMO."

"I don't really know about GMO. Some say it is good and others say otherwise. Maybe I have mistakenly eaten some GM food. I'm not sure."

To address the public concern, Chen Xiwen, a political advisor and director of the central agricultural work leading team office, says China has been strengthening the research and supervision of technologies of GM food, and promoting them carefully on the basis of security.

China had so far only approved the domestic growth of GM papaya and cotton, and allowed the import of GM soybeans, corn, rapeseed and beets from overseas, with the stipulation that the imported GM crops can only be used as feed for animals and in the manufacture of oil.

"GM soybeans can resist herbicide. So the technology mainly works to improve the plants' resistance which will also reduce costs for farmers and pollution. Cotton plants are genetically modified to fend off attacks from cotton bollworm. And GM papaya can resist viruses. GM technology doesn't increase production but it does improve resistance."

Chen admits, however, that GM corn has been illegally planted in a number of places in China, reflecting gaps in official supervision.

Chen has vowed to take immediate actions against such illegal conduct.

Bio-technologists are voicing their support for a technology that, they feel, will add new varieties to people's diet and also better quality.

Luo Yunbo, dean of college of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering in China's Agricultural University, says the development of GM technology is a primary solution to the food issue.

"With the growth of our population, our demands on food are also developing: we want higher quality and more variety. When it comes to resolving food issues, there are only two solutions: one is land; the other is the technology. In China, we do not have much potential left on the land part. The farmland is shrinking in the face of increasing urbanization. So we need to speed up on the technology. If we have the technology and breed good crops, we will have the advantages in the market and in strategy."

Political adviser Peng Yufa adds that China has lagged behind countries such as the U.S. in terms of GM fish due for various reasons.

"The world's first GM fish was developed here in China back in 1980s. There has always been controversy over GM fish but not in terms of food safety, but out of concern for the environment. Also, we have a relatively a small number of researchers working in the field and saw no great demand in the marketplace. The technology was then shelved for over a decade. And now, the U.S. has become the first country to commercialize GM fish."

Last year, U.S. regulators gave the green light to imported GM salmon, becoming the world's first country to allow this variety as food.

Political advisor Chen Xiwen pointed out that GM technology, as a new thing to the public, draws many doubts and questions from the mass.

He stresses that stricter scientific tests and information disclosure are important before any GM food are put on the market.

"Chinese government has always been sticking to three principles about GM food. First, GM technology is a cutting-edge highland of contemporary life science and biological science. Second, any GM goods that are being commercially produced or enter the market need to come through strict scientific test, and are not allowed to appear on the market until proved safe. Third, the consumers' rights to know and select on their own should be guaranteed."

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