New Laws to Guide Nation's Gene Work

China is drawing up biological safety laws in a bid to provide necessary supporting legislation for the administration of transgenic technology as well as of other biological technologies, a top official said Tuesday in Beijing.

"The impending laws will be in accordance with the relevant international conventions but will be tailored to China's particular needs," Xu Guanhua, minister of science and technology, told a press conference on the development of China's high-tech agriculture.

Besides strengthening the support of biological safety, China will also set up an efficient supervision system, according to Xu.

Over the past two decades, China has made remarkable achievements in the sector, especially in transgenic technology.

Xu revealed that so far China has successfully cloned over 100 kinds of genes and bred more than 180 species of transgenic plants, of which 15 species have been put into use.

However, China is quite cautious about the commercial use of the technology.

"Although we have got no proof that transgenic foods harm people's health, the possibility of potential dangers cannot be ruled out." Xu said.

By 1999, the world's planted areas of transgenic plants surpassed 40 million hectares. In China, however, pest-resistant cotton is the only kind of transgenic plant that has received permission for commercial production. The commercial use of transgenic grain, oil and food is still not allowed in the country.

China first began its agricultural gene research in the early 1980s. In the mid-1980s, biological technology was listed in the National High-tech Development Program, which is dubbed the 863 Program.

In the genetic engineering of plants, China has made remarkable achievements in pest and disease resistance, quality improvement, herbicide resistance.

According to an official report released Tuesday by Xu's ministry, by the end of 1996, the number of transgenic plant species on which China had been doing research reached 47, involving 103 kinds of genes.

The report, entitled the "Present Status of Chinese High-Tech Agriculture and Its Goal during the 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-05)," said China has also been quite successful in animal cloning, the breeding of transgenic animals, catching up with developments in transgenic techniques, reaching or even surpassing the world's most advanced levels in the field.

China has successfully cloned goats by adapting the fetus somatic cell of the transgenic goat and has successfully cloned goats by adapting an adult somatic cell, with the rate of success being 10 to 20 times that of the Dorly Sheep.

In addition, China has reached world advanced levels in research using radiation to improve crops and in the application of nucleon tracing techniques to agricultural chemicals.

The development of transgenic technology is only part of China's effort to develop high-tech agriculture, which is expected to improve the status of Chinese agriculture in the world.

For many years, Chinese agricultural products have been typified by their low-level technology, low added-value and weak competitive power. In 1999, the volume of exported Chinese agricultural products accounted for only 3.7 percent of the total volume of world agricultural exports, a figure out of whack with China's international status in world trade.

In a bid to change the situation, China has established a high-tech agriculture demonstration zone in Yangling, in northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

According to Cheng Andong, governor of Shaanxi Province, the zone has carried out international cooperation with the United States, Canada, Japan, Israel and many other countries and regions.

In November, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation and 14 other State Departments and Shaanxi Province will jointly sponsor the Eighth China High-tech Agriculture Fair, which is aimed to promote the industrialization of China's high-tech agriculture.

The seventh fair, held last November, attracted over 1.2 million people and US$186 million in foreign investment.

(China Daily 05/30/2001)

In This Series

China Clones Scores of Plants, Pigs, Sheep, Rabbits, Cows

Human Gene Therapy Worth Risks

Patenting to Protect More New Techniques

Genetically Modified Food: Safe to Eat?

Scientists Oppose "Gene Determining Theory"

China Makes Gene Chip to Test Early Leukemia



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