China is considering drafting its first biosafety law to better regulate the country's use and development of modern biotechnology.
The law would regulate the controversial transgenic technology, according to the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).
Wang Dehui, director of the Department of Nature and Ecology Conservation under the SEPA, said the administration -- along with five other ministries covering agriculture, science and technology, quality supervision, quarantine and foreign affairs -- is now refining the details of the law before passing it to the National People's Congress for reading and ratification.
SEPA officials said "biosafety" refers to the potentially adverse effects caused by living modified organisms (LMOs) in research, development, usage and cross-border movement on biodiversity, the environment and human health.
"Such a law is urgent to ensure the country's overall safety in a wide range covering agriculture, pharmaceuticals, trade and the environment," Wang said.
Under the law, biotechnology in agricultural production needs to undergo risk evaluation and regular inspections to reduce harm to the ecosystem.
Transgenic plants with pest and disease problems could pose a threat to other organisms while killing viruses, SEPA officials said.
The law would also require risk evaluation on the mass production of transgenic foods to protect human health, Wang said.
The law would spell out rules for evaluating and inspecting alien species imports, including transgenic seeds, Wang said.
Xie Yan, a Chinese Academy of Sciences expert, said alien species are often carried over via imported products. Some of these species have a strong ability to adapt to local circumstances and may cripple the local ecology's resistance to pests and natural disasters by dramatically reducing the number of local species, Xie said.
The central government has supported the development of modern biotechnology to resolve problems with food production, pharmaceuticals and environmental conservation, Zhu Jianqiu said last month at an international workshop on biosaftey in Beijing.
But Zhu also said the international community needs to iron out recognized regulations and monitoring systems for the use of new technologies.
China signed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on August 8, 2000, SEPA said.
The country is tentatively operating a biosafety information exchanging centre with financial support from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to promote scientific co-operation and to share expertise internationally.
China's Ministry of Agriculture actually drafted regulations on trade of genetically modified agricultural products earlier this year.
The regulations require all imported genetically modified soybeans, corn, rapeseed, cottonseed and tomatoes to be clearly labelled GMO products.
Overseas firms exporting GMO products to China must obtain certificates from the ministry to ensure their goods are safe.
(China Daily April 8, 2002)