Government officials and leading agricultural experts Wednesday denied that the Chinese government is using its recent regulations on genetically modified (GM) products as non-tariff barriers to keep out foreign imports.
"We have made it clear our only goal is to ensure the security of a new biotechnology at the very beginning of introducing our regulations," said an official with the Ministry of Agriculture.
"Our ministry has taken the move strictly in line with international practice, as a great number of countries, including Japan and some European Union members, have long implemented their own rules on GM foods."
The official, who declined to be named, stressed regulations on GM agricultural products do not and will not target the imports of such products from abroad.
Meanwhile, Li Tairan, an official with the Ministry of Health, said his ministry has stepped up its overseeing of GM foods with a view to tackling growing concern over the safety and huge consumption of such foods in the country.
They made the comments in response to a Dow Jones Newswires report on Tuesday which alleged China is trying to shield its farm sector from the bumps brought on by the World Trade Organization (WTO) membership with regulatory import barriers to block GM agricultural products.
The agriculture and health ministries put two separate rules on GM foods into effect respectively on March 20 and July 1. According to the rules, producers and importers of GM foods must apply for permission, and all GM farm products on sale in China are required to bear a special "GM Food" label.
Although these rules will not be enforced until early next year, talk of their implementation has triggered worries among major foreign agricultural exporters and people in the industry that they could disrupt trade.
The Dow Jones Newswires reported that leading Chinese agricultural researcher Huang Jikun said the rules on GM agricultural products are partially an attempt to protect China's farm sector from the impact of its WTO entry.
But Huang, director of the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told China Daily the Dow Jones Newswires misquoted him.
"During my interview with the newswire, I repeatedly stressed that the government's introduction of rules on GM foods is aimed at more effectively controlling the security of the new biotechnology and the safety of such foods," he said.
"These rules have nothing to do with policy barriers to block imports of foreign GM agricultural products."
The director said he once mentioned that Japan and some European countries have managed to use their regulations on GM foods as non-tariff barriers to protect local farmers, which may set an example to other countries.
"But I regret that the Dow Jones Newswires misinterpreted my meaning in a one-sided way by describing a possibility as something that has happened," Huang said.
The researcher said the Chinese government has always held a positive attitude towards the development of GM technology and will push ahead with the commercialization of GM plants.
But he warned against the emergence of gene contamination if the government fails to establish a sound set of rules to tighten control over related research.
(China Daily July 11, 2002)