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Bio-pirates 'looting' resources
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China remains vulnerable to bio-pirates who plunder its biological resources such as plants, animals and their genetic material, a senior environment official has said.

Wu Xiaoqing, deputy head of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), said in a recent interview in Beijing that foreign companies patent the stolen resources and then sell them on the Chinese and world markets.

The fate of China's wild soybean genes, Wu said, is a perfect example. Of the 20,140 plant resources the United States was said to have imported from China as of June 30, 2002, 4,452 were soybeans. Of those, the number of wild soybean resources was 168.

However, an independent agricultural analyst said that only 2,177 resources were approved by Chinese authorities and wild soybeans were not even on the list.

"That is why China, the native soil of soybeans and home to more than 90 percent of the global wild soybean resources, is now the world's largest importer of the crop," the analyst said. "The majority of our soybean resources have been patented by other countries," he said.

In addition, Wu said that 20 to 40 percent of China's biological resources are currently under threat because of serious environmental degradation and land development.

Legislation should serve as the backbone for protecting China's biodiversity, he said.

More than 40 countries have so far implemented laws and regulations relating to this issue, he said.

Legislation here had been under discussion for five years, but it was not until October that the SEPA and 15 other ministries jointly enacted a preliminary outline, he said.

By 2020, the conservation of China's biological species will experience a "qualitative, comprehensive" change from the current position, the document said. Biodiversity conservation is already part of the central government's 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10) for national socioeconomic development.

(China Daily December 14, 2007)

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