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Scientists to Stop Invasive Plants

International and Chinese scientists are busy preparing a national strategy to stop the invasion of invasive plant species, now annually costing China billions of US dollars. 

To prevent terrorists from using "genetically modified species" as weapons to attack the country and to safeguard national security will become an essential part of the strategy.


With a team of foreign scientists involved in the task, key elements of the strategy were discussed yesterday in Beijing at a three-day international workshop organized by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.


"We will submit them to the Ministry of Agriculture soon and I hope the central government approves final report as soon as possible," Sean Murphy, research group leader for the UK-based Centre for Applied Bioscience International told China Daily. Another nine scientists from four countries have been engaged in the drafting of the national strategy.


He said many thousands of cases of invasive species occurring throughout the world place all the more urgency on China to take active measures. Such invasive species are brought in from abroad only to end up harming local ecosystems, threatening native species and leading to losses in local biodiversity.


One widely circulated example is the water hyacinth, introduced from South America in the 1950s as pig feedstuff for Chinese farmers. Later, as people started using other feedstuff they stopped feeding pigs water hyacinth.


However, the species reproduced rapidly and spread in provinces such as south China's Guangdong and east China's Jiangsu and Fujian. The plant covers the surface of water and fights off other water plants and organisms and damages local ecosystems.


Local governments have spent a lot to get rid of it but all their efforts have yet to take effect.


Statistics indicate imported plants and animals that have proliferated in China cost the country nearly US$14.5 billion every year. Annual losses worldwide are about US$400 billion.


"Facing the tough situation, China's strategy should integrate measures adopted by international community as it opens wider to the outside world," said Wang Qingli, a Ministry of Agriculture director.


Wang Fanghao, senior researcher with Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said there are currently at least 400 invasive species in the country, ranging from terricolous plants to reptiles and micro-organisms.


More than 100 species may have exerted some substantial impact on the development of agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and fishery.


As chief scientist involved in the national strategy, Wang has suggested the country set up prevention and warning technology systems for major invasive species and rapid response plans.


"All in all, we need to set up a sound legal system to ensure the success of other work," said Wang.


Other priorities include setting up a nationwide data-sharing system, the capability to build early detection and reporting as well as rapid response system with sharpened public awareness.


(China Daily November 3, 2004)

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