China is taking a series of measures, including drafting laws and regulations, to ensure biosafety amid growing use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) technology in the country.
"The State Environment Protection Administration (SEPA) is working with relevant ministries to draft the Law on Biosafety," said Wang Dehui, deputy-director of SEPA's Natural Resources Department at an international workshop on China's biosafety, which opened in Beijing Tuesday.
He said the Chinese government placed great importance on the development of modern biotechnology while keeping a wary eye on possible risks that may result from the technology.
Over the past 10 years, modern biotechnology has developed rapidly in China. One of the most visible and successful achievements is the development and commercial application of transgenic insect-resistant cotton.
By the end of 2002, the acreage of GM cotton in the country totaled 2.1 million hectares, accounting for 51 percent of the total cotton acreage.
Transgenic rice and potato were approved for environmental release three years ago, however, no transgenic staple food crops and oil crops have been approved for planting.
To guard against possible risks, China's State Council, or cabinet, issued the Regulation on Biosafety Administration of Agricultural GMOs in 2001.
The following year, the Ministry of Agriculture issued regulations on safety assessment, import and export and labeling of agricultural GMOs.
However, the country still lacks an explicit and uniform biosafety management coordinating framework, as the regulations mainly deal with agricultural products.
To boost its efforts in this regard, China issued its National Biosafety Framework in 1999 with the strong support of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and Global Environment Fund (GEF).
In 2002, UNEP and GEF approved the implementation of the framework and contributed some US$1 million to the project, which targets the improvement of China's legal system on biosafety and its capacity of its risk assessment on GMOs among others.
Over the past year, the project has achieved substantial results, including the completion of a report on the current status of research on transgenic plants and animals and risk assessment, said Dr Xue Dayuan, chief of the project's expert group.
In a written speech to the workshop, SEPA Deputy Director Zhu Guangyao said he believed the implementation of the framework would contribute a lot to the country's endeavor to ensure biosafety.
The three-day workshop has attracted nearly 100 officials and experts from more than 10 Chinese ministries, UNEP and GEF as well as representatives from a number of non-governmental organizations including the Greenpeace.
Piet Van der Meer, program manager of UNEP-GEF projects on Implementation of National Biosafety Framework, told Xinhua that the workshop would work out more details on the implementation of the project in China.
"I think the meeting will give a boost to the implementation of the project, and I expect that by 2005, China will have a sound system to ensure biosafety," he said.
SZE Pangcheung, Greenpeace Campaign Manager, said that he appreciated China's efforts to protect biosafety, adding that his organization planned to do some education work to tell people the difference between an indigenous crop and transgenic one.
(Xinhua News Agency October 29, 2003)