From: Joe McDonald, Associated Press
Published December 2, 2004 12:00 AM

China Denies Planning Commercial Sales of Genetically Modified Rice

BEIJING − The Chinese government said Thursday it is testing the safety of genetically modified rice but denied claims by environmentalists that it is preparing to allow commercial sales.


The announcement, carried by the government's Xinhua News Agency, came a day after the group Greenpeace appealed to Beijing to reconsider what it said were plans to sell genetically modified rice, warning of threats to public health and agricultural diversity.


"Launching evaluation procedure doesn't mean that we will issue safety certification to them. We didn't make any decision yet," Xinhua quoted an Agriculture Ministry official as saying. "So far, there is no GM rice varieties in China being issued with safety certificates."


The Chinese government is researching genetic engineering of a wide range of crops, hoping to increase farm output as it copes with a shortage of farmland and the need to feed a population of 1.3 billion people.


China has seen little of the debate that has raged abroad about the possible dangers of genetically modified, or GM, crops.


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A report released by Greenpeace on Wednesday said China might be just weeks away from becoming the first government to permit the commercial use of GM rice.


The Agriculture Ministry official, who wasn't identified further by Xinhua, said rice varieties being tested had a range of characteristics such as resistance to insects, diseases, weed killers and long-term storage.


China is expected to produce 455 million metric tons of rice this year, but that will barely meet the country's needs, Xinhua said, citing government statistics.


"GM grain could largely promote yield, decrease cost and alleviate pollution caused by widespread use of dangerous pesticides. That's also our aim in the long run," Xinhua quoted Zhu Zhen, a professor at the Institute of Genetics and Biology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as saying.


The institute has applied for a safety evaluation of a strain of insect-resistant GM rice, the report said.


Xinhua, which rarely quotes government critics or views opposing official policy, took the unusual step Thursday of citing a Greenpeace expert who warned of possible dangers.


"Rice is often subject to only minimal processing before eating, and certain groups such as infants could be particularly at risk," the expert, Doreen Stabinsky, was quoted as saying.


Despite the warnings, the Agriculture Ministry official said China planned to stick to its principle of "scientifically planning, actively researching, steadily advancing and strengthening management" in promoting the GM technology research and utilization, Xinhua said.


"China will stick to the principle on the issue of GM rice," said the official.


Source: Associated Press


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