China has delayed the introduction of GM rice and GM corn (genetically modified rice and corn) as its government is struggling to convince the Chinese public, who believe that GMOs are unsafe.
The move follows a large public scandal in December 2012 after three officials who had approved and conducted a controversial test of genetically modified (GM) rice on school children in central China’s Hunan Province were sacked.
The officials were punished for “violating relevant regulations, scientific ethics and academic integrity,” according to a statement jointly released by Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), Zhejiang Academy of Medical Sciences, and Hunan provincial CDC.
The world’s largest rice producer and consumer gave safety approvals to Bt rice and phytase corn in 2009, but has not yet begun commercial production, even though it has already spent billions of yuan on research, Reuters reported.
“There are some debates … We have not given the public enough knowledge about GM crops,” Peng Yufa, a member of the GM crop biosafety committee under the Ministry of Agriculture, told reporters.
“The crops have to be accepted by consumers who are willing to buy and by farmers who are willing to grow,” Peng said, adding that the process may take five years.
The public remains “very concerned” about the safety of GM crops, senior agricultural official Chen Xiwen said.
China is already the world’s biggest buyer of GM soybeans and also the largest grower of GM cotton.
“We have slowed down, especially since 2009, and that is not normal. It might be fine for Europe to slow down but China can’t,” Huang Dafang, a researcher with the Biotechnology Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said last week.
Beijing-based Origin Agritech Ltd, which has the rights to sell phytase corn, had earlier expected production this year.