BEIJING, China—China is putting the research, production and sale of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) under strict scrutiny with the establishment of a safety certification process that will take effect March 20. The statute aims to protect people, animals and the environment, while pushing agro-biotechnology research, said Fang Xiangdong of the China Ministry of Agriculture's newly created GMO safety office.
The move has raised concerns in the US, a major GMO exporter to China. Soy exporters are particularly concerned. The US forecasts soy exports of US$1 billion to China in 2002, about 70 per cent of which is genetically modified. Washington is considering "the potential impact on US trade to China," a US embassy official said.
The new rules require all GMOs entering China for research, production, or processing to attain safety certificates from the Chinese government. Imports that lack safety certificates and relevant papers will be returned or destroyed.
As of March 20, 2002, genetically altered produce entering China has to be clearly labelled as GM products.
Industry analysts said the measures risk harming China's standing in the international community and may jeopardise their newly gained status as members of the World Trade Organisation.
"This comes as a great surprise to us because it is at a time when China is dramatically accelerating its investments in biotechnology," Charles Martin, vice president of corporate communications, Asia Pacific, at US-based Monsanto, told Reuters.
The fact that China is pouring huge funds into domestic research to develop GM crops such as corn, rice and cotton has surprised many. Others say China is simply looking after its farmers.
Japan's Foods for Specified Health Use (FOSHU), the world's first functional foods health-claim approval regulation for finished products, allows manufacturers to make specific health claims and use the FOSHU seal on food labels. It is the prime reason for the burgeoning functional foods market in Japan. Since its inception in 1991, 278 products have been approved; the market, now at US$2.5 billion, is growing at a rate of 18 per cent a year and is estimated to reach US$4.3 billion by 2005. The chart shows the breakdown of health claims by health category.
Source: Paul Yamaguchi & Associates