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Transgenic Rice Seeds Still Await Go-ahead

China strictly supervises its transgenic rice research and production, and no such seed has been approved for the market, according to agriculture officials.

"Scientists are still conducting research on transgenic rice," Yang Xiongnian, deputy director of the science, technology and education division under the Ministry of Agriculture, said on Friday.

"We are at the last stage of safety evaluation."

Unlike some countries which promoted transgenic agricultural products mainly for commercial reasons, food and environmental safety are top priorities for China, Yang told China Daily.

Research has mainly been carried out in Hunan and Hubei provinces, with a variety of transgenic rice seeds being tested, Yang said.

But he noted the benefits of transgenic rice have yet to be proved.

According to regulations, transgenic plants must undergo lab experiments, pilot tests and production experiments before they get safety certificates for commercial promotion.

But even after all of these steps are taken, market acceptance is a crucial factor.

Yang cited cases in the United States, where some transgenic wheat seeds, although proven safe, were not accepted by consumers.

China has so far approved transgenic cotton, potato, miniento and morning glory seeds, but only transgenic cotton seeds have proven popular with farmers.

China's annual cotton production exceeded 7 million tons last year.

Figures from the management office of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) Biosafety under the ministry show that -- between 2002 and 2007 -- it approved experiments of 2,361 transgenic seeds of a variety of agriculture plants, with 1,109 receiving safety certificates.

But no transgenic rice seeds have been approved for the market, said the office director.

Huang Dafang, an expert in GMO research at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said earlier that transgenic technology should be "bravely explored" if it benefits people.

But Beijing resident Hu Xiao said he "wants more information on these new types of food" to make free choices between transgenic and common products.

(China Daily January 26, 2008)

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