Han Changfu told local media on the sidelines of the annual session of the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, that China is taking its time over such approvals.
“We have been cautious over GM food because we want to make sure that it is safe,” he said. In 2009, China granted bio-safety certificates to two pest-resistant GM rice varieties and one variety of corn.
At that time, China was said to be the first country to implement field trials for GM staple foods.
“The government has never allowed any other GM agricultural products to be planted except cotton and papaya,” said Han, adding that the country’s GM safety regime allowed for severe punishment for any unauthorised GM crop sales, planting and field trials.
China has seen a great deal of public discussion lately on the issue of GM foods, with celebrities joining netizens and experts to appeal for the consumer’s right to know when buying GM food products.
However, Han sought to dispel these fears, revealing that he himself consumes food containing GM ingredients. “I eat food processed from GM crops, soya bean oil to be specific,” he said.
In China, 90% of soybean oil, which accounts for more than half of cooking oil consumption, is made from GM soybeans.
“Whether GM food is safe or not should not be decided by departments or individuals, it should be decided by scientists following strict standards and procedures,” said Han.
China has set up a number of panels of experts to supervise GM crop safety management in the country. Currently, China’s laws require mandatory GM food labelling for 17 varieties of GM food products.