Hundreds of Chinese get a taste of GM rice

Hundreds of people were invited via the Internet to taste genetically modified rice at restaurants in 23 cities across China on Sunday in a move to further promote GM foods to the general public.

Wu Xingchuan, editor-in-chief of the science website, the organizer of the event, said: "We are trying to get a message across to those who still doubt the safety of GM products: We believe that the GM rice is safe, and we are more than willing to eat it."

According to the first policy document issued by the Communist Party of China Central Committee in January, China will strengthen research and manage the safety of GM foods.

The rice variety that was tasted at the restaurants was a genetically modified Bt 63 strain developed by researchers at Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan, Hubei province. The name indicates that Bacillus thuringiensis is embedded in the plant's genetic makeup. It produces a natural pesticide that protects the plant.

The Bt 63 rice, together with another strain, Huahui 1, received safety certification in January for production for another four years, after the initial certificates expired in November.

That is only the first step in the commercial cultivation of GM rice. Another three certificates are required, including a production certificate and business certificate from the biosafety committee of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Chen Xiwen, deputy director of the Central Rural Work Leading Group, said last week that the fact that the two GM rice varieties have not been approved for commercial cultivation showed the country's cautious attitude toward GM food.

"We want them to test the safety for another four years. In a certain sense, it is not science that has failed to provide a verdict about their safety. The public media have not recognised them," he said.