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  • Chinese public 'cautious over GM food'

Most Chinese urban consumers favour non-genetically modified (GM) food, and more than 80 per cent think transgenic food products should be labelled, according to a survey commissioned by Greenpeace.

The results of the survey, released late last week, also indicate that more than 40 per cent of consumers would choose a non-GM product even if it cost 10 per cent more than a GM counterpart.

"The survey shows that China’s urban consumers are basically the same as consumers in the developed countries, with the majority favouring non-GE [genetically engineered] food once they are given the right to choose,’’ says Sze Pang Cheung, GM campaigner for Greenpeace China.

The survey, which was carried conducted by Zhongshan University out among 1,000 citizens of the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, was carried out amid rising consumer concern about GM crops in China. Such concern escalated after Greenpeace revealed late last year that the company Nestlé was selling non-labelled GM food in China.

Sze says that the Chinese government has wisely taken a cautious approach in commercialising GM food crops because it is uncertain whether the market will accept GM food. "Food producers and supermarkets should also recognise and act on consumers’ demands and eliminate GE ingredients from their products,’’ she says.

Agricultural experts estimate that since 2001, China has imported more than 20 million tons, of GM food per year, most of which is soybean used to product edible oil.

Regulation on the safety of GM organisms, which was introduced by the State Council, China’s cabinet in May 2001, stipulates that all products containing GM ingredients should be labelled after July 2002. China’s Ministry of Health also required in April 2002 that all food must be labelled after July 2002.

But some have expressed concern that the regulations and rules have been poorly enforced. So far, few foods containing GM ingredients sold in China’s supermarkets or stores have been labelled.

As a result, most Chinese consumers are unaware that GM products are currently being sold in China. Greenpeace’s survey confirmed this, indicating that 64 per cent of Guangzhou citizens do not know that GM food products are already sold in supermarkets.

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