A ban on the growing, sale or use of genetically modified (GM) seeds issued recently in Zhangye, Gansu Province, has put the city under the national spotlight amid the current heated debate on GM food.
In a document released on October 25, the Zhangye government said that no organization or company can grow, trade or use GM seeds in the area, which makes it the first city in China to ban the planting of GM crops, news portal people.com.cn reported Thursday.
The city, which promotes itself as "Golden Zhangye" for its production of corn seeds and green organic products, issued a package of measures, with one being the ban on GM seeds, to promote the safety of agricultural products and their brand image, the government said in the regulation.
In 2012, corn seed production in Zhangye reached 461,000 tons, representing 29.4 percent of the country's total corn seed output.
The ban is at odds with regulations from the Ministry of Agriculture, which does not forbid the production or use of GM seeds, Yan Jianbing, a professor of the College of Life Science and Technology at the Wuhan-based Huazhong Agricultural University, told the Global Times on Thursday.
Yan also said that at this point, the regulation is meaningless because GM corn has not yet begun proper commercialization in the country, but that the regulation is probably aimed at ensuring the local seeds are not contaminated by GM seeds.
The city can earn more by producing seeds rather than crops and wants to maintain its position as a base for seed production, and banning GM technology is one way to do this, Yan said.
Yu Jiangli, the head of Greenpeace's East Asia Food and Agriculture Campaign, told the Global Times in an earlier report that GM products can have irreversible effects on ecosystems and biodiversity, and the long term health effects are still unknown.
The director of the Zhangye's seed control station, surnamed Ma, confirmed to the Global Times on Thursday that they have never used any GM seeds, and will do as the government stipulated in the regulation.
However, some experts support GM food. "GM food is demonized by the public, as seen as in this case," said Duan Hongbo, an expert and research fellow involved in rice breeding with the Wuhan-based Hubei Jingchu Seed Company, who told the Global Times that this regulation is unreasonable.
In China, cotton is the only GM crop that has undergone tests and received the full authorization of the Ministry of Agriculture, with GM corn, beans and rice still in testing stages, Duan said.
A large number of cotton farmers, who depended on GM seeds imported from the US before 2000, can now use domestically developed alternatives and are reaping the benefits, Duan added.
In 2012, over 80 percent of the cotton fields in China used GM cotton, Guo Sandui, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, was quoted as saying by the Farmers' Daily.
As some Net users lauded the city's more stringent controls on the use of GM seeds, others are questioning its significance.
Sina Weibo user Xialiantankonghou pointed out that it is unwise for the local government to ban a technology that is still being tested.
An unnamed official with the city's agricultural bureau told the Global Times that they have not received a hard copy of the regulation and refused to reveal more information about the new policy, or details behind why the policy was released.