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Checkbiotech: China's GM trees get lost in bureaucracy
Posted by: DR. RAUPP & madora (IP Logged)
Date: September 19, 2004 10:50AM ;

China has planted more than a million genetically modified trees in a bid to
halt the spread of deserts and prevent flash floods. But a bureaucratic
loophole means that no one knows for sure where all the trees have been
planted, or what effect they will have on native forests, September, 2004 by
Fred Pearce .

In the past five years, 8000 square kilometres of farmland in China has
been converted to plantations. State foresters have focused on the
headwaters of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers and Xinjiang province in the
arid north-west, where the first field tests for GM trees were carried out
in the late 1990s.

These plantations have been plagued by insect pests, so Chinese researchers
have experimented by planting varieties of local poplar tree that have been
genetically modified to resist the insects. But at a meeting on GM safety in
Beijing in July, a number of scientists complained about the absence of
proper controls over GM trees within China.

Xue Dayuan of the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Science says that the
GMO Safety Administration Office of China's Ministry of Agriculture has no
control over GM trees because they are not classified as crops. But the
State Forestry Bureau, which oversees tree plantations, does not have a
licensing system like the one run by the ministry, he told the meeting.

Gene leakage

"There is an urgent need for cooperation between the two bodies," Xue told
the China Daily online newspaper. Not least because the experiments in
Xinjiang have shown that genes from the GM poplars are turning up in natural
varieties growing nearby.

Another critic is Wang Huoran, who represents the Chinese Academy of
Sciences at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. In November 2003 he
is reported to have told an FAO panel that GM poplar trees "are so widely
planted in northern China that pollen and seed dispersal cannot be

The absence of a licensing system, coupled with frequent exchanges of
varieties between nurseries, made it "very difficult to trace" where the GM
trees had been planted, he said.

Wang did not respond to New Scientist's requests for further comment. But
Dietrich Ewald of the Institute for Forest Genetics and Forest Tree Breeding
in Waldsieversdorf, Germany says information on Chinese field trials with GM
trees would be published soon in international journals.


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