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2-Plants: Nobody knows where China's GE trees are growing

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  China's GM trees get lost in bureaucracy
SOURCE: New Scientist, by Fred Pearce
DATE:   15 Sep 2004 

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China's GM trees get lost in bureaucracy

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.

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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