GM crops to play key role on farms


Viet Nam News (Vietnam)
August 29, 2009

HA NOI — Genetically modified crops are expected to make up to 50 per cent of the country’s total agricultural output by 2020.

Experts met yesterday at the National Meeting on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and Biological Safety Management on GMO to discuss issues pertaining to GMO in domestic agriculture.

"In order to develop and apply GMOs into agricultural production in a sustainable way, it is necessary to set up and implement effective biotechnology regulations and safety management mechanisms for GMOs and foods derived from recombinant DNA," said Nguyen Xuan Cuong, deputy minister of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE).

A decree on biotechnology safety management for GMOs drafted by MoNRE will be submitted to the Government in October, according to Le Thanh Binh, deputy head of MoNRE’s Biodiversity Preservation Department.

Under this decree, individuals and organisations who want to research and develop GMO technology would have to meet all standards on staff and equipment set by the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Binh said that GMOs being considered for use in food or other products would have to undergo a number of tests to assess potential risks to the environment, biodiversity or people’s health. All these tests will be regulated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) and the Ministry of Health (MoH).

After assessment, organisations or individuals would have to show the approval of the GMO product to MoNRE; which would then grant a certificate to certify the product is safe before it is released into the environment. For GMOs being used for food, MoH would grant a certificate that declares the product safe for human consumption.

Products which contain more than 5 per cent of GMOs will have a label stating that these products "used genetically modified technology", according to the draft decree.

Providing information about GMOs products for consumers is also regulated in this decree.

Binh said that this decree delineated clearly the responsibility of every State agency to ensure the safe usage of biotechnology for GMOs, as well as the rights and tasks of those researching and developing GMOs.

A guidance circular on biotech safety management and the research and development of GMO technology is being created by the Ministry of Science and Technology; a circular on biotech safety management for GMO crops is also being created by MARD.

Make help

Cuong said that with biotechnology, plants could be created that are disease resistant and can withstand drought and floods.

The world had witnessed achievements in modern biotechnology, which could boost the volume and hardiness of crops to help supply enough food for an increasing population, said Cuong.

"Application of genetically modifying (GM) technology is an irresistible trend when scientists can hardly forecast when it will be rainy or sunny or when drought or floods will occur," said director of the Agricultural Genetics Institute Le Huy Ham.

Coupled with the loss of agricultural land for industrialisation and urbanisation, and the fast pace of population growth, there was no other way to develop plants that would adapt to the changing climate to maintain the nation’s food security, he added.

Professor Le Tran Binh of the Biotechnology Institute said that a GMO or genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These techniques, generally known as recombinant DNA technology, use DNA molecules from different sources and then combine them into one molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes.

"Achievements are expressed through transferring into the plants the genes which help plants to be resistant against diseases and pestilent insects," said Binh.

Today, the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, as well as developing countries worldwide support the use of GM plants. However, many European countries have yet to agree with their use.

To date, up to 800 million hectares of GM plants have been grown in 25 countries, and about 55 countries allow the sale of foods derived from recombinant DNA.

Pham Van Toan, chief of MARD’s Biotechnology Department said that the total profit in the last 10 years that farmers in developing countries have earned from GMO crops is US$16.5 billion and in developed ones the number is $17.5 billion. Coupled with that, using GMO in agricultural production is estimated to have helped decrease the usage of pesticides by more than 200,000 tonnes.

However, many opponents had expressed concern about how to ensure GMO products are safe for people and the environment, said Dr Nguyen Van Khai, who is well known for his vegetable and plant protection methods.

Cuong said that this technology posed some risks to environment, biodiversity and people’s health which required the experts and relevant authorities to find the ways to minimise these effects. — VNS

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