Chinese authorities are thinking about consolidating GMO testing labs and turning them into genuine third-party testing organizations, according to a report in China Business Journal yesterday.
One of the motivations for the consolidation is last year's exposure of a GMO testing lab's falsification of testing records and employee qualifications to pass a 3-year audit.
There are currently 42 testing centers for GMO plants and animals on the Ministry of Agriculture's list. However, the qualifications of several have already lapsed, and a dozen more are up for renewal in 2017 and 2018. No preparations have been made to audit several testing centers whose qualifications will soon be up for renewal.
One researcher told China Business Journal that there are plans to weed out weak labs, and he speculated that the number of testing centers could be whittled down to as few as 10.
There are also plans to make the GMO testing centers independent third party organizations. Currently, all the accredited testing centers are laboratories affiliated with the agricultural system--institutes in central or provincial academies of agricultural science, seed management labs, and environmental monitoring organizations. While they are not directly under the Ministry of Agriculture, these entities receive funds from the Ministry's budget to pay for offices, labs and equipment. As they are not truly independent of the Agriculture Ministry, the Chinese public may not fully trust their evaluations of experimental trials for GMO crops and animals sponsored by research institutes with government funds.
Many of the testing centers fear they could not survive as truly independent third party organizations responsible for their own profits and losses. Centers would have to raise their fees substantially to cover the costs of labs and equipment if they were not funded by government budget allocations. Current fees of 1000 yuan for a new variety test could rise to 7000-8000 yuan, one researcher surmised. Moreover, highly qualified professionals needed for effective testing prefer working in a government unit due to social welfare benefits and other superior conditions. As private enterprises, third party labs would have a hard time attracting such professionals.