Genetically modified (GM) food is safe to eat, says China’s agriculture minister, Han Changfu, in the most public statement by a senior Chinese official to promote acceptance of GM food, which could help Beijing feed its citizens.  

"I eat food processed from GM crops, soya bean oil to be specific," Han said at a press conference Thursday in Beijing, where the National People's Congress is meeting this week, the South China Morning Post reported.

Han added that most soya bean oil products sold in China are made from imported GM soya beans, and explained that the safety assessment and supervision network for GM food is rigorous. There are already 17 GM products from five different plant species – soya beans, corn, oilseed rape, cotton and tomatoes – in the domestic market, and regulations require these products to acknowledge their GM origins on the packaging. GM cotton and papaya are the only crops approved for commercial planting in mainland China.

The minister also assured the public of the safety of chicken, despite numerous cases of bird flu outbreaks in China in the past year.

"As agriculture minister, I promise you eating chicken is safe," Han said, adding that poultry farms had not been infected with the H7N9 virus. Mainland health authorities have reported more than 120 human cases this year, according to the South China Morning Post.

GM food could solve one of Beijing’s biggest problems. As the nation underwent rapid industrialization and urbanization in recent years, pollution has rendered 3.33 million hectares of farmland unproductive, which, coupled with demand from rising income, has caused China to rely on importing an unprecedented amount of food to feed its 1.35 billion people. In 2012, China imported 2.6 million tons of rice, and the heightened demand has sent global rice prices to an all-time high.