News / Asia

China Struggles to Overcome GMO Stalemate

FILE - A farmer plants rice at a field on the outskirts of Changsha in China's Hunan Province.
FILE - A farmer plants rice at a field on the outskirts of Changsha in China's Hunan Province.
VOA News
— The debate in China over expanding the use of genetically modified crops has reached a stalemate. Analysts say that despite efforts by prominent scientists to expand the commercialization of GM crops, proponents face a public that deeply mistrusts government management of food safety and is suspicious of the science behind GMO products.

Over the last three decades, China has lifted millions out of poverty as the heavily populated country has risen to become the second largest economy in the world. Its appetite for food has grown as well. So much so that China now relies heavily on imported foods and grains, and some here feel that GM foods should be allowed to play a more significant role. 
 
GMO supporter Li Ning is the director of the State Key Laboratories for AgroBiotechnolgy at China Agricultural University. He says that although biotechnology would help improve agricultural efficiency, scientists need to overcome resistance from the public.
 
“People in China are so scared about food safety issues, that as soon as someone reports negatively on GMO foods they start to be afraid,” said Li.
 
Media confusion
 
As an example, he mentions an official from the Heilongjiang Soybeans Association who told the media that consuming genetically modified soybeans had carcinogenic risks. Experts were quick to rebuke the official’s remarks, but Li says people believed the wrongful claims.
 
The genetic makeup of GMO food is modified at the seed level to make crops more resistant to diseases and pest attacks. Currently, China allows the commercial production of GMO tomatoes, cotton, papaya and bell peppers.
The ministry of agriculture has repeatedly stated that GMO crops are safe, and the ministry of technology has invested hundreds of million of dollars into the biotech industry.
 
Delay in commercialization
 
Nonetheless, safety certificates for GMO rice and corn granted in 2009 will expire next year, and commercialization has not been approved yet. Li Ning says that the delay is a result of intense pressure from environmental groups like Greenpeace.
 
“They have organized people to stage sit-ins in front of the Ministry of Agriculture,” said Li. “This has made officials at the ministry very scared; some of them do not dare take a stance against such demonstrations.”
 
Ronald Herring, a professor of Political Science at Cornell University, says that there is no obviously safe place for politicians on this issue.
 
“I think the reversals on dams on environmental grounds have introduced some caution about the externalities of growth at any cost,” he said.
 
“Of course, there is no evidence whatsoever of environmental or food safety risk from transgenics,” said Herring, “but in 55 languages the common folk wisdom is: where there is smoke there is fire.”
 
Scientists’ petitions
 
Earlier this year, scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering signed a petition letter to push for the commercialization of GM rice.
 
In a recent interview with the Southern Daily, Zhang Qifa, one of the academics that signed the petition, said that this is the best time for China to implement a national industrialization of GM rice.
 
“The technology we have is as good as that of the U.S.,” Zhang was quoted saying. “However, we lack the commercial infrastructure. We must nurture strong agricultural companies to promote GMO rice industrialization.”
 
The large-scale commercialization of GMO crops has been seen as a strategic move to help China solve the problems arising from needing to feed an increasing population while the availability of arable land decreases.
 
Yan Jianbing, a professor at the National Key Laboratory of Crop Genetic Improvement at Huazhong Agricultural University, in Wuhan, has been involved with tasting sessions of GM rice in Wuhan.
 
At one of the events last month, volunteers tasted rice cakes and porridge made with GM rice and promoted the event to reassure the public about the safety of transgenic crop. 
 
“We are at a moment where if we use genetic technology then we will be able to [have an] impact on the future development of crops in China and guarantee food security in our country,” said Yan.
 
Biotech companies taking over China
 
Last week Li Jiayang, China's deputy minister of agriculture, was criticized in the media for having been a consultant for DuPont, which advocates GM foods and is financially invested in China's biotechnology market. Part of the criticism stemmed from the fact that party rules forbid senior officials from taking posts in foreign companies, but much emphasis was also put on Li’s advocacy of transgenic crop for China’s agriculture.
 
Scientists like Li, a commentary on the China Youth Daily suggested, are pushing biotechnologies in China for their personal gain, while helping multinational corporations grasp sizable economic interests within China. A similar argument was made in August by a major general of the People’ s Liberation Army, who argued that the West was threatening food security in China by introducing GMO grains through imports.
 
GMO imports
 
Currently, China permits the importation of GMO corn, soybean, canola and cotton, but only for non-human consumption.
 
However, an estimated 80 percent of soybeans consumed in China are imported from the United States, Brazil and Argentina, and most of them are genetically modified. In the first half of 2013, seven additional types of GMO crops were given the green light for imports.
 
Farmers have criticized the government's choice to increase GMO imports, which are often cheaper and of better quality than the local produce. China is not alone in struggling with this issue.
 
The European Union is fiercely negotiating a trade agreement with the United States on GMO trade. The deal is expected to be finalized by the end of 2014 and might eventually allow U.S. GMO foodstuffs to enter the European market.

You May Like

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid