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

Multimedia US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid