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

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    Clinton, Sanders Fight for African American Votes

    Some African American lawmakers lining up to support Clinton in face of perceived surge by Sanders in race for Democratic nomination in presidential campaign

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.