News / Asia

Chinese State Media Kick Aim to Ease GMO Food Fears

FILE - South Korean civic group members perform during rally against imported genetically modified organism (GMO) corn from China, Ulsan, South Korea, May 1, 2008.
FILE - South Korean civic group members perform during rally against imported genetically modified organism (GMO) corn from China, Ulsan, South Korea, May 1, 2008.
Reuters
China's state media are working overtime to persuade the public that genetically modified food is safe, apparently softening up the population for a policy switch to allow the sale of such food to ensure its 1.35 billion people have enough to eat.
 
In the past 30 years, China's urban population has jumped to about 700 million from under 200 million, driving up demand for meat and staples such as rice that scientists say only GMO can satisfy.
 
Imported GMO soybeans are already used as feed for animals but winning acceptance for the more widespread use of GMO may be a hard sell in a country frequently in the grip of food scares — just this year over baby milk powder and chemicals in chickens, for instance.
 
GMO food faces opposition even at the top levels of Chinese bureaucracy, with a senior national security official likening it to opium.
 
But state media is taking up the fight: on Monday, Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily rejected rumors that eating GMO food could alter human DNA, and news agency Xinhua ran an investigation last week debunking tales that GMO corn consumption had reduced sperm counts.
 
Zhang Qifa, known as China's “father of GMO rice,” recently criticized the Ministry of Agriculture for refusing to approve strains that have cost billions of yuan in research over the past decade.
 
Beijing granted safety certificates for its first genetically modified rice in 2009 but has so far refused to authorize commercial production until the public is onside.
 
The certificate for Zhang's pest-resistant “Bt” rice will expire next year, meaning researchers have to reapply, a process that could take years.
 
“Right now, China's GMO rice production has ground to a halt ... I personally think we have missed opportunities to develop,” Zhang said, adding that GMO commercialization wasn't a matter for the public and should begin without delay.
 
Huang Dafang, a researcher with the Biotechnology Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, was unimpressed with the media campaign.

“We have not seen any signs of progress, only the continuation of the debate,” he said.
 
Scientists have been at pains to show that GMO is already part of the food chain: China is the world's top importer of GMO soybeans, used as feed, and also imports GMO corn from the United States and elsewhere.
 
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has forecast China's rice imports would reach a record high of 3.4 million tons in 2013/14 and researchers say China is facing a growing food gap that can only be properly addressed through the use of GMO.
 
But while policymakers have expressed optimism about GMO crops and scientists have long urged the government to allow new strains of GMO rice, Beijing will not move until it is sure the risks are minimal and that, crucially, the public is behind it.
 
New kind of opium
 
The debate hasn't been entirely one-way, with influential researchers still urging caution, especially when it comes to staples like rice and wheat.
 
“Many have said there are no risks to GMO food but the risks may not even be discovered in three or five years but actually over three to five generations,” said Jiang Changyun, research director at the Industrial Development Research Institute, who wants the government to improve food labeling so that people can decide themselves whether to eat GMO or not.
 
The debate has moved into the realms of national security, with Peng Guangqian, deputy secretary-general of the National Security Policy Committee, likening GMO food in August to a new kind of opium being forced upon China by Western companies.
 
Writing in Global Times, a tabloid backed by the People's Daily, Peng said companies such as Monsanto and Dupont were dumping GMO products on China.
 
Wang Xiaoyu, an official at the Heilongjiang Soybean Association, said GMO soy oil consumed in southern parts of the country was linked to high cancer rates.
 
However, another worry, he conceded, was that imports of cheap GMO soy had led to a fall in local production, since many planters were unable to compete.
 
Huang of the Biotechnology Research Institute complained that the scientific debate had been hijacked.
 
“GMO is a scientific matter and should not be debated at the social level. If China's Three Gorges dam and nuclear power were decided by public debate, neither would have been established,” he said.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs