The entrance of China into modern agricultural practices is likely to lead the country to adopt the use of genetically modified crops. Already the Chinese government has begun to evaluate some corn hybrids, albeit slowly. The first commercial production is expected in 2013 after the Chinese government began biosafety reviews in November 2009.
Origin Agritech has been granted the first biosafety approval for phytase corn. The company is a Beijing-based company that is also working on the biosafety approval of two more strains of GMO corn, including glyphosate tolerance and insect resistance. It is not known when these two strains will be approved by China.
Once these crops are approved, it could pave the way for greater adoption around the world. China is the 800-pound gorilla in the world and its economy is growing by leaps and bounds. With China’s acceptance and cultivation of GM crops, greater pressure will be placed on the European Union and other countries who maintain bans on these crops.
The path to GMO acceptance will likely not be a cake walk either, however. Environmental and “green” groups are likely to bring their fear-based messages to a population with little experience or knowledge of the technology.
Already a new study is presenting information that may strike fear into the hearts of millions of Chinese because it involves their beloved staple food: rice. Chinese researchers at Nanjing University have found small segments of rice ribonucleic acid (called microRNA or miRNA for its tiny size) in the blood and organs of people who eat conventional rice.
The study does not address how the assimilation of plant RNA into human bodies could affect the debate over the next generation of genetically modified food crops, but the revelation that miRNA can likely survive digestion and take up residence in human cells certainly will provide ammunition for the anti-GMO camp, the most liberal of whom have been calling for toxicological and safety testing of patented plants since the inception of the biotech industry over a decade ago.
According to the Chinese study, rice genetic material influenced the uptake of cholesterol from the blood by binding itself to receptor cells in the human liver. If confirmed, this would be the first time scientists have witnessed ingested plant miRNA that actually alters human physiology by regulating cell functions in this way, said AlterNet contributor Ari LeVaux in a recent piece. What’s more, it calls into question the doctrine of “substantial equivalence”—something the biotech industry has clung to since 1991.
This new research could pose a problem for future GMO development. The next generation of GMO crops that use miRNA sequences could be fuel to the fire against its use as a result of the new study. In the past, there was no evidence that miRNA was exchanged through the eating of GMO crops. Now, however, at least one study is showing that it does. If the results are true and it is possible that genetically altered food could be genetically altering us, biotechnology will certainly be doomed, and not just in China.
So, China could be the key to whether GMO crops are further adopted or rejected.