If opposition existed in any country to genetically modified foods, it would seem unlikely that it would occur in China, a totalitarian-ruled country with extensive censorship and a huge population needing fed. But concern about GMOs has been widespread in China, and it has been a reason for slow approvals of in-country developed GM crops and the approval for imports of GM grains.
Even though many within the country’s leadership have voiced support of GMOs, there has also been old-guard leadership that isn’t overly pro of newer crop science and biotechnology. Today, the ultimate leadership is seen as possibly ready to exert some additional power to force GM foods into the marketplace, according to several recent reports.
December approvals of imported grains including Syngenta’s Agrisure Viptera corn, is seen as a possible turnaround. Approvals of biotech grains importation has been ridiculously slow, after earlier years’ approvals, to the frustration of companies and countries including the U.S., Brazil and Argentina.
But researchers and pro-GM advocates within China must have been even more frustrated. After ample state funding, researchers have developed a number of crops and are still waiting for the green light to commercialize them. A major example is GM rice developed within the country not receiving approval for planting during a 10-year waiting period.
Public distrust in China about the government’s oversight of food safety is an emotional topic. Distrust of Chinese-produced products has been high in the middle class after food scandals, the biggest being the 2008 contamination of baby milk with melamine. Reportedly at least six babies died from the contaminated formula and tens of thousands were hospitalized. So, why would the public believe GM food is safe if the government says so?
“China’s pro-GM camp is now counting on the (China) president’s support to unblock a bureaucratic stalemate that has stalled development of the crops by the world’s largest food consumer,” recently wrote Lucy Hornby in Beijing for Financial Times.
She claims open opposition to GM foods has quieted down according to botanist Xu Zhihong, the retired president of Peking University. “There’s still some but you find fewer online rants,” he said.
Even though it might seem unlikely that an organization like Greenpeace could operate within China, it does exist and drives some of the GM opposition. Additionally, some farmers/ag industry groups are opponents of GM crops importation, mainly because imported grains would give competition to in-country grown crops and “western” ag giant companies could get larger toeholds in doing business in China.
It does appear that pro-GM backers have been given approval or decided to step forward to voice their opinions more than in the past, and this might bear fruit for more GM food crop approvals—in-country and western crops.