China launches media campaign to back GM crops

Consumer education | The government sees GM technology as safe but consumer opposition has halted introduction

BEIJING, China (Reuters) — The Chinese government has kicked off a media campaign in support of genetically modified crops as it battles a wave of negative publicity over a technology it hopes will play a major role in boosting its food security.

The agriculture ministry recently announced it would try to educate the public about genetic modification via television, newspapers and the internet.

It hopes to stifle anti-GMO sentiment that has gathered momentum in the wake of incidents such as reports that GM rice had been illegally sold at a supermarket in the centre of the country.

Beijing has been a long-time proponent of GMOs, which it sees as safe and as potentially key in helping feed the world’s largest population.

However, critics have alleged the technology could pose health risks, and while China allows imports of some GM crops, it hasn’t yet permitted domestic cultivation.

China has imported millions of tonnes of GM soybeans a year for the past decade to feed the world’s largest pig herd and produce 40 percent of the county’s vegetable oil needs. China consumes one-third of the world’s soybeans and snaps up 65 percent of all imports.

“(We will create) a social atmosphere which is beneficial for the healthy development of the genetically modified industry,” the agriculture ministry said in a statement.

Several negative reports this year on specific GM food has slowed progress toward domestic cultivation and may have played a role in curbing imports of some crops.

The discovery of an unapproved strain of GM corn in U.S. shipments to China wreaked havoc in the grain market, with Cargill estimating losses of more than $90 million. The discoveries also triggered lawsuits against Syngenta, which developed the corn variety.

The country has also suspended the import approval process for a GM soybean variety, citing “low public acceptance” of GM food, according to officials familiar with the issue.

China has spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing its own GM crops and approved two pest-resistant varieties of rice and a GM corn for commercialization in 2009.

However, wary of strong opposition to GM technology, it never proceeded to cultivation. The safety certificates on the products expired this summer.



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