China grapples with illegal GM crops

BEIJING, China (Reuters) — Farmers are illegally growing genetically modified corn in northwestern China, says a Greenpeace report that may generate further distrust of the government’s ability to regulate the food supply.

Beijing has spent billions of dollars to develop GM crops that it hopes will ensure food supplies for its 1.4 billion people, but it has not yet approved commercial cultivation amid deep-seated anti-GMO sentiment.

The Greenpeace report seems to confirm concerns that Beijing will be unable to supervise the planting of GM crops once commercial cultivation is permitted, leading to widespread presence of GM varieties in the food chain.

Greenpeace said 93 percent of samples taken last year from corn fields in five counties in Liaoning province, part of China’s breadbasket, tested positive for GMOs.

As well, almost all of the seed samples taken from grain markets and samples of corn-based foods at supermarkets in the area also tested positive.

“It is very likely that much of the illegal GE corn has already entered grain storage warehouses, wholesale and retail markets across the country, ultimately ending up in citizens’ food,” Greenpeace said.

The environmental organization said it was not clear how the GM corn got into the marketplace, but it has long been alleged that GM plants being tested in field trials have been illegally sold to farmers for commercial use.

Such reports have intensified public opposition to the technology, with some anti-GMO campaigners going as far as suing the government over the failure to disclose information about its approvals for imported GM crops and plans to allow domestic cultivation.

Among the six corn strains that tested positive in the Liaoning seed market, three have not been certified by China’s agriculture ministry and three others were certified as conventional seeds, said the organization.

The agriculture ministry said last year it was changing regulations to increase supervision of GM products under development.

The GM corn strains identified in the survey belong to Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont Pioneer, said Greenpeace.

DuPont Pioneer said it does not sell GM seed in China in accordance with the law and could not speculate on the source of unauthorized GM crops.

“Intellectual property right is a concern for us in any market because it’s important for assuring farmers that they are getting what they purchase and for companies to recoup our investment so we can continue investing in new technologies,” said a company spokesperson.

Greenpeace blamed an “extremely lax and disorganized” seed market management system for the production and sale of illegal seed varieties.

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