Despite endless controversy, China has experienced a boom in transgenic crops with the support of the Beijing government. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) released in March its 2012 Annual Report on the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops. The report refers to China as the sixth biotech crop producers after the US, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and India. The main biotech crops in China are cotton, papayas, tomatoes and sweet peppers.
Genetically Modified Food Projects in China
November 27, 2009, China’s Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) issued biosafety certificates for biotech rice varieties and one biotech corn. As a result, China became the first country in the world to issue biosafety certificates for staple food crops. On June 13, 2013, China’s Xinhua news agency reported, MOA had granted biosafety certificates for three GM soybean varieties from Brazil. The newly approved GM soybeans included herbicide-resistant CV127, insect-resistant MON87701, and MON89788, with a resistance to insects and herbicide.
According to a 2010 official report, Hubei farmers refused to eat GM rice despite widespread cultivation of GM rice. Hubei farmers sold all their GM rice to private rice factories but were unwilling to eat their own rice. On the one hand, MOA claimed, China has never approved of any commercial production of GM staple food. On the other hand, MOA tried its utmost to manipulate media to promote GM foods, claiming GM food is very safe.
Beijing-based Science and Technology Daily, an official newspaper of the Ministry of Science and Technology of PRC, reported March 8, 2010: During the 12th Five-Year Plan, China spent 30 billion yuan on GM plant research, while only 0.18 billion on school education.
The Economic Observer website, built upon the independent weekly Chinese-language newspaper in China The Economic Observer, reported October 31, 2012: Since the implementation of GM regulations in 1996, China’s Ministry of Agriculture has permitted 974 tests on biosafety of all genetically modified organisms (GMOs), 369 tests on the release of GM organisms, 228 tests on the production of GM foods, 32 tests on commercial production of GM foods and 1,110 biosafety certificates.
China has been ambitiously promoting and cultivating varieties of GM crops, according to the 2007 34th issue of Beijing Agriculture, December 2010 online official reports, and March 1, 2012 reports by CFi.cn (China Finance Information Network). China’s regulations on traceability and labeling of genetically modified organisms request that labeling of GM foods is required for only soybeans, corns, rape, cotton, and tomatoes as well as their related products, which fall into five categories and 17 types. Labeling is not required for other kinds of GM foods. This way, there is a legal loophole in GM foods. For instance, GM rice without any labeling might be lawfully sold in the market.
In 2013, Brazil’s GM corn obtained import approval from China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine. This way, the world’s three main producers of GM corn have been granted import approvals. An estimated 7.2 million tons of corn will be imported into China, 80% of which is GM corn.
It is impossible to know the exact number of GM foods among China’s diverse range of over 100 GM items put on the market of China. According to a study by the Beijing Youth Daily, over half of the cooking oil in China is soybean oil, 90% of which is made from GM soybeans.
Animals are reported to behave abnormally in Shanxi and Guanxi, the first two provinces to import foreign GM corn. The following is a report by the International Herald Leader, a Xinhua newspaper.
Liu Min, a farmer in Zhangqing village, Jinzhong city, Shanxi, planted a few acres of corn. “In the past, house mice were often seen to jump up and down. It took acute rat poisons to kill them. Strangely, three years ago I noticed few mice eating food at home even if no poison was used against them.” To better understand the situation, Liu Min started observing mice in the village. He went to the place of a corn vendor, finding that mice showed the least interest in huge piles of corn in his house. There was only trace of small mice, which appeared numb, unable to distinguish directions.
The International Herald Leader reporter found that long-term consumption of GM corn caused livestock, like pigs, to behave abnormally. For instance, sows produced fewer piglets than usual, and were more likely to suffer infertility, fake pregnancy, or miscarriages, or even stillbirths.
Gongpeng Township, located in the northwest of Yushu City, Jilin Province, used to be a well-known distributing center of pigs. Local pig farming industry has languished since GM corn was used as feed. Yet, pigs in one pig farm without the use of GM corn appeared normal, and sows there could produce 12 piglets in one mating.
An expert told the reporter that the new Xianyu 335 (XY335) corn, a GMO, has gained in popularity since 2006. In a period of five to six years, rats can reproduce over 20 generations of rats, while pigs can reproduce three generations. Yet the same period accounts for a comparatively short part in a human life cycle. Therefore, the effect of GM corn is particularly noticeable on rats or pigs, while the effect on humans is temporarily absent and will be seen in future generations.
If the deaths and deformities of animals are caused by GM corn as revealed in the report, future generations of Chinese people will be in great danger if no immediate action is taken against proliferation of GM foods in China.
Global Growing Resistance to Genetically Modified Foods
A biotechnology company usually promotes GMOs by saying that GMOs help increase crop yields and thus provide a solution to global food shortages. However, some experts pointed out genetic engineering techniques did not significantly outperform traditional biotechnology. For instance, Professor Jack Heinemann had analyzed and compared corn fields of Europe and America in the past decades. Europe planted non-GM corn, while America planted GM corn. Professor Jack Heinemann found both produced almost the same amounts of corn, and that the former has yielded more than the latter in recent years.
Biotechnology companies highly recommend GMOs in their attempt to monopolize the market of crop seeds and their related products. Once a farmer plants GMOs, he will be doomed to buy seeds from biotechnology companies every year, or he will be accused of seed patent infringement if he keeps seeds for his farming. Cotton farmers in India and GMO producers in Latin America have suffered such accusations.
Currently, many international groups have urged their local governments to remove GM foods from sale, voicing widespread objections against biotech giant Monsanto, headquartered in St. Louis Missouri. At the end of 2013, over 400 cities in over 50 countries launched the March against Monsanto, drawing over two million protestors.
On top of that, Argentina’s farmers submitted a lawsuit to the US court against Monsanto for its herbicide Roundup that poisoned farmers. The lawsuit claimed these chemicals could cause damage, like cerebral palsy, epilepsy, spina bifida, absence of fingers or sight loss. Monsanto was accused of not warning farmers of the potential damage even with its awareness of the consequences.
Considering potential defects of GM foods, some responsible governments are extremely cautious about their use. Many western European countries, like France and Germany, still ban cultivation and import of GM produce. The privileged few in China have exclusive access to organic foods, thereby turning a blind eye to the potential damage of GM foods. For personal profits, the privileged even enthusiastically promote GM foods. It is a short-sighted behavior to bet on the fate of all Chinese people.