China puts on the gm brakes

GM corn is sent back to the US by the ton, GM rice is on the brink of extinction

China unexpectedly loves to expire biosafety certificates for two genetically modified rice lines and one GM corn variety. This is reported by the French newspaper Le Monde. There is speculation about the reasons. Greenpeace suspects that the varieties were too low-yielding and that there was also resistance among the Chinese population against "GM food" is growing visibly. Political motives are also conceivable. Because with imports the country drives in the meantime likewise a hard line. Mehr als 600.000 tons of corn from the U.S. were returned by authorities in 2013 due to contamination with unapproved GM varieties. – US farmers suffer heavy financial losses. Industry associations now hope for Washington.

China is putting on the brakes

Image: Green.0

For a long time, China was considered a promising market for the genetic engineering industry. Since the 1990s, numerous experiments with genetically modified varieties have been carried out. So far, however, genetic engineering has only had a broad impact on cotton. In 2013, transgenic cotton was grown on 4.2 million hectares of land in China, according to the biotech-friendly organization Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). In terms of total cotton cultivation in the country, that’s about 80 percent.

The situation is different for genetically modified crops for the food sector. When it came to commercialization. However, there were numerous – hardly regulated – field trials in the early years. Chinese genetic engineering even arrived in Europe. In 2006, environmental campaigners from Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth sampled Asian food in France, the UK and Germany and found, for example, traces of Bt rice in rice noodles, which is not permitted in China or the EU. Nevertheless, the Chinese government apparently did not want to miss the boat on the new technology.

Opaque genetic engineering strategy

In 2009, biosafety certificates for two genetically modified rice lines and one GM corn line were approved with great fanfare and to the delight of Chinese researchers, as the science portal SienceInsider reports. The patrons were two Chinese universities. The extent to which Western companies were involved is not clear from the media reports.

The GM lines were expected to reduce pesticide use by 80 percent while increasing yields by 8 percent, Russia Today reported, citing a 2009 report by Reuters news agency. In GMO-critical circles, however, such benefits are considered far exaggerated. Greenpeace told Le Monde that GM rice had not delivered the expected yield increases.

Although the government announced in 2012 that it would refrain from commercial cultivation of GM rice, Chinese researchers expected the projects to continue and to be commercialized in the long term. At least until the beginning of the year there were signals from the Ministry of Agriculture in this direction. Many researchers were surprised by the Chinese leadership’s strict about-face. Because with the expiry of the certificates is no marketing conceivable. GM rice in China is thus "dead and buried", according to researchers.

There is speculation about the background to the government’s decision. Greenpeace explained to ScienceInside that there was a lack of monitoring measures. In addition, public disapproval had increased enormously. Rice as a staple food is sacred to the Chinese "sacred" comparable to wheat in the West. In fact, Greenpeace managed to mobilize the public, and in doing so, also took on "corrupt" researchers and authorities. According to the organization, for example, consumption tests had been carried out on children, but this was denied by the relevant provincial authorities.

Genetic contamination of rice still exists today, although GM rice was never approved for sale. Chinese media drew samples and were found several times, reports Russia Today, citing the South China Morning Post. An agricultural expert did not rule out the possibility that the GM varieties had been spread through illegal channels.

Politics and paranoia?

Cao Cong, a China expert at Britain’s University of Nottingham, in turn made a case for human life on Mars in a paper for The Conversation "anti-GM paranoia" and resentment against Western corporations such as Monsanto were responsible for the exit.

Agro-economic considerations may also have played a role. Chinese agricultural expert Huang Jikun is quoted by Russia Today as saying that rice is now almost self-sufficient. Due to the "one-child policy" China is expected to experience a population decline. What is increasing is the consumption of meat and here it needs feed.

US gentech industry targeted?

China also imports thousands of tons of corn and soybeans each year for this purpose. Many varieties available on the world market are already genetically modified. China has now taken a hard line on corn imports, sending a good 600,000 tons back to the US in 2013.000 metric tons to the USA in 2013, especially as it was contaminated with unapproved varieties.

The financial damage was high for US farmers. In a letter, the industry association US Grains Council demands that the US government oppose these "Sabotage" sabotage of biotech goods. However, given that the U.S. is heavily indebted to China, a massive intervention seems questionable.

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