see note on ISIS website at end
Aspects of the Reuters article below on GE in China contrast markedly with a recent gush of headlines:
GM crops find friends in China
For China, GM crops are ripe for the picking
China in GM boom
These were prompted by an article in Science [available as a pdf:
http://www.junkscience.com/jan02/674.pdf] claiming, "China is developing the largest plant biotechnology capacity outside North America", and suggesting China could become the world's biggest exporter of GE products.
"While the fate of genetically modified crops remains contentious in many countries, China is going ahead with the technology, and plans to export it..." ran a piece in the Sidney Morning Herald.
Alex Kirby for BBC online opined, "What is happening in China appears to be at odds with the widespread rejection of GM technology in many other - particularly European - countries."
But according to the article below the picture that is being promoted of an unflinching commitment to GE in China is far from the truth:
*"China's policy on gene-modified organisms (GMOs) shows government opinion is divided"
*"Beijing is considering banning foreign investment in development and manufacturing of GMO seeds such as corn and soybeans"
*"The possible investment ban, to be announced soon by the State Council, follows another set of new GMO regulations first released in June last year which slammed the brakes on soybean imports."
*Beijing is said to be "about to launch a public forum to discuss concerns about GMOs" - seen (from a pro-GE perspective) as "playing with fire".
*Japan and South Korea have been buying higher-priced [non-GE]Chinese corn
*"industry officials and analysts say, China may be trying to become a supplier of non-GMO food to areas of Europe and Asia"
All rather remarkable for a country said to be steadfastly striving to become the world's largest exporter of GE products!
And it's not just a question of exports. There have been consistent reports of concern among Chinese consumers over GMOs and, largely unreported, China is said to have the fastest growing domestic market for organic foods in the world.
China May Pay For Shielding Biotech Sector
- Nao Nakanishi and Lee Chyen Yee, Reuters, Jan 28, 2002
Singapore/Shanghai, Jan 28 (Reuters) - China is building a fortress around its biotechnology industry, which is emerging as the largest outside North America, analysts say.
But China's policy on gene-modified organisms (GMOs) shows government opinion is divided, and Beijing risks harming its standing in the international community after joining the World Trade Organisation on December 11. More than that, spurning foreign investment is likely to come at a high price, with China possibly losing out on advanced techniques in bioengineering and so threatening its efforts to achieve food security, industry officials say.
A draft government document obtained by Reuters has shown Beijing is considering banning foreign investment in development and manufacturing of GMO seeds such as corn and soybeans. The move startled industry officials since China is pouring huge funds into domestic research to develop GMO crops such as corn, rice and cotton.
"This comes as a great surprise to us because it is at a time when China is dramatically accelerating its investments in biotechnology," said Charles Martin, vice-president of corporate communications in the Asia Pacific at U.S.-based Monsanto . "There are many promising biotech traits such as anti-drought and anti-saline, which foreign investors are unlikely to bring to China if this ban takes effect," said Martin.
The possible investment ban, to be announced soon by the State Council, follows another set of new GMO regulations first released in June last year which slammed the brakes on soybean imports.
Some say China is protecting its farmers. "China is trying to protect its domestic biotechnology research and its copyright to the seeds," said Li Chenggui, researcher at the rural development institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "If the copyright on some seeds falls into the hands of a foreign company, farmers may be charged a high price and the ban is a way of protecting the farmers," he said.
Global Links. But many saw the ban as a setback to the country's attempts to blend more tightly with the global community. "If that's true, that is a real step backwards for the country that has just entered the WTO and is claiming to be a legitimate member of the world trade community," said a non-Chinese industry official.
"The question is whether they are trying to say the biotechnology that they produce is good and that the biotechnology that we produce is bad." Traders, industry officials and analysts have said while trying to restrict imports of GMO products, such as bioengineered soybeans from the United States or South America, China has beefed up its own GMO research and development.
An article on plant biotechnology in China published in Science magazine on Friday said: "China is developing the largest plant biotechnology capacity outside North America." The industry official said he heard that Beijing was about to launch a public forum to discuss concerns about GMOs.
"If they are trying to turn public opinion against GMO, how are they going to turn it back for GMO in three years when they are going to release a whole bunch of GMO products they are making?...They are playing with fire," he said. The Science article says China had raised its area for GMO cotton, resistant to bollworm pest, to 700,000 hectares by 2000, or 20 percent of the country's cotton area. It stood at only 2,000 hectares in 1997, the first year of commercialisation.
China has used both domestically developed Bt cotton and the variety developed by a joint venture with Monsanto, though industry sources say Beijing is about to turn down Bt corn developed by the U.S. biotech giant after years of tests. Industry officials say China is also close to marketing Chinese Bt corn, resistant to European corn borer pest which has damaged 10-15 percent of the crop each year in some provinces.
Opportunity After Starlink. Against that, industry officials and analysts say, China may be trying to become a supplier of non-GMO food to areas of Europe and Asia that have expressed concern over possible health risks from GMOs. Over the past year, some in Japan and South Korea bought higher-priced Chinese corn for human consumption after discovering that U.S. corn included gene-spliced Starlink corn that Washington allows only for animal feed.
"There is enough dissent in the world of GM plants...The whole world won't be getting up to tell China to open up the door to GMO products. Europeans will never say that," the first industry official said. "(But) can they afford to do it?...How much money are they going to lose in the domestic market due to inefficiencies of non-GMO product and by the ban of GMO products?" he said.