Update on GMOs in China by Chinese journalist Yinghui Zhang-Carraro 

I had a column on a web based forum in China where my writings cover organic sector, natural/simple living, GMOs, book reviews, and Q&A etc. Early last May, a reader asked me a question about GM sweet potato and peanut in China, so I started to do some research from all open sources (trying to find a needle in mountains of hay) and the result surprised and angered me, so I wrote a long article on the Current State of GMOs in China with all the sources listed in the notes. In that article, I found out that we have already commercialized GM cotton, papaya, sweet pepper, tomato, poplar, and petunia, while the government had never informed the general public about the GM food we have grown. It was time-consuming to check all the files regarding GM approvals and it seemed that it was not in the interest of the government to inform the public! 

Though officially China says 70% of cotton grown in China is GM cotton, in 2008 the minister for the Ministry of Science and Technology said 90% of cotton grown in China was GM cotton! If you use the Chinese google (baidu) to search any given name GM crop, for example, GM strawberry, it does show results: domestic research papers. Basically China has been doing research and trials on dozens of crops and many animals as well and this figure could be about 100 varieties. 

GM carp research started in 1983 and it was reported in 2000 that commercially farmed such carp would be soon available! I wonder what has been going on with such carp! China has been importing GM cotton, soy beans, corn, rapeseed and sugar beet.

The scientist (Prof. Qifa Zhang) who developed GM rice in China revealed in 2010 to a newspaper that China imported 40 million tons of GM soybeans the previous year and almost all of them were made into oils to feed the Chinese. His intention was to tell the public that we have already started to eat GM food and no damage was found! 

It is impossible to verify the percentage of GM papaya grown in China but it seems nearly all are GM ones as the government approved in 2010 that GM papayas are allowed to grow in more provinces in the south other than previously only in Guangdong. GM Sweet pepper and tomato have long been grown in several provinces, and it is impossible to find out how many provinces are growing them and the percentage of the crop that is GM. Some oils made of GM raw materials are labeled (many are not) in the market, I haven’t seen any sweet pepper, tomatoes or papaya labeled as GM, though by law they should be. According to Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops 2010 by ISAAA (published February 2011), “Subject to commercial approval, Bt rice in China could be available in about three years from now.” And “Phytase maize is also likely to be available in China in about three years.” 

How did ISAAA make such comments?  Prof. Dafang Huang is one of the frontrunners in promoting GMOs in China and he is one of the seven patrons sitting at ISAAA and he is also in charge of one of ISAAA’s 19 biotechnology information centres. Another frontrunner is Prof. Jikun Huang and he is on board of directors at ISAAA. 

It is certain that animal feed in China contain huge amount of GMOs which can be seen from the GM imports. Even byproducts from China grown GM cotton may end up in animal feed.

And the government also for the first time admitted (previously always denied) last year that illegal (with no commercial approvals) GM crops have been growing in China and it is highly unlikely that information gathered by the relevant government bodies on illegal GM crops will be made available to the public and as a matter of fact they are not released to the public. 

Above is the main content of that article I wrote last May though more analysis was in it to reveal what was really behind certain developments. The article was widely circulated in China. A couple of months later, ISAAA Country Facts and Trends also released China report.

Then during the just passed Christmas and the new-year holiday time, I wrote a follow-up article because I see extremely dangerous developments coming from the top.

The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) China has a platform dedicated to GMOs where all positive news and reports can be found. Since last October, the MOA started to employ the controlled public media such as Central TV Station and Radio to promote public understanding of (brainwash) GMOs, for which series of programmes have been broadcasted and MOA put all the links to these programmes on the platform. In one series, a GM scientist, a talkshow guy and a group of middle school students were the players. Could there be real dialogue among them? The scientist also talked about which GM crops are commercially produced, and this probably was the first time. I found from this series that even an article titled Giving You A Bunch of GM Flowers is included in these children’ text book! Another series has been targeting peasants/farmers who mostly are poorly educated. In addition, MOA also published pages and leaflets as propaganda materials to give away. In previous years we could read some reports and news from certain newspapers and magazines on GM issues but not in recent months. The only NGO that openly stands up against GM is Greenpeace, but one voice is far from enough, and all other voices from individuals are not united yet, and sadly no voice from organic sector which is still in its babyhood. (And the politics could be both extremely powerful and dangerous.)

There is not a single page covering organic farming on the website of MOA. There is a page covering news and reports from FAO, but the very relevant reports, Save and Growth, and Agro-Ecology and the Right to Food, are not listed there even though both reports have Chinese versions. It seems to be obvious why this happens! The government allocates huge sums to research institutes for GMO research, while openly promoting it and claiming GM technology is the way to ensure food security, so this research has never been pure and their aim is commercialization. Some known GM scientists have been selling 'their' seeds (for instance, rice and cotton) through companies they have stakes in, and this probably explains why GM traits have been found in recent years in China's rice products exported to Europe. The distribution of illegal GM rice seeds could be deliberate acts. Politics, science and business are walking tightly hand in hand! What conflicts of interest!

The pro-GM groups in China always give the fact that more than 70% of the foods Americans consume contain GMOs as a proof [of safety], I gave my explanation of the situation in the US with analysis.

Just when I am writing this message to you today, a reader posed a question to me on GM garlic and Chinese onion (bigger than spring onions), and I found out a company from Shandong–the well known garlic producing province in China–has been marketing GM seed garlic! And by the time I posted my answer to the question, the website of this company partly covered the two lines where GM information was described! As the objection to GMOs from the general public is getting stronger, my worry is that GM seeds could go to the market without being marked as GM ones and such seeds have been developed by the Chinese rather than international biotech companies.

Personally I believe more GM crops have been growing in China. 

The links to the Chinese articles I wrote: