Allegations from a whistleblower may harm Beijing’s efforts to shift public opinion toward a greater acceptance of GMO food

There’s background on this story here:

GMO lab allegations revive suspicions in China

By Chuin-Wei Yap
Wall Street Journal, 21 Sept 2016

* The allegations drew widespread attention [and] may harm Beijing’s efforts to shift public opinion toward a greater acceptance of GMO food

A former employee at a state laboratory that studies genetically modified foods said his superiors had him falsify reports, reviving deeply held skepticism in China toward the controversial technology.

The accusations, lodged this week by researcher Wei Jingliang, center on lab-management procedures, not the results of GMO tests at the lab, one of about 40 in China that conduct such tests. But the allegations drew widespread attention on social media and risk harming Beijing’s efforts to shift public opinion toward a greater acceptance of GMO food.

The Ministry of Agriculture didn’t respond to requests to comment. The Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, which oversees the lab, on Monday said the ministry would dispatch a team this week to investigate.

“The academy attaches great importance to this matter,” the academy said. “We will actively cooperate and deal with the matter with severity if it’s true.”

China’s consumers often voice strong suspicion of GMO food, usually on social-media platforms where public interest on the issue runs high.

The government bans the commercial production of most GMO foods domestically but wants to master the technology for agribusiness. Beijing has consistently emphasized public health and safety and a go-slow approach.

In recent months, however, officials have sent signals they are preparing to push forward on broader use of the technology in the food and agribusiness industries.

China’s State Council, the government’s cabinet, said in August that it will “push the industrialization of genetically modified crops.” Many interpreted that to mean the government is moving to allow the commercial production of major GMO crops on domestic soil.

That comes as state-owned China National Chemical Corp. completes its $43 billion purchase of Swiss seed giant Syngenta AG , one of the world’s leading GMO producers.

While the accusations aren’t likely to derail Beijing’s campaign, they provide ammunition to its opponents.

In essays Mr. Wei uploaded on Sunday and Monday to Zhihu, a Chinese social-media platform, the 26-year-old said his superiors placed him in charge of their lab archives in May 2015.

That was two months before an inspection by a team of central-government ministries. He said the academy ignored his finding that records were doctored or poorly kept.

Mr. Wei said he tried to resign, but his superiors turned down the offer and made him come up with doctored documentation within a month ahead of the inspection. The unit passed the audit.

“It would have been hard for the inspectors to detect that the documents were made up,” Mr. Wei said in an interview on Wednesday.

Mr. Wei resigned in April, saying he harbored reservations over such improper practices in scientific research.

The academy is one of Beijing’s leading agencies for GMO research.

Chinese media have widely picked up Mr. Wei’s allegations, amplifying a circulation of excerpts of his whistleblowing on social media. None of them have so far been deleted by state censors who are otherwise quick to quash any sign of overly obstreperous civic discussions. Mr. Wei said he hasn’t been approached by any government or academy staff.

The posts attracted public criticism of Mr. Wei’s former employer. “We all know that officials have always been lying, but have never had the proof,” one blogger said.