Caixin
Feb 19, 2021 04:28 PM
CHINA

China Announces Eight Cases of Illegal Genetically Modified Crops

What’s new: China’s agriculture ministry disclosed eight cases of the illegal use of genetically modified (GM) crops, as the country’s leaders mull expanding the use of the technology to improve the domestic food supply.

Four of the cases involved illegal production or processing of GM maize seeds by companies, rural cooperatives and individuals in the northeastern provinces of Liaoning and Jilin as well as in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, the ministry said in an online statement (link in Chinese) on Feb. 9.

The other four cases concerned violations in the research and testing of GM cotton strains by a seed company in the eastern province of Shandong, a university in the eastern city of Nanjing, and research institutes in Xinjiang and the southwestern province of Sichuan, the statement said.

Authorities punished the transgressors by imposing fines, confiscating and destroying seeds, and rejecting applications for biosafety certificates, according to the statement. It added that only a “small number of work units” had acted illegally and the nationwide use of GM crops was generally “above-board and controllable.”

The background: Chinese government officials have recently signaled a willingness to ramp up the commercial use of GM crops to bolster a domestic food supply previously described as a “tight balance.”

Last month, shares in biotechnology giant Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co. Ltd. hit five-month highs on news that the government had issued biosafety certificates for two strains of its GM maize and soybeans.

The approvals were the first time the government had given the go-ahead to GM crops since the end of 2019, when it certified two maize varieties and one soybean variety. The move was the first time in a decade that GM strains of staple food crops had won approval in China.

Chinese leaders agreed at a major economic meeting in December to “resolve seed and arable land issues” this year through “respect for science” and “promotion of industrial applications for biological breeding,” a statement widely viewed as implicit support for GM organisms.

But they may face an uphill struggle to convince the public that GM crops are safe. A survey of 2,000 people published in 2018 in the peer-reviewed journal Nature found that 46.7% of Chinese consumers hold a negative view of GM food compared with 11.9% who hold a positive view.

Contact reporter Matthew Walsh (matthewwalsh@caixin.com) and editor Marcus Ryder (marcusryder@caixin.com)

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