Fierce public resistance to GM food in China

Fierce public resistance to GM food in China

BEIJING - Since she became a mother three years ago, Ms Du Lihua has used only organic virgin olive oil to cook her daughter's food even though it costs up to five times more than soyabean oil, which she used to buy.

"Most of the soyabean oil in China is made from genetically modified (GM) beans, and I'm afraid GM food can lower immune resistance or has other negative side effects," said the human resources trainer in her 30s. She supports a group of parents in Beijing who have lobbied the authorities since 2010 to ban GM cooking oil in school canteens.

Fierce resistance from not just mothers like Ms Du but also the public - almost 80 per cent of 100,000 respondents in an online poll late last year opposed genetic modification - has turned China from one of the world's biggest investors in this field until 2010 into one of the most conservative consumers of this new technology.

This comes amid a spate of recent food safety scandals that have made the public more receptive to unfounded claims by opponents such as People's Liberation Army Major-General Peng Guangqian that GM food is "highly linked to cancer and infertility".

In an editorial in the Global Times daily last year, he portrayed Western GM food imports as a potential tool to undermine China's food sufficiency and surreptitiously introduce dangerous food elements into the country.

But proponents of GM technology insist that China needs to stay ahead in the global race to develop and utilise such technologies to protect its national interests.

Last July, 61 scientists petitioned Beijing to "wait no longer" to promote industrialised cultivation of GM rice, arguing that without commercial cultivation of new strains, China's research would suffer and lag behind countries like the United States.

Agriculture Minister Han Changfu - who last month told state media that he himself consumes GM soyabean oil to dispel public concerns about its safety - has repeatedly stressed the benefits of GM technology in improving China's crop yields.

For instance, GM cotton has boosted efficiency and income for farmers while drastically cutting the use of pesticides, he told China Daily last month.

Some analysts also argue that China's aim of self-sufficiency in food is being derailed by water and land pollution that has shrunk the amount of arable land, so Beijing needs to boost crop yield through GM technology to ensure it can feed its 1.3 billion people.

"The increasingly affluent population is expected to consume a lot of food, especially meat, and the government cannot afford not to pay attention to growing or importing higher-yielding GM crops," said Beijing-based life sciences consultant Kenneth Wang.

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