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China activists and government in conflict on planting GM cornqrcode

Oct. 17, 2011

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Oct. 17, 2011
The expectation is that China’s government is going to approve the development and planting of genetically modified seed corn in the near term, maybe as early as 2012, but surprisingly to most Westerners is that China has activist groups and media questioning the safety of food produced from GM corn.

A variety of seed corn developed by DuPont/Pioneer in partnership with Chinese companies (“Xianyu” or XY335) has been on the market for five years and has jumped into the number one or two spot in sales, according to an article in the Asia Times written by Peter Lee.

It is higher yield and good salesmanship that has gained customers. It shouldn’t have been hard to improve yields since the average corn yield in China is reported to be about 80 bushels per acre. There are claims that the hybrid has some GM heritage, although GM seed is not approved for planting, and those associated with development of the seed deny the allegation.

It is logical that minimally educated farmers would listen to such a negative message and easy for food safety activists to spread such a negative message. But the most worrisome claims being spread are that corn produced by the seed and eaten by rats or pigs have resulted in sterility and offspring mutations.

Lee in his article appears to accept the mutations and sterility as fact because the International Economic Herald did “months of field reporting” and refused to accept Pioneer and government assurances that it hasn’t been XY335 causing the animal abnormalities. Lee also wrote that the Chinese have concerns that mirror “some studies in Europe and North America concerning the potential dangers of introducing new plant genetics into the food chain.”

What isn’t logical is that China imports millions of tons of soybeans each year and about 80 percent of those beans are GM ones coming from the U.S. and Argentina. Of course, the oil is extracted for human consumption and the meal is mainly used as livestock feed. Poultry and swine have not developed the mutations and sterility problems claimed by feeding the XY335 produced corn.

GM corn being imported by China is also acceptable because 88 percent of the U.S. corn crop is GM, according to recent figures published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was slow approval by China for import of Syngenta’s Agrisure Viptera GM corn that threw a roadblock in grain companies accepting the corn in the U.S.

Growing GM crops and importing such grain is quite different to the Chinese. The anti-GM activists are spreading the word about herbicide resistance to Roundup/glyphosate herbicide and their belief that insects won’t stay susceptible to Bt corn.

There are other contentions that Lee expanded upon. There is a concern that Chinese farmers are not yet sophisticated managers to deal with the risk issues. Another claim is that huge yield increases from GM crops don’t occur, and GM seed will only end up being a higher priced input. And it is explained that making it easier for each grower to farm more acres is not even a possibility with the rural population density of China.

Even with the activists’ activity undermining public confidence in growing new genetic corn, the Chinese government is finding itself in a bind for food supply. One problem is population increase and the other one is more citizens with increased income, which allows them to buy more meats for meals. Long ago China decided it couldn’t become self-sufficient in soybean production, and now self-sufficiency in corn is unattainable, the Asian Times reporter claims. Total grains self-sufficiency probably will soon be reduced to 90 percent by the government.

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