A study from Greenpeace revealed illegal GM corn growing in 93% of samples taken from fields in Liaoning province, part of China’s breadbasket. In addition, 95% of corn products taken from supermarkets and wholesalers were found to have GM corn content, which means GM corn and GM corn products are already ending up on dinner tables around the country, in direct violation of national agricultural laws. According to Tong Pingya, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science’s Institute of Crop Sciences, regulation has been lacking, and this has been going on for decades.
Currently, the country permits commercial planting of only two GM crops, cotton and papaya, and it isn’t known how the Chinese GMO corn entered the country, which raises questions about the security of China’s food supply. However, the strains of GM corn found match those patented by agricultural bio-tech corporations — Monsanto, Dupont Pioneer, etc.
“Given the grave lack of current oversight, China should postpone commercialization of GM grain crops, particularly corn, soybeans and rice,” said Li Yifang, Greenpeace’s head of food and agriculture campaigns, at a Greenpeace press conference on January 6.
Greenpeace discovered that most seed makers and merchants were unaware and unconcerned about the issue, and that in general, management of operations and seed sales is lax.
Information on seed packaging indicated that most of the illegal GM corn seeds were produced in the northwestern provinces of Gansu and Xinjiang – both important seed production centers. “This very likely means seed-growing areas and traditional seed stocks are contaminated,” warned Mr Li.
Wang Ye, a Greenpeace spokesman, said that the problem could be far more widespread than this investigation suggests. He states, “At the Liaoxi Grain Market we purchased a sample of ‘waxy corn’, which the merchant told us came from Jilin. GM contamination was also found in that sample.” Liaoning is China’s third biggest producer of corn. Liaoning and neighboring Heilongjiang, Jilin and Inner Mongolia combined grow about 44% of the country’s corn.
What are the potential problems resulting from this large-scale production of illegal Chinese GMO corn?
First, ‘genetic drift’ can result in the pollution of nearby corn fields, threatening natural crop cultivation. Second, ethically, the illicit sale of GM crops infringes on the public’s right to know what they are consuming, which brings potential health risks. Finally, the use of the GM corn violates multiple international patents.
Liaoning’s provincial agricultural authorities have sent a report to the provincial government which is expected to set in motion an official investigation. But Chinese scientists worry that the local government will downplay the matter, as has happened before.
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