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GE Crops Expand in China

GE Crops Expand in China

P A N U P S
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service
===========================================

GE Crops Expand in China
August 31, 2001

In 1988, China's genetically engineered (GE) tobacco became the first GE
crop in the world to be grown commercially. Production of the crop was
halted in the mid-1990s, however, due to rejection of GE crops in export
markets. Undeterred by this false start, Beijing has recently forged ahead
into the brave new world of biotechnology, testing over 100 genetically
engineered crops since 1997. Despite recent regulation of GE crops and
products, government-supported research continues as China looks for ways to
achieve self-sufficiency in food production and gain an edge in the growing
biotech industry.

"China is very concerned about raising yields of crops to enhance its food
security. Biotechnology offers high hopes," according to a Chinese
agronomist quoted in a Reuters report. The government also hopes the biotech
industry will continue to lure back Chinese scientists who left the country
to study and work abroad.

China's biotech industry is dominated by government research institutes and
universities, some of which are developing state owned enterprises to market
their products. Only a few foreign firms have contracted with Chinese
institutes to conduct biotech research because of China's weak intellectual
property laws. Several foreign seed companies have formed joint ventures
with Chinese state owned enterprises, a requirement for selling seeds of
major food crops in China. Most are currently focused on the conventional
seed market, but Monsanto and Delta and Pine Land have established a joint
venture with the Hebei Provincial Seed Company to sell GE cotton seed.

Transgenic Bt cotton is the most widely grown GE crop in China, with
estimates ranging from over 700,000 hectares to one million hectares, or
about one-third of the total cotton crop. GE proponents in China point to
the success of Bt cotton in greatly reducing pesticide use, and reducing
overall production cost for farmers by 20%. However, according to some
reports, the cotton bollworm has already developed resistance to Bt in two
provinces in China.

Other commercialized GE crops include tomato, sweet pepper and petunia.
Recent biotech research and development in China has spawned many more
not-yet-commercialized products, including two species of Bt rice engineered
to be resistant to the pyralid moth. In July, China announced development of
genetically engineered tomato, eggplant and hot pepper plants that could be
irrigated with seawater. Additional research is targeting rice, canola and
wheat. By transferring genes of salt-tolerant plants like the mangrove into
fresh-water crops, Chinese scientists claim that transgenic plants have
survived seawater irrigation for four generations.

New Regulations

In May 2001, the government issued new regulations for genetically
engineered products that require mandatory labeling and safety assessment.
The Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for certifying non-GE exports,
and approving GE imports, and has the authority to ban production,
processing and trading of any GE product that is proven hazardous. So far no
GE imports have been banned, but the regulations imply that sales of some GE
products may be restricted to certain areas within China. According to the
U.S. Department of Commerce Trade Information Center, "The regulations are
vague, leaving most of the details to the agencies tasked with enforcement."

Because the new regulatory process will slow crop approvals for
commercialization from three months to nine months, Monsanto, the largest
seller of Bt cotton in China, estimates the new data requirements will delay
commercialization of its Bt maize for at least a year.

Rejection of GE products by European markets and governments was the most
direct cause for the new GE labeling restrictions in China. In 2000, Britain
banned the import of Chinese soy sauce containing GE soybeans -- soybeans
grown in the U.S., but processed in China.

Some argue China's latest regulations on GE crops serve to strengthen the
domestic biotech industry while restricting competition with foreign (mainly
U.S.) biotech companies. When the European Union announced its four-year GE
moratorium, Chinese biotech scientist Chen Zhangliang wrote, "We can take
advantage of this four-year halt to turn China into a world power in
genetically modified organisms."

Meanwhile, a small but growing number of Chinese activist groups are
educating the public about the risks of GE food. Lo Sze Ping of Greenpeace
Hong Kong said, "I think people in Hong Kong realize that genetic
engineering isn't just found in international markets anymore. Now they're
wondering about what they buy at their local supermarket." Governments in
Hong Kong, and in Taiwan, are advocating stricter GE food labeling
standards, despite industry complaints.

Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, April 3, 2001. The New York Times, October
7, 2000. Reuters, April 5, 1999. "The China Connection," PAN A/P Safe Food
Campaign, 1998. Agence France Presse, July 11, 2001. People's Daily Online,
June 7, 2001 and July 20, 2001. BIOWATCH: Genetic Engineering Newsletter, No
18, January 2001. Customs Information and Import Documentation: Genetically
Modified Organisms: New Regulations. China Market Information Center:
International Trade Administration. U.S. Department of Commerce, June 2001.
South China Morning Post, April 18, 2001. Asiaweek.com, January 21, 2000.
Agrow: World Crop Protection News, 12/01/00, 3/02/01 and 6/15/01. Public and
Private Collaboration On Plant Biotechnology In China, AgBioForum, 2(1),
48-53.

Contact: PANNA <www.panna.org>


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