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Should we be worried about China's genetic manipulation of food?

Question submitted by Matthias Tindemans, April 11, 2013

Answered by: Yanzhong Huang, Senior Fellow for Global Health


Genetically modified (GM) foods are derived from crops that have been genetically manipulated to grow faster, better resist pathogens, or produce extra nutrients. Since GM livestock has only been experimentally developed, these foods are typically plant products. Over the past two decades, many studies have been conducted on the safety of GM foods; the main conclusion is that, at the moment, GM foods are no more dangerous than non-GM foods. Critics argue that there is inadequate testing and regulations and that we really do not know the long-term ecological and health impact of GM foods.

China is one of the world leaders in biotech farming. China has developed four million hectares of GM crops, making it the sixth largest planting area for GM crops. China has applied GM technologies to only two commercial crops: papaya and cotton, with the latter accounting for the lion's share of Chinese GM production. The government was on the verge of approving GM rice, the main staple food of China, but because of a public outcry, the new Draft Food Law, released in February 2013, included an article limiting the application of genetic engineering technology in China's main food crops.

That said, China imports significant amounts of GM products, including soybean, rapeseed (which produces vegetable oils), and corn. In 2012, China imported nearly 60 million tons of soybeans, most of which were genetically modified. In that sense, even if GM foods are found to have any long-term hazards, one probably should not worry too much about only China's GM foods, but about those from all countries, including the United States, the largest producer and consumer of GM foods.