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Slow Growth For China's Genetically Modified Crops

Old traditions die hard in rural China.
Old traditions die hard in rural China.
Cui Zheng

BEIJING — Over the past two months, China has green-lighted the importation of three varieties of genetically modified corn and soybean from the United States. Meanwhile, China's Ministry of Agriculture has also renewed the expired safety certificates of the country's own genetically modified crops.

While that's good news for the industry, it may be premature for it to celebrate, says Chen Zhangliang, vice chairman of the China Association for Science and Technology. He recently told attendees at a seminar devoted to the industrialization of genetically modified crops that there are serious misunderstandings among consumers about this bio-bred agriculture.

What will be required is both stepped-up scientific effort, and better communication to the public at large become these products gain a commercial foothold in China.

"Explaining science to the general public is a very tough job," Chen said, comparing it to other sensitive issues such as nuclear safety and waste incineration plants. And that makes establishing consensus about associated facilities and technologies challenging.

Chen, formerly with China Agricultural University, is one of the country's leading experts of genetically modified plants and believes that the level of research among Chinese companies with GMO programs has reached international standards. He also believes the technology is critical for the country's agriculture.

"China is experiencing the squeeze both from the ceiling and the floor," he said, parroting an expression from Premier Li Keqiang. On the one hand, China's grain prices are already higher than those globally, and it can't go higher. At the same time, labor costs and raw material prices are also rising, while soil pollution and water shortages are pushing up agricultural costs.

The way out is to first solve production issues, which include transferring small plots of land to larger plots so labor can be mechanized.

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Green Or Gone

Tracking The Asian Fishing "Armada" That Sucks Up Tons Of Seafood Off Argentina's Coast

A brightly-lit flotilla of fishing ships has reappeared in international waters off the southern coast of Argentina as it has annually in recent years for an "industrial harvest" of thousands of tons of fish and shellfish.

Photo of dozens of crab traps

An estimated 500 boats gather annually off the coast of Patagonia

Claudio Andrade

BUENOS AIRES — The 'floating city' of industrial fishing boats has returned, lighting up a long stretch of the South Pacific.

Recently visible off the coast of southern Argentina, aerial photographs showed the well-lit armada of some 500 vessels, parked 201 miles offshore from Comodoro Rivadavia in the province of Chubut. The fleet had arrived for its vast seasonal haul of sea 'products,' confirming its annual return to harvest squid, cod and shellfish on a scale that activists have called an environmental blitzkrieg.

In principle the ships are fishing just outside Argentina's exclusive Economic Zone, though it's widely known that this kind of apparent "industrial harvest" does not respect the territorial line, entering Argentine waters for one reason or another.

For some years now, activists and organizations like Greenpeace have repeatedly denounced industrial-style fishing as exhausting marine resources worldwide and badly affecting regional fauna, even if the fishing outfits technically manage to evade any crackdown by staying in or near international waters.

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