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.