China's over-reliance on GM soybeans worries farmers

Updated: 2013-03-16 13:55


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In order to comply with World Trade Organization rules, China fully opened its soybean market in 2001. Soybeans from overseas flocked to the Chinese market and for the first time, soybean imports exceeded 20 million tons in 2003, surpassing domestic output. Since then, China's soybean imports have increased year after year.

China imported 58.38 million tons of GM soybeans last year, mostly from the United States, Brazil and Argentina, because the country produced about 14 million tons of soybeans while the demand exceeds 70 million tons annually.

Imports accounted for around 80 percent of the country's soybean consumption last year, said Hong Yuanshu, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, top political advisory body of China.

"Hitting the Chinese soybean market with low-priced GM soybeans is part of a strategy used by transnational grain businesses to monopolize the Chinese soybean industry," said Zhao Yusen, another member of the CPPCC National Committee.

Over the years, transnational grain businesses have controlled the pricing power of soybeans that are exported to China. They also construct soybean processing plants in China, according to the political advisors.

"Once they drive out or merge Chinese cooking oil processing companies, transnational grain businesses will fully dominate the Chinese soybean industry," said Zhao.

Wang Xiaoyu estimated that in the future, global demand for soybean oil and soybean-based feed will maintain a trend of continuous growth. Since there are many uncertainties regarding global soybean output and potential demand, China, a major soybean importer, faces greater risk in the market.

Industry officials say that China, with its limited arable land, cannot ensure self-sufficiency in soybean supplies. It will still have to depend on soybean imports in the future.

Chen Xiwen, deputy director of the office of the leading group on rural work under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, said China has no choice but to continue soybean imports.

"It is inevitable for China to import some GM farm produce for quite a long period of time," Chen said at a March 7 press conference, when responding to a question about widespread concerns over GM soybean import.

As a result, policymakers face a dilemma. If the government restricts soybean imports, China will not have enough soybeans. But if it does not close the import gate, the domestic soybean industry will have slim hopes.

Hong said a solution would involve developing non-GM domestic soybeans.

Although a global consensus on the safety of GM soybeans has yet to be reached, food made from non-GM soybeans are priced higher than those of GM soybeans in many areas such as Japan and Europe, said Hong.