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GM foods make its way to China market

Updated: 2013-09-29 10:49
( bjreview.com.cn)

Market share boom

A decade ago, the market share of GM soybean oil in the edible oil market was quite slim. According to the General Administration of Customs, the proportion was less than 2 percent in 2001. While by June 2013, it had surged to 43 percent, according to the China Soybean Industry Association, an industrial union of soybean farmers, processors and traders, as well as scientific researchers throughout China.

The change started in 2001 when China joined the WTO and imports of agricultural products increased. As a result, China's traditional agricultural industry received a heavy blow from more advanced foreign competitors, including GM soybeans from the United States and GM rapeseed from Canada and Australia. These were sold in China at lower prices than locally cultivated soybeans and rapeseed, taking a toll on domestic industries.

According to Xinhu Futures, a Shanghai-headquartered company that offers futures brokerage, investment consulting and asset management services, soybean output was 8.5 million tons in 2012 in China while 71.65 million tons were consumed. In 2012, China imported 58.38 million tons, rising 11.2 percent year on year.

China is also world's largest corn importer and much of that too is genetically modified. In 2013, the country's corn imports will total 7.2 million tons, among which 80 percent are genetically modified, according to a report from SCI International, a professional watcher of China's commodities. The report also said that most of China's imported corn comes from the United States and 95 percent of US-imported corn is genetically modified.

Xie Jiajian, an associate researcher with the Institute of Plant Protection under the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), said GM products have grabbed a big market share in global agricultural trade. As a major importer of agricultural products, China is bound to come in contact with more and more GM agricultural products.

Data from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) showed that 81 percent of the world's soybeans, 81 percent of its cotton, 35 percent of corn and 30 percent of oilseed rape was genetically modified in 2012, and most of those products have been sold to China.

The popularity of GM foods in China may be growing, but so too is the debate on whether it is safe to consume. Many Chinese resist GM foods simply because they fear it may cause cancer. "The government has allowed the import of GM soybeans, so it owes us a convincing explanation on whether or not it's safe," said Wang, the Beijing native.

The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) says concerns over GM foods are unnecessary. China's GM foods must comply with three principles: First, the food must be traced back to its origins; second, the food should have a label saying it's genetically modified; third, the food should be controlled within certain regions so that all residents have the right to know and to choose. The MOA has also called on experts to promote GM foods throughout China. So far, the MOA has approved the import of GM cotton, soybeans, corn and oilseed rape.