China’s Fierce Public Debate Over GM Food Exposes Concerns About America
OF THE many thousands of usually small protests that break out in China every year, few relate to national policy. Many consider the risk of challenging the central government too great. But the entrance to the agriculture ministry is a gathering spot for occasional demonstrations. Their complaints are about an issue dear to the ministry: genetically modified (GM) crops. At one protest this year, a group chanted slogans calling for the eradication of “traitors” who support GM food. Debate over the technology is escalating, putting the government in a bind.
Public unease about genetic modification is common around the world. In China, alongside rising concerns about food safety, it has taken on a strongly political hue. Chinese anti-GM activists often describe their cause as patriotic, aimed not just at avoiding what they regard as the potential harm of tinkering with nature, but at resisting control of China’s food supply by America through American-owned biotech companies and their superior technology. Conspiracy theories about supposed American plots to use dodgy GM food to weaken China abound online.
They are even believed by some in the government. In October an official video made for army officers was leaked on the internet and widely watched until censors scrubbed it. “America is mobilising its strategic resources to promote GM food vigorously,” its narrator grimly intoned. “This is a means of controlling the world by controlling the world’s food production.”