The fightback begins
Since a change of China’s leadership a year ago, however, supporters of GM food inside the government and among the public have begun fighting back. In October Chinese media reported that 61 senior academics, in a rare concerted effort, had petitioned the government to speed up the commercialisation of GM crops. The Ministry of Agriculture was also said to be preparing a new public-education campaign on the merits of GM food (it issued a swift rebuttal of General Peng’s remarks, saying GM foods certified in China were just as safe as any other food). Since May Huazhong Agricultural University in the central city of Wuhan has organised nearly 30 public events promoting GM rice, including, in October, the serving of porridge made from it to about 300 people.
One of the recent petitioners, Li Ning of China Agricultural University, laments that the issue remains ensnared by nationalist sentiment. Among students, he says, “lots of them wonder how to express their patriotism; people say opposing GM is patriotic, so they say, ‘Fine, I’ll oppose GM.’” He says the scientists have not received an official answer to their appeal, but he is heartened at least by their new willingness to speak out. “Previously there was only one voice, and it was anti-GM. Now we’ve entered a period of acute antagonism.” The government, it appears, is waiting for the dust to settle before it lets the paddy fields fill with the controversial strains. That may take some time.