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CONSUMERS & FOOD: Chinese public has doubts over GE food



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   PUBLIC HAS DOUBTS OVER MODIFIED FOOD

SOURCE:  People's Daily, China

AUTHOR:  China Daily, China, by Cheng Yingqi

URL:     http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90776/90882/7296799.html

DATE:    23.02.2011

SUMMARY: "The survey result was released on Tuesday by Greenpeace China, which had polled 1,300 people who ranged in age from 18 to 55 and lived in six cities in the country. [...] The survey found that about 60 percent of Chinese consumers were against all kinds of genetically modified food, including rice, oil and soymilk. The most severe objections came in response to the use of genetically modified rice in baby food. The rejection rate for such products was 77 percent in large cities and 83 percent in smaller cities."

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PUBLIC HAS DOUBTS OVER MODIFIED FOOD

Nearly 70 percent of Chinese consumers in a recent survey expressed objections to genetically modified rice.

The survey result was released on Tuesday by Greenpeace China, which had polled 1,300 people who ranged in age from 18 to 55 and lived in six cities in the country.

?We chose Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to sample as first-tier cities, Changsha and Wuhan as second-tier cities, and we also hired a research company to conduct the survey in Hong Kong,? said Fang Lifeng, campaigner for Greenpeace China?s food and agriculture project.

The survey found that about 60 percent of Chinese consumers were against all kinds of genetically modified food, including rice, oil and soymilk.

The most severe objections came in response to the use of genetically modified rice in baby food. The rejection rate for such products was 77 percent in large cities and 83 percent in smaller cities.

Meanwhile, the survey found most consumers do not know that the government has approved certain varieties of genetically modified rice for scientific research.

In the survey, only 17 percent of the respondents who hailed from first-tier cities and 26 percent of those from second-tier cities knew that two types of genetically modified rice were granted bio-safety certificates by the Ministry of Agriculture in August 2009.

The certificates indicate that food is safe for human consumption.

Even with the approval, genetically modified rice may not be planted outside laboratories without the permission of the health and quality inspection sectors.

Greenpeace China nonetheless has reported that commercial cultivation is already occurring illegally in rice fields in Hubei province, Hunan province and other places. And genetically modified rice noodles were spotted in the Guangzhou market.

But Hunan province denied the accusations in March 2010, saying that no evidence of genetic modification had been found in samples taken from the 32 brands of rice sold locally.

Moreover, 56 percent of the respondents living in large cities and 65 percent in smaller cities said they hope to have a say in the formation of policies concerning genetically modified foods.

?Since rice is the principal food of the Chinese people, and since we consumers have the right to decide what we put in our mouths, the government should give us a voice on the issue of genetically modified rice,? said Xu Di, 24, a Shandong resident.

Sarah Burton, deputy program director of Greenpeace International, said: ?It seems to me that a situation similar to European consumers? war against genetically modified food is unfolding in China.?

Monsanto, a US-based company, first exported genetically modified soy to Europe in 1996, an act that originally roused minor resistance among consumers. But the protests grew as time went by, eventually gaining support from farming organizations, environmental non-governmental organizations and restaurants.

The European Union instituted a moratorium on the cultivation of genetically modified crops in 1999 and extended it in 2004, sparking a new round of fights that have lasted until now.

Xu Weigang, an agriculture expert in Henan province, compared genetic modification to mankind?s use of nuclear reactors. He said the risks posed by both largely depend on how the technologies are managed.

?China has drafted strict regulations and deployed a rigorous mechanism to make its use of such technology safe,? he said. ?The majority?s objections partly result from there not being enough information about it.?

Although public opinion in China tends to be suspicious of genetically modified food, engineered soy bean oil and corn now account for a considerable share of the food found in the domestic market, he said.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   FOOD FEARS

SOURCE:  Global Times, China

AUTHOR:  Zhang Han

URL:     http://db.zs-intern.de/uploads/1298481314-Food fears - GlobalTimes1.pdf

DATE:    23.02.2011

SUMMARY: "For the past few weekends, Yi Xiaowu, a 40-year-old IT professional in Shanghai, has been busy looking for a piece of farmland where he can grow food for his family. [...] ?I?m worried about the safety of the rice that is sold in supermarkets, because I heard that some genetically modified rice is sold there without being labeled. I believe it is quite risky to eat this as a staple food,? he told the Global Times. [...] The debate intensified in December 2009, when China authorized safety certificates for two types of GM crops."

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FOOD FEARS

For the past few weekends, Yi Xiaowu, a 40-year-old IT professional in Shanghai, has been busy looking for a piece of farmland where he can grow food for his family.

Of course, he could just buy the food from the supermarket. But after concerns over food safety prompted him last year to buy organic products from farmers, he recently opted to go one step further and plant his own food.

?I?m worried about the safety of the rice that is sold in supermarkets, because I heard that some genetically modified rice is sold there without being labeled. I believe it is quite risky to eat this as a staple food,? he told the Global Times.

Genetically modified technology has been widely used in agriculture for years, and the safety issues surrounding it have been debated for just as long.

Some experts believe that GM food is potentially harmful to people?s health.

The debate intensified in December 2009, when China authorized safety certificates for two types of GM crops.

Although the country has not yet approved the commercialization of GM rice, certain foods that carry a potential risk have been in the market for years, according to some reports.

?It worried me so much that I started to buy food from an organic farm last year, and established a group for people who had the same worries,? the father of a six-year-old boy said.

His group, the ?Shanghai healthy food-purchasing group,? has already attracted more than 40 members.

?Most of the members are people like me, who are in their 30s or 40s and concerned about the health of the children and the elderly in the family,? Yi said.

A tough sell

The Ministry of Agriculture issued an announcement Sunday calling for public education on GM technology to be strengthened, and for the fostering of a ?good public opinion for the healthy development of GM technology in agriculture.?

The country has also slated 20 billion yuan ($2.93 billion) on developing GM technologies between 2008 and 2020, people.com.cn reported earlier.

However, like Yi, many people lack confidence in GM food. A survey released by Greenpeace China Tuesday revealed that 60 percent of 1,000 Chinese consumers polled in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Changsha are worried about the potential health risks it brings.

Nearly 70 percent of the consumers specifically opt for non-GM rice, while up to 65 percent of the respondents said they want the government to include their opinions when making any decision on the issue.

?This attitude is not difficult to understand,? said Fang Lifeng, director of food and agricultural projects at Greenpeace China. ?Food safety is a concern for anyone, not just 1.3 billion people who eat it every day as a staple.?

Huang Dafang, former director of the Biotechnology Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, said in March that growing GM food was the only way for China to meet the growing food demand of its people.

Huang said GM paddy rice is expected to be available in the market in about three to five years, and rejected suggestions by four delegates to the Chinese People?s Political Consultative Conference that the commercialization of GM foods should be slowed down.

Safety issues

However, other experts warned that GM food is dangerous for the country.

Gu Xiulin, a biochemist who has opposed the GM project for years, told the Global Times that despite public rejection, GM rice has been illegally and secretly cultivated in many parts of China for several years.

According to a Greenpeace China report last year, GM rice had been discovered in farmlands in Hubei, Hunan, Fujian and Jiangxi provinces. GM rice products had also been found in the supermarkets and grocery stores of various provinces without consumers knowing about it.

?Since GM rice reached the market so easily, no one knows where else it could go,? Gu told the Global Times, adding that some government agencies had turned a blind eye to the practice for a long time.

Fang from Greenpeace China said even though biosafety regulations for GM crops have been in place since 1996, implementation has not been effective.

?The global debate over the risk of GM food is still quite intense,? Jiang Gaoming, the chief researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences? Institute of Botany, told the Global Times. ?However, Chinese farmers, bioethicists and environmental groups are not being involved in the biosafety evaluation process.?

Gu said that potential risks could result in a huge tragedy.

?Before the large scale plant of GM rice is implemented, the public should all stand up to stop a tragedy that could strike everyone,? Gu said.

Some Chinese food companies and supermarkets have promised not to go down the GM path.

China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation, the country?s largest food import and export company and food manufacturer, said last year that various brands of rice the company sold are non-GM.

Companies that are indirectly related to the rice industry, such as baby food manufacturer Heinz and some beer producers, have promised not to use GM rice as raw materials.

Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Carrefour, as well as other China-based supermarkets and grocery stores, have all promised not to sell GM rice.

?The attitude of food companies and retailers also reflects consumer rejection of GM food. So far, 76 companies and nine supermarkets have made a public commitment to non-GM food. This strong and clear attitude need to be part of China?s formulation of the relevant policies,? Fang said.



                                  PART 3

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TITLE:   CHINESE PEOPLE SAY ?NO? TO GE RICE

SOURCE:  Greenpeace Eastasia, China

AUTHOR:  Press Release, by Pan Wenjing

URL:     http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/news/Chinese-GE-rice-survey

DATE:    23.02.2011

SUMMARY: "?We don?t want GE rice!? is the clear message that has rung loud and clear in China. Here at the Greenpeace office in Beijing, we have been getting more and more calls and emails from parents, housewives, college students, seed sellers, and even farmers, all with the same question: How can I avoid genetically engineered rice? [...] A recent survey we commissioned showed that 69% of mainland consumers and 79% of Hong Kong consumers do not want GE rice."

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CHINESE PEOPLE SAY ?NO? TO GE RICE

Beijing, China ? ?We don?t want GE rice!? is the clear message that has rung loud and clear in China. Here at the Greenpeace office in Beijing, we have been getting more and more calls and emails from parents, housewives, college students, seed sellers, and even farmers, all with the same question: How can I avoid genetically engineered (GE) rice? We can feel the anxiety and anger about GE food in these calls, and now it is even clearer. A recent survey we commissioned showed that 69% of mainland consumers and 79% of Hong Kong consumers do not want GE rice.

Rice is the most important staple food for Chinese people. It plays an important role in Chinese culture, tradition, history and social life, with a history of 7,000 years of growing thousands of varieties of rice. As babies we are fed rice porridge, and rice is an intricate part of nearly all our meals. Unfortunately, rice, our daily food, is now at risk: despite the people?s rejection, GE rice is on the edge of commercialization.

As rice is such an important part of Chinese life, Chinese consumers are sending an extremely strong message by showing their rejection of GE rice so clearly. In 2010, Greenpeace commissioned a consumer survey in several cities and areas of China. The survey results from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou show that 69% of consumers would choose non-GE rice and 77% would choose baby food without GE rice. In Hong Kong, 79% of consumers say ?NO? to GE rice. Rejection is also spreading to other parts of China ? a follow-up survey clearly shows that in Wuhan and Changsha, in central China, 65% of consumers would choose non-GE rice, and 83% would choose baby food with non-GE rice.

So far, the seed sellers? and farmers? rejections of GE have not been listened to or respected. The entire process that would lead towards GE commercialization has taken place behind closed doors. The Chinese people were not even informed that two lines of GE rice have received biosafety certificates, a ky step towards commercialization.

Working for Greenpeace and towards a world free of GE, I don?t want to have to answer the calls of angry and anxious people because they may soon not be able to avoid GE food. I urge the government to carefully listen to the voices of mothers and farmers everywhere. I urge the government to stop ignoring the voice of the people. GE rice should be stopped immediately. The government must take the threat that GE crops pose to the environment, health and food security seriously, and stop this experiment with people?s food.