Chinese state media kick into high gear to ease GMO food fears
By David Stanway and Niu Shuping
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's state media are working overtime to persuade the public that genetically modified food is safe, apparently softening up the population for a policy switch to allow the sale of such food to ensure its 1.35 billion people have enough to eat.
In the past 30 years, China's urban population has jumped to about 700 million from under 200 million, driving up demand for meat and staples such as rice that scientists say only GMO can satisfy.
Imported GMO soybeans are already used as feed for animals but winning acceptance for the more widespread use of GMO may be a hard sell in a country frequently in the grip of food scares -- just this year over baby milk powder and chemicals in chickens, for instance.
GMO food faces opposition even at the top levels of Chinese bureaucracy, with a senior national security official likening it to opium.
But state media is taking up the fight: on Monday, Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily rejected rumors that eating GMO food could alter human DNA, and news agency Xinhua ran an investigation last week debunking tales that GMO corn consumption had reduced sperm counts.
Zhang Qifa, known as China's "father of GMO rice", recently criticized the Ministry of Agriculture for refusing to approve strains that have cost billions of yuan in research over the past decade.
Beijing granted safety certificates for its first genetically modified rice in 2009 but has so far refused to authorize commercial production until the public is onside.
The certificate for Zhang's pest-resistant "Bt" rice will expire next year, meaning researchers have to reapply, a process that could take years. Continued...