A leading Chinese scientist has appealed to European nations to adopt a more positive attitude on genetically modified (GM) food because their views affect policies in countries such as China that urgently needs to decide on whether to commercialise GM crops to feed its hungry people.
“The attitudes of the Chinese policymakers are deeply influenced by your views and I appeal to you to reconsider your stance so that modern agricultural technologies can benefit more people in the developing countries,” says Yang Huanming, director of Beijing Genomics Institute and one of China’s leading scientists in human and rice genomics. Huanming was speaking at a 18 July session organised by European Action on Global Life Sciences (EAGLES) at the ESOF meet in Barcelona.
Yang’s remark was made days after the Chinese government approved of a huge genetic engineering project to improve plants’ nutrition, and their tolerance to drought and floods.
Details of the research project have not been revealed, but the official China Daily reported the funding for the long-term research programme (2006-2020) could be up to 20 billion yuan (US$2.92 billion), with about 20 percent of the funds used for biosafety inspection and infrastructure construction.
Yang believes that the big research funding programmes will make the approval of GM crops – especially GM rice , several varieties of which are under pre-commercialisation trials in China – easier. “The big research programme, plus the softer attitude of some European leaders on GM crops, may push ahead the application of GM technologies, but there are not without barriers,” Yang says.
He told SciDev.Net that one of major barriers is fears on biosafety raised by the environment organisations such as Greenpeace, which he described as a “export” from Europe to China.
“They say the majority of Chinese agricultural products will be polluted by the modified genes and so this will seriously influence Chinese exports to Europe,” Yang says. “This claim is threatening enough to some policymakers although there is no scientific evidence for the “gene pollution”.
David McConnell, a professor of biotechnology at Trinity College Dublin and co-vice chairman of EAGLES, welcomed Yang’s appeals, saying the voices from the developing world would help scientists in Europe deliver more correct approaches, such as the scientific basis of GM foods, to the European public.
“The widely cherished GM-free organic farming in Europe relies on huge government and financial supports and cannot be realized among small farmers in the developing countries who urgently need modern agricultural biotechnologies to improve their productivities and reduce their inputs,” McConnell told SciDev.Net.
Jia Hepeng, China coordinator, SciDev.Net