The Chinese communist party's "document no. 1" released last month called for "strengthening research on transgenic agricultural technology and its supervision, carefully spreading results on the basis of safety assurances."
Is it a coincidence that a week later it is announced that the Chinese state-owned company ChemChina plans to pay $43 billion for the Swiss company Syngenta whose products include transgenic crops? This deal appears to be in line with the "strengthening research" part.
The admonitions about "supervision" and "careful" dissemination of transgenic crops may be about a decade too late. A detailed Greenpeace survey of the corn industry in Liaoning Province caused a stir when it reported that genetically modified material was found in nearly all the samples collected from fields, seed dealers, and products in supermarkets.
No genetically modified corn varieties have been approved for commercial sale or use in China, so planting GMO corn for sale is illegal. Genetically modified cotton has been available to farmers for about 15 years, but no other GMO crop is legally planted for commercial use on a large scale. Dimsums reported on planting of GMO corn more than a year ago. This follows allegations of widespread GMO soybean production in Heilongjiang last year and detection of GMO rice in supermarkets.
China Dialogue's bilingual article on the Greenpeace report quoted a well-known seed industry expert from China Academy of Agricultural Sciences who said, “The reason there is such a large area of illegal GM corn is that this has been going on in Liaoning for a decade, regulation has been lacking.”
According to a China Times article, the spread of illegal GMO seeds in northeastern China is an "open secret". An unnamed seed industry person told China Times that farmers prefer pest-resistant seeds, which are all transgenic. (However, some of the purportedly pest-resistant seed varieties are fake and do not resist pests, according to this person.) The seed industry person went on to blame small companies illegally selling seeds developed by multinationals as the source of the problem.
China Times notes that the government has not produced an authoritative report on the amount of GMO crops illegally grown in China.
Several localities have launched crackdowns on genetically modified corn seed sales. A letter sent out by Liaoning's seed bureau threatened to report serious violators to the police. It was reported at a meeting in Jilin Province that three seed companies in the province had their licenses revoked for illegally selling GMO corn seeds.
A Renmin University professor told China National Radio that sellers of genetically-modified seeds are like drug dealers and should not be tolerated.
Greenpeace is unable to say how the GMO seeds got into the country. But inspection and quarantine authorities have periodically reported catching people mailing in genetically modified seeds or carrying them in suitcases. On January 27 (incidentally, the same day the "No. 1 Document" was released) an executive with a Chinese seed company pleaded guilty in Iowa to stealing seeds from test plots, propagating them on rented plots of land in the U.S., and sneaking them into China hidden in luggage or in popcorn canisters.