With spring planting approaching, Chinese provinces are cracking down on illegal trading, testing, and planting of genetically modified seeds.
A March notice issued by Heilongjiang authorities warned farmers not to buy illegal GMO seeds sold as "pest-resistant or weed-resistant," offered free testing for seeds they already have, and urged farmers to report any merchants selling illegal GMO seeds.
On March 29, Heilongjiang Province officials promised to go to fields with rapid-testing kits to check for genetically modified corn and soybeans.
On April 9, Shandong, another of the biggest agricultural provinces, announced its campaign to crack down on organizations doing research on GMO crops, trials, production, marketing, processing, and imports of genetically modified material.
The same day, Inner Mongolia officials said they will focus on illegal sale and falsely labeled GMO seeds for corn, rapeseed, soybeans, sunflowers, and potatoes.
China allows research organizations to experiment and conduct trials of genetically modified seeds as long as they are approved and reported to the Ministry of Agriculture and closely controlled and monitored. But no genetically modified grain or oilseed crops have been approved for commercial planting in China.
In February China's Ministry of Agriculture reported that they caught seven companies conducting trials of genetically modified corn that were either unreported or illegal during 2017. Da Bei Nong Ltd. Co (aka DBN) was caught growing 8 kinds of GMO corn in unreported intermediate trials on a test plot in Heilongjiang covering over an acre of land. (In 2016, a DBN executive pleaded guilty to stealing corn seeds from test plots in the United States and sending them back to China in popcorn jars.) Another Beijing seed company was also caught growing 8 kinds of GMO corn on about 1.8 acres in Heilongjiang. Five other companies and a company associated with Jiangsu's Academy of Agricultural Sciences were caught growing small amounts of GMO corn ranging from 5 to 150 stalks in a seed-breeding area in Hainan Province. All the trials were suspended and material destroyed.
According to one article, the Ministry of Agriculture's report alarmed many Chinese consumers who worried that genetically modified corn is already in the country's food system.
The provincial crackdowns are probably intended to assure consumers that authorities are tightly regulating GMOs, as they have promised to do many times. However, the crackdowns also suggest that there are already significant quantities of illegal GMO seeds sold and planted in China.