Volunteers from Greenpeace and Green Hope, a Guangzhou environmental group, blindfold themselves while holding Nestle's Maggi Beancurd and Vegetable Soup which has been found to contain GE ingredients.
Soya is a food staple in China, there are records of crops
stretching back at least 4800 years. Although soya has a long
history in China, something new has arrived with the soya in recent
years. Because of China's huge population, the country imports 50
percent of the soya consumed, mainly from the US, Brazil and
Argentina. A large portion of this contains genes never found in
soya when it was first grown in China. A good portion of the soya
is genetically engineered.
But many consumers are unaware they are not eating the same soya
their families have eaten for generations.
A survey conducted on behalf of Greenpeace in the southern city
of Guangzhou showed that 64 percent of Guangzhou citizens did not
know that they were buying GE food products in supermarkets, but
they clearly wanted the choice. Over 80 percent of participants
wanted GE products to be labelled. Almost half said they would even
be willing to pay more for non-GE products, even if they cost as
much as 10 percent more than the GE products.
China's urban consumers are basically the same as consumers in
developed countries with the majority favouring non-GE food once
they are given the right to choose.
China faces a tough fight against multinational companies trying
to push their GE products on new markets in the developing world.
Protection of their natural diversity of one of the planets staple
crops is just one of many such fights China has faced since the
market gates were blown wide open by entry into the World Trade
Organisation in 2001. China does not want to join Mexico as centre
of diversity that has had the original crop strain contaminated by
genetically engineered varieties, as Mexico did with maize.
The Chinese Government has wisely taken a more cautious approach
in commercialising GE food crops because officials are uncertain
whether the market would accept GE food, but enforcement of the new
GE labelling legislation is still being worked out. This has left
gaping loopholes for many US biotech companies growing soya, and
other foreign food giants like Nestle which are very eager to
exploit for the huge commercial gains they stand to make.
But Chinese consumers are not swallowing this as easily as bean
curd. Late last year public unease boiled over with Nestle's
marketing of unlabelled GE food products in China. One web poll on
China's largest website (www.sina.com) recorded 5000 people signing up
in just two days, 99 percent against Nestle's actions. Newspapers
reported that Chinese consumers were returning products to Nestle's
Many Chinese people took offence to the fact that they have a
right to know what is in their food but were not being told.
Although Nestle's unique experience of anticipating consumers'
needs and sating them with GE-food products has paid off in many
countries, China still has a huge variety of natural foods which
are used to produce mouth watering dishes in dozens of regional
And unrest has spread to many of these regions. Recently,
Heilongjiang province, responsible for 80 percent of soya exports
from China, declared a policy to keep GE soy away from the
province. In the neighbouring province of Liaoning, the provincial
government demanded that soya milk for school children must be
non-GE. China's new regulation restricting GE imports also lead to
a decrease in soya imports and almost no corn imports last year
while China's own corn export to South East Asia exceeded American
corn for the first time.
While China is obviously becoming aware of the luming threat to
their food supply, many consumers are still unaware and that is why
Greenpeace and Greenhope, an enthusiastic and determined volunteers
group, have teamed up for the first GE Food Roadshow in the
southern city of Guangzhou.
The fact that the Roadshow is being held in Guangzhou is very
appropriate. Dr. Sun Yat-sen, widely accepted as being founder of
modern China and the first President of the Republic, was born into
a farming family near the city - its famous Zongshan University is
named after him. Dr. Sun Yat-sen is revered by Chinese people for
his progressive policies and we wonder whether he would've judged
GE-food as a step forward or a step back, given that no one knows
what the impact of GE crops and GE food products will have on the
country and its people.
The roadshow will run from Friday 17th to Monday 20th January
and we will host events, including a GE-free banquet and school
visits, to promote natural food as opposed to the genetically
engineered strains that no one asked for.
The roadshow takes place just before Chinese Lunar New Year and
the welcoming of the year of the Goat, a time for the clearing out
of unwanted items from your house. Let's hope that China gets rid
of GE food before it's too late, join us in building a biosafety
Great Wall to keep GE food out of China.
You may not be able to make it to Guangzhou to join us but you
can follow the roadshow by visiting this website to learn what the
people of Guangzhou think of GE food.
Spread wishes for a GE-free new year with this
Year of the Goat flash ecard.
Greenpeace China web site.