European countries will now require Chinese rice imports to be certified that they have been tested for a genetically modified version. The new regulation comes after genetically altered rice, which has yet to approved for human consumption, found its way into China’s food industry last year. Time reports on how the West is warily looking at China’s growth and technological development of genetically modified foods.
The measure underscores a discomfort in the West with China’s growing dominance in the business of inventing and selling genetically modified seed. Faced with feeding every fifth person on the planet with less than one-tenth of the world’s farmland, Beijing has been pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into transgenic crop research and development, hoping the plants, whose DNA is combined with genetic material that programs them with traits like pest and weed resistance, will help farmers yield more food and commodities at a lower cost — especially as farmland is being lost to development and drought. Most of China’s cotton is already transgenic, and rice, wheat, maize, soybeans and livestock are in the pipeline. “China decided that conventional technology would not allow it to feed its people,” says Clive James, chairman and founder of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA). In the 12 years since GM crops have been commercially grown, James says most planting has been in the Americas. “I believe that the second decade will be the decade of Asia,” he says.
It’s a shift that’s causing second thoughts on both sides of this enduringly controversial technology.