Monsanto announced this week that it is opening a new facility in Mexico to research and develop new hybrid types of corn resistant to disease and climate conditions. On the other side of the globe, the Chinese government has launched a media campaign on TV, in newspapers and on the Internet to convince a skeptical population that GMOs are beneficial.
While the Chinese government has long been pro-GMO and sees these crops as the key to feeding its large population, the public has been less than receptive. China imports millions of tons of GMO soybeans each year to feed pigs and make vegetable oil but has yet to cultivate its own GMOs. Scientific American reports that while the country has poured money into developing GMO varieties of corn and rice, they never went into production due in part to opposition and their safety certificates, issued in 2009, expired last month. The Chinese military banned GMOs from its food supply chain last spring.
The government’s case wasn’t helped when an unapproved GMO corn was found in shipments from the U.S. late last year. According to the Wall Street Journal, huge multinational commodity trader Cargill filed a lawsuit last month against seed-maker Syngenta, saying that Syngenta’s push to sell the unapproved seeds cost Cargill $90 million. An unapproved genetically modified strain was found by Greenpeace China activists in samples of rice purchased at a supermarket in Wuhan last year; tests commissioned by state television repeated the experiment this summer and found more samples of the illegal rice.
Reception to GMO crops isn’t any warmer in Mexico, where Monsanto plans to open a research facility dubbed a “global center” to develop GMO seed corn primarily for sale in the U.S. In doing so, it painted itself as a climate hero.
“The aim is to create new varieties tolerant to diseases and the stresses that affect maize cultivation all over the world due to growing negative conditions caused by global climate change,” Monsanto said in a statement.
Last year, in response to a lawsuit filed by community organization Acción Colectiva, a federal judge in Mexico City issued a temporary order stopping the Mexican government from issuing new GMO corn permits. The activists said it would contaminate native corn and undermine its biodiversity. When it was upheld on appeal, Monsanto filed a request in April to remove the judge, saying he was biased. The ban is still in effect.
Update: While the initial reports from Reuters, picked up in several business publications including the St. Louis Business Journal, said Monsanto’s global center would research and develop GMO varieties of corn, the company says that in fact it will be working on more disease- and climate-tolerant conventional hybrids. Reuters has updated its story.
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