The Chinese have long been wary of genetically modified organisms, grown from seeds designed to yield plants more resistant to drought, bugs, and other hazards. While imports of GMO-derived soybeans and corn are used as livestock feed, human consumption of GMO-based food is banned except for cooking oil and papayas.

China’s top officials are gearing up to turn their country into a GMO power. In a speech released last fall, President Xi Jinping said China must “boldly research and innovate, [and] dominate the high points of GMO techniques.” An agricultural policy paper issued early this year calls for more GMO research. A pro-GMO ad campaign from the agriculture ministry began in September 2014. Beijing-based Origin Agritech has already developed GMO corn seeds, while other Chinese companies are working on new rice varieties. “Biotechnology is our investment for the future,” says Origin Chairman Han Gengchen. He expects the government to allow planting of GMO corn within three years.

China needs a sharp boost in farm productivity, which has been hurt by damaged soil, contaminated water, and overuse of fertilizer and pesticides. The official Xinhua News Agency on Feb. 4, wrote, “GMO technology has long been considered an effective way to increase yields on marginal lands.”

China is the destination of more than 60 percent of global soybean exports, almost all genetically engineered. This dependence on foreigners concerns China’s leaders, who have seen self-sufficiency in grain as a strategic imperative.

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