Chinese dreams of Monsanto glory

The government authorizes a new transgenics development program, aiming for food security and biotech competitiveness

Published July 10, 2008 8:55PM (EDT)

Xinhua News is reporting that China's State Council has approved a significant expansion of a "transgenic species development" program to "shore up the country's sustainable agricultural development."

Critics of genetic modification may find the idea of "sustainable" transgenics an oxymoron, but China's move is nonetheless a huge story, with enormous implications. Just as the high price of gas is driving Americans to reconsider offshore drilling, the issue of food security appears to be forcing the Chinese government to put genetically modified rice back on the menu. In the West, anti-GM activists are quick to dismiss all claims of improved yields or other positive attributes associated with GM crops as nothing more than Monsanto pulling the propaganda wool over the eyes of browbeaten farmers or coopted governments. But this is China.

To paraphrase Deng Xiaoping: "It doesn't matter whether the cat is genetically modified or not, as long as it catches mice."

From The Guardian:

The cabinet last week approved a long-term grain output blueprint, which aims to increase grain production to more than 540 million tonnes annually by 2020 so it can be 95 percent self-sufficient in feeding the country's growing population of more than 1.3 billion people. But analysts say that because China's arable land is shrinking every year due to industrialization, the country has no option but to turn to genetic modification technology to increase yields. "GMO technology is the only solution right now for the country to raise yield and reduce use of pesticide, which is harmful for the environment," said Huang Dafang.

But it's not just about feeding 1.3 billion people. China also appears ready to take Monsanto and Syngenta on at their own game.

From Xinhua:

The State Council agreed at an executive meeting that the program is of strategic importance in strengthening the country's capacity for agricultural technological innovation, increasing farmers' income and enhance the agriculture sector's global competitiveness.

The program aims to gain genes of great commercial value whose intellectual property rights belong to China, and develop high-quality, high-yield and pest-resistant genetically-modified new species, according to the meeting presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao.

If I was the chairman of Monsanto, I'd be a little nervous.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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