Misinformation can be deadly. We have the technology to genetically modify crops to be resistant to pestilence and drought, but atavistic fears over the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the emotional rejection of “frankenfoods” are starving the world’s poor. Nowhere is this sad drama—pitting ignorance about the technology against the need to feed millions of people—more stark than in rapidly growing China, where GMOs are not seen as fit for human consumption. But if the country’s state-run media is any bellwether, a change is in the offing. Reuters reports:
GMO food faces opposition even at the top levels of Chinese bureaucracy, with a senior national security official likening it to opium.But state media is taking up the fight: on Monday, Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily rejected rumors that eating GMO food could alter human DNA, and news agency Xinhua ran an investigation last week debunking tales that GMO corn consumption had reduced sperm counts….But while policymakers have expressed optimism about GMO crops and scientists have long urged the government to allow new strains of GMO rice, Beijing will not move until it is sure the risks are minimal and that, crucially, the public is behind it.
This really is a problem of perception, rather than one of actual costs or benefits—study after study has shown GMOs to be safe. The Chinese public has reason to be skeptical of its government’s food safety standards after tainted baby formula scandals led to mass recalls in recent years, but genetically modifying crops won’t make people sterile or lead to tumors, as one prominent Chinese fear-monger claimed.China’s population continues to grow, and its rapid development is polluting its already scarce water supply. Drought resistant crops will be necessary for China to feed its masses in the coming years. Convincing the public that GMOs are safe is crucially important to the country’s future, and it’s good to see China’s state media taking up the cause.[Soybean field image courtesy of Shutterstock]