Science in Society Archive

How Grain Self-Sufficiency, Massive GM Soybean Imports & Glyphosate Exports Led China to Devastate People & Planet

China owns 70 % of world’s production capacity for glyphosate, more than 80% exported, mainly to USA, Brazil and Argentina, countries that have greatly expanded GM soybean production for export to China; excessive glyphosate spraying has sickened people & wildlife in GM soybean producing countries while a billion Chinese people are poisoned with toxic soybeans Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

International NGOs called for China to stop producing glyphosate

In the wake of the World Health Organization reclassification of glyphosate as “probable carcinogen”, an international group of non-government organizations sent an open letter to China, addressed to the Chinese people, Chairman Xi Jinping and Premier Li Ke-qiang, calling for an end to the production of glyphosate on grounds of its carcinogenicity and other serious toxicities (see [1] Ten NGOs Ask China to Stop Producing Glyphosate to Protect World Health, SiS 66). By the time it was translated into Chinese and posted, another 7 NGOs had signed the letter, which was widely read and reposted, receiving a great deal of support in China (

China indeed holds the key to the future of glyphosate, by far the world’s top herbicide, used for weed control not only on farms growing GMOs, but also as desiccant on non-GM crops, and in residential and commercial areas of cities and towns, in parks, and home gardens, based on false claims perpetrated by Monsanto aided and abetted by regulators that it is harmless to humans and animals, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary (see [2] A Roundup of Roundup Reveals Converging Pattern of Toxicity from Farm to Clinic to Laboratory Studies, SiS 65).

China is world’s largest glyphosate producer & exporter by far and growing

China is the world’s largest producer of the herbicide glyphosate. By the beginning of 2015, China already owns 70 % of global glyphosate overall production capacity, currently in excess of 800 000 tonnes [3]. China’s glyphosate output has been rising rapidly in recent years, increasing by some 20 % in 2013 to 509 000 tonnes, of which 442 000 tonnes (over 80 %) were exported, while domestic consumption remained at about 50 000 tonnes.

Wang Jian-wo, secretary general of the Hunan Provincial Agricultural Pesticide Industry Association said China has captured over 50 % of the world market for glyphosate, but less than 20 % of the high value-added glyphosate formulated herbicide market share; this puts China’ glyphosate industry at distinct disadvantage. “It suffers from serious excess production capacity, inability to compete, and lack of control of the situation.”

According to Zeng Jun-zhen, Chairman of Xingbang Science & Technology Incorporation, more than 80 % of China’s glyphosate is exported to just 6 countries, with the top three (USA, Brazil and Argentina) accounting for 55-60 % of China’s total export.

As regards formulated glyphosate herbicides, Monsanto has assigned China Chemical International Group exclusive distributor rights for Australia and New Zealand in 2013 [4]. Since then, China has also acquired exclusive distribution rights for Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides in 6 nations of the Far East - India, The Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan and Bangladesh – and the sales of glyphosate in 2014 reached a historical high, increasing by 7.11 % over the previous year [5].

In recent years, China has implemented a series of pesticide administrative policies aimed at concentrating production, and increasing competitiveness and sustainable agrochemical development. As a result, some medium and small enterprises have shut down in 2013, being replaced by bigger companies [6]. By the end of 2013, 17 companies were producing 647 000 tonnes of glyphosate, and the capacity is still expanding.

At the same time, China is aggressively increasingly its international market share. In 2013, Sinochem obtained Monsanto’s dealership of Roundup in Australia and New Zealand. In 2014 Huapont-Nutrichem invested 1.4 billion Yuan in the US Iowa-based company Albaugh, paving the way for Huapont-Nutrichem to enter the distribution channel of the world second largest glyphosate supplier. Also in 2014, Hubei Xingfa Chemicals Group acquired glyphosate enterprise Taisheng, planning to set up a direct glyphosate sales channel in Brazil; and Rainbow Chemical has released glyphosate GR (granules) to the South American market including Argentina.

Phenomenal growth of China’s soybean imports & grain self-sufficiency

China is a country of origin for soybeans and had been producing all it needed up to 1995. But since then, soybean imports into China had seen a meteoric rise, from 1.1 million tonnes in 1996 to 71.4 million tonnes in 2014 [7]. How did that happen?

According to veteran world watcher Lester Brown, it goes back to 1994, when he published an article “How China could starve the world” on the front page of the Washington Post’s Outlook section, and unleashed a “political firestorm” in Beijing [8]. A press conference was held at the Ministry of Agriculture, where Deputy Minister Wan Baorui denounced the article, saying that advancing technology would enable the Chinese people to feed themselves. A stream of articles followed that challenged Brown’s findings.

Nevertheless, in assessing the situation, the Chinese Party leaders decided to redouble their effort to maintain grain self-sufficiency, a policy that had preoccupied the leadership since the Great Famine of 1959-61 when large numbers of people starved to death. In order to concentrate efforts and resources on grain, they decided to abandon self-sufficiency in soybeans, even though China is a country of origin for soybeans. The effect was dramatic. In 1995, China produced and consumed nearly 14 million tonnes of soybeans. By 2010, it was still producing only 14 million tonnes, but it consumed nearly 70 million tonnes, most of which to supplement livestock and poultry feed. China was importing four-fifths of its soybeans. The growth has continued unabated (see Figure 1).

More than that, China’s decision to import vast amounts of soybeans “led to a restructuring of agriculture in the western hemisphere, the only region that could respond to such a massive demand.” Brown wrote [8]. The US ends up with more land in soybeans than in wheat; Brazil has more land in soybeans than in all grains combined; and Argentina, with twice as much land in soybeans as in grain, is rapidly becoming a soybean monoculture republic. For the hemisphere as a whole, there is now more land in soybeans than in either wheat or corn. The US, Brazil and Argentina now account for more than 80 % of the world harvest in soybeans and nearly 90 % of exports; some 60 % to China. Although Brown did not mention it, most of that is genetically modified (GM) glyphosate tolerant (Roundup Ready) soybean. The import of GM soybeans started in 1997 [7].

The vicious circle is now complete. China gave up producing soybeans and invested heavily in producing glyphosate instead, shortly after Monsanto’s patent for glyphosate expired in 2000. Most of the glyphosate is shipped to the top GM soybean producing countries US, Brazil and Argentina, where it is sprayed on Roundup Ready soybean to be exported back to China. Excessive glyphosate spraying has sickened people & wildlife in GM soybean producing countries (not to mention millions of hectares of natural forests cut down and natural grasslands destroyed), and a billion Chinese people are poisoned with toxic soybeans. The international group of NGOs are right [1], China holds the key to world health, only China can break this vicious circle that devastate people and planet.

There are signs that the days of GMOs are numbered [9] (Ending GMOs Now, SiS 66). Global rejection of GMOs has sent Monsanto profits plummeting; farmers are abandoning GM crops in record numbers in the US; GMOs old and new are failing, while organic and non-GMO markets continue booming. At the same time, the World Health Organization classification of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen is triggering fresh calls for bans and restrictions (see later). GMOs are the major factor in the rise of glyphosate. And independently, there are also signs that world trade in glyphosate could collapse under the weight of evidence of its multiple toxicities of which carcinogenicity is just one aspect.

Glyphosate resistant weeds an intensifying global problem

For some time now, the issues of glyphosate resistant weeds and glyphosate safety have been dampening China’s optimism for the herbicide, as a trend watcher commented [6]. The International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds [10] lists (21 May 2015) 246 species of weeds resistant to 157 different herbicides globally, affecting 86 crops in 66 countries. Currently, 35 species of weeds are resistant to glyphosate in 25 countries around the world; 14 in the US, 10 in Australia, 7 in Argentina and 6 in Brazil. Glyphosate resistant weeds have emerged rapidly since the introduction of genetically modified glyphosate tolerant crops (see Figure 2). GM crops are the single most important factor for the increase in glyphosate use and the consequent emergence of glyphosate resistant weeds. By the end of 2012, 61.2 million acres (49 %) of crop lands (corn, cotton and soybean) in US are infested with glyphosate resistant weeds, up 51 % over 2011 [11]. The number of farms with two or more resistant species in increasing: in 201o it was just 12 % of farms, two years later, it was 27 %.

Figure 2   Increase in glyphosate resistant weeds since the introduction of GM crops

  So far, there is no satisfactory solution to glyphosate resistant weeds. Experts suggest using glyphosate with other herbicides, planting glyphosate resistant crops in rotation with normal crops, as well as multi pesticide-resistant stacked trait GM crops [12]. However, multiple herbicide-resistant weeds are already common, including those resistant to glyphosate [13]. The use of multiple pesticides and multi pesticide-resistant stacked traits would make matters worse.

Safety issue may be the tipping point

The only safety issue mentioned in the trend-watcher comment [6] is the fatal kidney disease epidemic that has hit some countries using glyphosate including Sri Lanka and El Salvador (see [14] Sri Lanka Partially Bans Glyphosate for Deadly Kidney Disease Epidemic, SiS 62). Of the countries involved, El Salvador has imposed an outright ban, in 2013. Sri Lanka soon reversed its ban due to pressure from industry; but its new president has just announced a ban on import of glyphosate with immediate effect [15], while bans in Argentina and Brazil are still pending.

The trend-watcher comment [6] was made four months before the WHO reclassified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen (see [16] Glyphosate “Probably Carcinogenic to Humans” Latest WHO Assessment, SiS 66); which has unleashed a fresh round of demands for bans from authoritative organizations worldwide as well as actual bans on glyphosate. The fallout is substantial (see [17] Fallout over WHO Classification of Glyphosate as Probable Carcinogen, SiS 67), and yet to be played out. It may well be the tipping point for the herbicide that has so rapidly attained world dominance over the past two decades.

Glyphosate producers should take prompt action to divest into supporting truly sustainable agriculture, beginning with the remediation of glyphosate contaminated fields [18-22] and water [23], an increasingly active field of research as the toxicities of glyphosate for people and planet have become all too evident.

China also needs to seriously rethink its food security policy in line with those of the rest of the world (see for example [24, 25] (Food Futures Now *Organic *Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free, ISIS/TWN special report;  Agriculture beyond the Green Revolution: Shaping the Future We Want, SiS 64): especially a shift to sustainable, organic non-GM agriculture, reducing meat consumption, focussing on developing extensive grass-fed livestock for healthy meat, and re-instate soybean self-sufficiency as part of food self-sufficiency.

I thank Chen-I-Wen, former advisor to the Committee of Disaster History of China Disaster Prevention Association, who provided key information for this article.

Article first published 03/06/15


  1. John B, GM Free Cymru, et al. Ten NGOs ask China to stop producing glyphosate to protect world health. Science in Society 66, 18-19, 2015.
  2. Sirinathsinghji E. A roundup of Roundup reveals converging patterns of toxicity from farm to clinic to laboratory studies Science in Society 65, 28-30, 2015.
  3. “Glyphosate high fever does not come down, what remedy is there?” China Chemical News,  5 January 2015 (in Chinese),
  4. “Monsanto assigns China Chemical International Group as exclusive distributor for glyphosate herbicide in Australia and New Zealand”,, 3 July 2013,
  5. “Sales of glyphosate reaches historical record, China Chemical International's pesticide business increases 7%”, China Agrochemical Net, 5 May 2015,
  6. “An insight into glyphosate trend”, Grace Yuan, AgroNews, 13 November 2014,
  7. China’s Custom Statistics, cited in “China’s import of GM soybeans started in 1997”, interview with Peng Yu-fa, researcher at Plant Protection Research Institute of China Academy of Agricultural Science, also Deputy Director of the Agricultural GMOs Safety Committee, Beijing Morning Post 14 June 2013 (in Chinese)
  8. Brown LR. Can the United States feed China? Plan B Updates 23 March 2011, Earth Policy Institute,
  9. Ho MW. Ending GMOs now. Science in Society 66, 2-7, 2015.
  10. International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds, 21 May 2015,
  11. “Glyphosate resistant weeds – intensifying”, Kent Fraser, Our Blog, Stratus Ag Research, 25 January 2013,
  12. “Ag retailer play a critical role in best management practices for herbicides”, Michael Reidy, Our Blog, Stratus Ag Research,
  13. Multiple herbicide-resistant weeds and challenges ahead. Crop Watch, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, accessed 22 May 2015,
  14. Sirinathsinghji E. Sri Lanka partially bans glyphosate for deadly kidney disease epidemic. Science in Society 62, 2014.
  15. “Sri Lankan President orders to ban import of glyphosate with immediate effect”,, 22 May 2015,
  16. Ho MW and Swanson N. Glyphosate “probably carcinogenic to humans”, WHO latest assessment. Science in Society 66, 16-17+23, 2015.  
  17. Sirinathsinghji E. Fallout over WHO classification of glyphosate as probable carcinogen. Science in Society 67 (to appear) 2015.
  18. Moneke AN, Okpala GN and Anyanwu CU. Biodegradation of glyphosate herbicide in vitro using bacterial isolates from four rice fields. African Journal of Biotechnology 2010, 9, 4067-74.
  19. Kolawole OA and Akinsoji AO. Biodegradation of glyphosate pesticide by bacteria isolated from agricultural soil. Report and Opinion 2011, 3, 124-8.
  20. Xu X, Ji F, Fan Z, and He L. Degradation of glyphosate in soil photocatalyzed by Fe3O4/iO2/TiO2 under solar light. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2011, 8, 1258-70.
  21. Eman A, Adel-Megeed A, Suliman A-M A, Sadik MW and Sholkamy EN. Biodegradation of glyphosate by fungal strains isolated from herbicides polluted-soils in Riyadh area. Int J Curr microbial App Sci 2013, 1, 359-81.
  22. Benslama O and Boulahrouf A. Isolation and characterization og glyphosate-degrading bacteria from different soils of Algeria. African Journal of Microbiology Research 2013, 7, 5587-95.
  23. Bourgeois A, Klinkhamer E and Price J. Pesticide removal from water. Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Mass, 25 April 2012.
  24. Ho MW, Burcher S, Lim LC et al. Food Futures Now, Organic, Sustainable, Fossil Fuel Free, ISIS/TWN, London/Penang, 2008,
  25. Herren H. Agriculture beyond the green revolution: shaping the future we want. Science in Society 64, 44-47, 2014.

Got something to say about this page? Comment

Comment on this article

Comments may be published. All comments are moderated. Name and email details are required.

Email address:
Your comments:
Anti spam question:
How many legs on a duck?

There are 4 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

Rory Short Comment left 4th June 2015 01:01:41
Healthy Nature is replete with variety. The massive use of Glyphosate even if it did not have all the other associated problems would be a problem in itself. A one size fits all mindset is not how we should be trying to work with nature because such a mindset is essentially anti-nature.

Mary Saunders Comment left 4th June 2015 14:02:53
Plant growth-potentiators that could replace toxics include mushroom-based factors that are consistent with Traditional Chinese Medicine. As TCM gains traction and importance in the west, with advanced adopters here coming to understand that thousands of years of trials are superior to easily jiggled short-term trials, we can be looking at a rather rapid world change. Soon-as-possible is my hope and my visualization. We need this now.

Todd Millions Comment left 5th June 2015 15:03:52
Many industries need too be shut down world wide.Nuclear oil coal at least ammunition-could be immediately stopped and existing stockpiles would suffice for any residual-need for decades in many cases. Forever in others.Pulling this off while dealing with the continuing damages is going too prove -stone tricky. Even without the push back of Mafias and banksters.But by poor Satan and his evil master- Henery Kissenger,it must be done."Well begun-Half done. Half done, Not completed."

Warren Brodey M.D. Comment left 7th June 2015 03:03:44
Poisoning the Whole Earth for profit is new. Not as a concept. But as a potential reality. It has started. Glycoside toxins, Fukishimo atomic waste, global warming and more. The danger to all life is accelerating. All the dangers entwine to further accelerate each other. the scale is beyond what is familiar except as fantasy. Few Earth people are unaware of this danger to themselves and their young children. Save the children is what people can hear. Act powerfully now. Join the fight for a healthy Earth. Speak loudly SPARK so many Sparks can ignite the fire within the many potential activists. I am 91 years and want my large family of friends to join SPARK.