Science in Society Archive

Genetically Modified China

Multinational biotech companies have a strong presence in China with many GMOs approved for import and processing; and transgene contamination is inevitable. Prof. Joe Cummins

GMOs in China

China is currently the sixth largest producer of genetically modified (GM) crops (3.8 million hectares in 2008, behind the United States, Argentina, Brazil, India, and Canada [1]. The Chinese government has granted safety certificates for commercial production of four biotech food and fibre crops, including insect resistant cotton, virus resistant papaya, virus resistant sweet pepper, and delayed ripening tomato. Transgenic plants like poplar and petunia are also approved for production. Among the hundreds of biotech products under development that have been approved for productive testing are insect resistant rice (Bt63), bacterial blight resistant rice (Xa21), high phytase corn, and high oil content canola. Other major crops undergoing field trials include insect resistant corn, high lysine content corn, wheat resistant to pre-harvest germination, and insect resistant soybeans.  The regulatory approval of Chinese crops differs significantly from the  regulatory approval processes in North America. In one major area alone, in China GM crops are approved by variety in contrast to regulation in North America where crops are regulated by GM event, as I-SIS has insisted [2] (see Biosafety Alert, I-SIS report).

In North America  the GM event, once approved in a variety can be bred into other varieties or land races without further regulatory approval [1]. The Chinese approach on regulating GM food crops is slower and apparently more reliable than regulatory approval in North America. Approval by variety may leave a dangerous loophole if the ‘variety’ actually includes more than one GM event, as it is in the unreliable, unpredictable nature of genetic modification that each event is unique and differs according as to where and in what form the GM insert has landed, and what kind of collateral damage has been done to the host genome (see [3] FAQ on Genetic Engineering, I-SIS Tutorial).     

There is limited private sector research and development in agricultural biotechnology in China [1]. Biotech seed development in China is conducted by public research institutes and universities funded by various parts of the Chinese government, though marketing is often done by affiliated private companies. Foreign investment on research and production of biotech plants, livestock, and aquatic products is prohibited; but it is allowed in conventional seed production.  China has approved four biotech crops/products for import as processing materials (soybeans, maize , canola, and cotton). The first batch of safety certificates was granted to imported biotech crops in 2004. The 28 varieties approved for import processing include the following traits: 15 herbicide tolerant, 3 reduced formation of undesirable  fatty acids, 5 insect resistant, and 5 insect resistant and herbicide tolerace. Production of seeds for crops that are not genetically modified can be undertaken in partnership with  multinational seed producers; but multinational corporation ownership  is limited to minority shareholders in joint ventures with Chinese companies.

Corporate activity in China

In spite of the restrictions on production or importation of seed for GM crops and GM seeds produced by international biotech corporations, those companies have extensive presence in China, as they also produce chemical pesticides and seeds that are not genetically modified.

Dow-Pioneer Corporation

Pioneer has two joint venture companies in China: Shandong Denghai-Pioneer Seed Company and Dunhuang Seed Co. Ltd, a Pioneer International joint venture with China’s biggest seed company.  Pioneer established a research centre in China for breeding and testing maize  hybrids [4].  Shandong Denghai Seeds Co, holds a 51 percent interest in the joint ventures [5]. Dow AgroSciences also has offices in China marketing crop protection products [6]. Dow-Pioneer GM maize  DAS-59122-7 (DAS-59122-7) and TC1507 have been permitted for  import and processing in China [1].

Monsanto-Seminis Corporation

Monsanto has a number of offices in China [7], and as well a Monsanto owned company Seminis vegetable seeds company (the largest vegetable seed supplier in the world)  has offices in China [8]. China has granted permit for import and processing for the following [1]: Monsanto GM maize MON810, MON863, MON88017 and NK603; GMCotton 15985 (BollgardII), MON88913 and531; GM soybean GTS40-3-2; and GM canola GT73.   

Syngenta Corporation

Syngenta Crop Protection and Investment has sales offices in China [9], and the following have been granted permit for import and processing:  Syngenta GM maize176, Bt11 (X4334CBR, X4734CBR) and MIR604  [1].

Bayer CropSciences Corporation

Bayer CropSciences has offices in China selling crop protection chemicals [10], and the following granted permit for import and processing: Bayer GM maize ACS-ZMØØ2-1 / ACS-ZMØØ3-2 (T14, T25); GM Canola Ms1Rf1, Ms1Rf2, Ms8Rf3, Topas19/2, Oxy-235; and T45 GM soy bean A2704-12; and  GM  cotton LLCOTTON25(1).

Although GM crop seeds for planting have not been marketed in China, the large multinational corporations that produce GM crops have a significant presence in China through the sale and production of seeds that are not genetically modified, and selling crop protection chemicals. The transportation of the imported GM produce designated to for processing are bound to have environmental impacts in China. Oilseed rape (canola) has been studied most extensively with regards to spread of  its GM seeds during  transportation from fields, along roadways and  near shipping ports. Dispersal and persistence of genetically modified oilseed rape around Japanese harbours has been reported [11]. GM oilseed rape growing along a Japanese roadside was tracked for three years; the road leading from a shipping port and extending into the countryside [12].

Landscape-scale distribution and persistence of GM oilseed rape (Brassica napus) in Manitoba, Canada showed that the ready release of seeds during transportation effectively ruled out the coexistence of GM and non-GM oilseed rape in a region [13].

Gene flow of two herbicide-tolerant transgenes from oilseed rape to wild B. juncea var. gracilis (Chinese vegetable mustard) in China  brings home the fact that GM crops are not only capable of forming feral roadside weed volunteers but their transgenes  will be spread to wild relatives [14].

In conclusion, the extensive importation of GM crops for processing use only is likely to establish populations of feral crop plants bearing genes patented by multinational corporations and contaminate China’s croplands.

Article first published 08/09/10


  1. Petry,M,Bugang,W. . China Peoples Republic  Agricultural Biotechnology Annual  GAIN Report 8/3/2009
  2. Ho MW. Biosafety alert. I-SIS Report, 1999,
  3. Ho MW. FAQ on genetic engineering, ISIS Tutorial, 1999,
  4. China Pioneer HiBred  International Inc.
  5. Research on Shandong Denghai Seed Co.
  6. Dow AgroSciences China
  7. Monsanto Who We Are Our Locations China
  8. Seminis Seeds (Beijing)
  9. Syngenta China
  10. Bayer China-Bayer CropSciences
  11. Kawata M, Murakami K, Ishikawa T.Dispersal and persistence of genetically modified oilseed rape around Japanese harbors. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2009, 16(2), 120-6
  12. Nishizawa T, Nakajima N, Aono M, Tamaoki M, Kubo A, Saji H. Monitoring the occurrence of genetically modified oilseed rape growing along a Japanese roadside: 3-year observations. Environ Biosafety Res. 2009, 8(1), 33-44.
  13. Knispel AL, McLachlan SM.Landscape-scale distribution and persistence of genetically modified oilseed rape (Brassica napus) in Manitoba, Canada. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2010, 17(1), 13-25.
  14. Song X, Wang Z, Zuo J, Huangfu C, Qiang S.Potential gene flow of two herbicide-tolerant transgenes from oilseed rape to wild B. juncea var. gracilis. Theor Appl Genet. 2010, 120(8), 1501-10

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

Anupam Paul Comment left 9th September 2010 00:12:37
This story will boost up the morale of Indian scientists engaged in GM crop research in MNCs and in institutions. They will try to glorify the example of China.It is very fine to continue research on GM crops but it fails to answer the basic questions.Can it increase yield? Can it reduce the pest really? What will happen to other minor pests?Is there any alternative to this costly patented pseudo science?Do the scientists care for mother nature and poor farmers of the world? What will happen to crop bio diversity?

patrons99 Comment left 9th September 2010 04:04:02
This is a VERY distressing topic which may ultimately pose a grave risk to life on Earth. Here’s an article supporting this view, titled ““Doomsday Seed Vault” in the Arctic” by F. William Engdahl on December 4, 2007. GMO’s ought to be banned globally. This is hubris, pure and simple, by the Gates’, Rockefeller’s, and GMO giants. GMO’s are immoral and sacrilegious. GMO’s are an affront to God. God may well have something to say on this subject. I doubt that the Rockefeller’s, Gates’, and GMO giants will be given preferential treatment by their Maker.

patrons99 Comment left 13th September 2010 05:05:07
We're in serious peril. It's not just the seeds of destruction. Here comes cloned beef and frankenfish. Our regulators are playing roulette with our health. Isn't it about time that the public reigned-in these profit-driven intellectual dwarfs and moral entrepeneurs? There is a literal tidal wave of new biologicals bearing down on us with NO regulatory, moral, or ethical oversight.

Todd Millions Comment left 10th September 2010 13:01:29
Does China have the domestic equivelent of NAFTA chapter 11? These corprate mass posioners would only be interested in this market IF they have a 3rd world host that garrentees patent protection and grants blanket liability exemption. Usually a heath minister who is notable for their stupidity and an ag and trade ministry notable for their corruption are also a basic requirement for them. I can't imagine why they are so comfortable in canada,under any federal govermnet we've had since the 1970's. Global research also has some good new postings on gmo trees.