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Checkbiotech: Undermining the Chinese government
Posted by: DR. RAUPP & madora (IP Logged)
Date: August 27, 2004 08:41PM ;

Environmental activists seeking to halt the worldwide spread of the advanced
technologies they fear see China as an important battleground. Predictably,
Greenpeace is leading the charge against China's adoption of such
technologies. In 2001, for example, the group ran a loud campaign demanding
that the European Union not lend any money to help finance any Chinese
nuclear power projects. Today, Greenpeace has China's acceptance of
biotechnology in its crosshairs, August 2004 by Neil Hrab.

Frontal assaults on Chinese ambitions to modernize could easily boomerang
on Western NGOs like Greenpeace. This is because Chinese leaders are
predisposed to view the outside world with suspicion. But Greenpeace has
obviously studied the Chinese system and learned how to advance its cause
without offending the powers-that-be. In contrast to its clumsy anti-nuclear
efforts, Greenpeace is now pursuing a slick campaign to stir up fears of
genetically modified (G.M.) foods in China, in the hope of swaying Chinese
public opinion.

China's sheer size makes it an important prize in the world food market, and
thus a vital target for anti-G.M. activists. Some G.M. foods are already
widely available, and many in the Chinese political and scientific
establishment favor the widespread adoption of the technology because of the
country's dearth of arable land. Of the soybean products sold in the
People's Republic, 70 percent contain GM material, according to the South
China Morning Post. And new strains of G.M. rice may soon be on the way.

While Greenpeace cannot directly challenge the Chinese government's
acceptance of crops, it can try to bring indirect pressure on the government
to change its policy. One way to do this is by spreading unfounded fears
about G.M. products, as the average Chinese consumer knows little about the
technology. This tactic has worked well elsewhere, particularly in Western
Europe. Unfortunately, suspicion towards certain modern conveniences runs
high among Chinese consumers, making them ripe for scare tactics. A July 24
report in the Shanghai Daily, for example, details how many Chinese parents
"don't understand painkillers properly and stop [physicians and dentists]
from using" them on their children, due to hysterical fears that the
children will become addicts.

If Greenpeace can stoke fears of G.M. food products in China, and turn
consumers in that country against those products, its global anti-GM food
crusade would earn a legitimacy it so far lacks.

Greenpeace's main weapon in this campaign is a 34-year old Shanghai woman
named Eileen Zhu Yanling. In March 2003, Zhu purchased some Nestle chocolate
milk powder for her three-year-old son. Soon after, she told the China Daily
in a January 2004 report, "I learned from a report by Greenpeace the product
contained genetically modified elements." She subsequently claimed to be
shocked by these allegations. Furthermore, she was disconcerted that while
E.U. regulators required Nestle to label foods containing G.M. products sold
in Europe, the same policy did not prevail in China. Nestle disputed the
claim and responded by saying that "it strictly adheres to laws and
regulations regarding food safety and food labeling in every country it
operates," and that the products it sells in China do not contain any
materials that the country's Ministry of Agriculture requires to be labeled
as G.M. food.

In June 2003, a court in Shanghai agreed to hear a legal suit Zhu had filed
against Nestle. She wanted the equivalent of about US$2 in
compensation--twice the price of the chocolate milk powder. The case became
quickly mired in confusion. A test of the milk powder in August 2003
revealed the presence of G.M. soybean, but a second test in January 2004
turned up no G.M. products. In April 2004, the court dismissed the case,
based on the second test's results. Zhu's lawyer is appealing the decision.

In December 2003, Greenpeace helped arranged a meeting in Switzerland
between Zhu and Nestle representatives. In a letter Zhu sent to Nestle ahead
of the meeting, she requested the company adopt European-style G.M. food
labeling practices in China. She hit the perfect rhetorical note, writing as
follows: "I am making these demands [for labeling] because there are
millions of mothers in the world who trust Nestle to provide their kids with
nutritious food. Please do not abuse the trust of these mothers and their
children!" Greenpeace's Chinese wing is now using Zhu's story to further the
group's anti-G.M. agenda.

Because G.M. crops would allow China to develop her agricultural sector and
feed her people, the nation's leadership currently favors the technology's
spread. Yet even an undemocratic regime like China's cannot completely
ignore public opinion. A well-coordinated scare campaign might bring just
enough pressure on Beijing to change its policy. That would be a major
victory for Greenpeace--and a blow to Chinese consumers and farmers.

Neil Hrab is the Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellow at the Competitive
Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit public policy
organization dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited


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