GM in China: Multi-pronged strategy focused on farmers, consumers needed to accelerate use

By CM Tay

- Last updated on GMT

GM in China: Multi-pronged strategy focused on farmers, consumers needed to accelerate use © Getty Images
GM in China: Multi-pronged strategy focused on farmers, consumers needed to accelerate use © Getty Images

Related tags Gm crops genetically modified

Despite being one of the largest importers of genetically modified (GM) crops, there are still significant hurdles spanning consumer, farmer and government sentiment in driving their widespread use in China.

GM crops have been a topic of ongoing debate in recent years, with their use in agriculture increasing worldwide. These crops are engineered to have qualities like resistance to pests or herbicides, which can lead to higher yields and more sustainable farming.

China has shown interest in this technology for boosting its agricultural industry and economy. In recent years, it has developed its own GM crop varieties, such as insect-resistant Bt cotton and disease-resistant papaya. The country has also conducted field trials for other GM crops, including rice and wheat.

But despite GM crops’ potential benefits, their widespread in China has been held back. This is due to concerns around food security, bio-safety, public perception and consumer acceptance, traditional agriculture, bio-diversity, regulatory challenges, trade and global market dynamics, technology transfer, intellectual property (IP), politics and economics.

More recently, however, China’s resistance to widespread GM crop application has been attributed to the difference in consumers’ and farmers’ views on GM crops, as well as limited trust in the Chinese government.

Scepticism under study

The University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science conducted a study using survey data from Xinjiang and Guangdong to investigate the relationship between the government and the public concerning GM crops.

Researchers focused on two specific crops: insect-resistant cotton and genetically modified papaya. These crops were chosen as representatives to understand how trust in the government, consumer concerns and farmer expectations affect China’s adoption of GM crops.

The study found that for consumers, their trust in the government and the intended use of GM crops play a big role in China’s delay of widespread GM crop use. Trust in the government has the strongest impact, and how people view GM crops changes depending on whether they are meant for consumption or daily use. For instance, crops for consumption require higher trust and safety standards. Additionally, while education affects views, it's not as influential as trust and purpose.

For farmers, their trust in the government influences the delay. Farmers' expectations have the most impact — if they think growing GM crops will make them more money in future, they're more likely to express support. Trust in the government matters, too because it sets the rules for using GM crops. If farmers trust the government's decisions, they'll likely back GM crops. Age and education also matter, though not as much as expectations and trust.

Policy propositions

The research offers some practical advice. Firstly, making sure the public and farmers know what's happening with GM crops is key. Government policies should reflect people's interests and build trust by being transparent and backed by science. Regularly sharing information about GM crops, safety, and progress can also help.

Secondly, since different people see GM crops differently, policies should match these diverse views. Building trust and organising interactions between the public and government can help clarify purposes and safety standards for different types of GM crops.

Furthermore, showing farmers the real benefits of GM crops is vital. The government can offer training, information and financial aid to ensure farmers understand the technology and the potential gains.

And since education levels play a role in acceptance, improving public and farmer education about GM crops can dispel doubts and promote understanding.

Considering how consumers are concerned about safety and trust in the government, while farmers are focused on their profit margins, the study suggests that different strategies should be used to handle the challenges of using GM crops in China.

However, one should note the study’s limits, including sample size, survey period and geographic region. Future studies should use a larger sample size across more diverse areas, and more investigation is needed to understand what other factors might affect how people view GM crops and why.


Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information

“Empirical analysis on the impact of trust in government, purposes of GM crops, and farmers’ expectations on the delayed commercialization of GM crops in China—Based on Xinjiang and Guangdong survey samples”

Authors:​ Yu Pang

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