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* Letter from citizens underscores debate over GMO
* ChemChina-Syngenta deal was unveiled in Feb
* Syngenta is major supplier of GMO seeds
By Niu Shuping and David Stanway
BEIJING, April 8 Around 400 Chinese citizens
have signed a letter to protest the purchase of Swiss-based
seeds and pesticides company Syngenta by state-owned ChemChina,
saying the deal would eventually lead to genetically modified
crops being sown across swathes of the country.
Critics of genetically modified organisms argue the
technology poses risks to public health and the environment,
while advocates say such fears have not been scientifically
proven and that high-yielding genetically altered crops would
help ensure food security as the world's population grows.
Although relatively few people signed the letter, it marks a
rare example of open opposition to state-supported corporate
strategy in a nation where the government often clamps down hard
on any criticism.
It also underscores fears among some of the public that the
government is gearing up to gradually loosen laws that prevent
the cultivation of any GM varieties of staple food crops, with
Beijing already permitting the import of some GMO crops for use
in animal feed.
The $43 billion all-cash deal unveiled in February is the
largest foreign acquisition ever by a Chinese firm as China is
looking to secure food supplies for its population. Syngenta has
a portfolio of top tier chemicals and patent-protected seeds,
many of which are genetically modified.
"The acquisition of Syngenta and the promotion of its
genetically-modified and agro-chemical agriculture in the
country would destroy the country's own agriculture and food
security," the protesters said in the letter, seen by Reuters.
They argue GMO strains would contaminate Chinese staple crops.
"ChemChina must immediately stop the suicidal acquisition
from causing a disaster to the Chinese nation."
Syngenta did not respond to requests for comment. A
ChemChina spokesman said he had heard about the letter and that
the company was waiting to learn more about it.
Yang Xiaolu, one of the protesters on the list, said the
letter was handed over late last month to the State-owned Assets
Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council
(SASAC), which overseas companies owned by the central
A SASAC spokeswoman said her office had not yet seen the
letter, but was looking into the matter.
Yang, a long-time anti-GMO activist, is also among the three
plaintiffs who were taking China's Ministry of Agriculture to
court in April last year in a bid to make public a toxicology
report supporting the approval of Monsanto's popular weed
Reuters was unable to verify other names listed on the
China's commerce ministry spokesman Shen Danyang said in
February that the ministry supported the acquisition which would
help secure global food supply.
The protest comes amid worries that Beijing is losing
control over the supervision of GMO technology.
Last month, agriculture minister Han Changfu admitted that
GMO corn was illegally grown in some parts of the country, but
found "no large areas of illegal planting" after Greenpeace said
a majority of samples taken from corn fields in 5 counties in
Liaoning province, tested positive for GMO
(Reporting by Niu Shuping and David Stanway; Editing by Joseph