Zhang Junmian reports that Cui Yongyuan, a political advisor, writer, director, sound designer and former CCTV host, has called on the government to strengthen supervision of GM crops.
GM food is described as a controversial issue for the Chinese public, who are sceptical about its safety and question the lack of labelling of GM ingredients in consumer goods.
Yongkuan challenged by Chinese-born US scientist who promotes GM corn
In January US resident Fang Shimin, a vocal supporter of GM technology, who graduated in China and obtained a Ph.D. in biochemistry in Michigan State University “engaged in a fierce war of words on a microblog with Cui” after he had questioned Fang’s promotion of GM corn last year. Fang has charged Cui with defamation in a Beijing district court.
In March, before the opening of the second session of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China’s national advisory body, Cui Yongyuan said the government should strengthen its supervision of the commercialization of GM crops, especially the practice of illegally growing GM crops:
“According to our surveys over the past six months, GM crops, including GM corn and rice, are illegally grown on a large scale in some Chinese provinces, including Jilin, Guangxi, Hunan and Hubei. The reality is that many GM crops have entered our food chain.”
Cui said that any foods that contain GM ingredients should be explicitly labeled to allow consumers to decide whether they want to buy them. On March 1, Cui uploaded online a 68-minute-long documentary based on his surveys on the status quo of GM food production and consumption in the United States in December 2013. He announced on his micro blog that the video was being made available for free, with the aim of presenting the controversies on GM crops overseas and arousing the public’s awareness of health.
So far, China has approved only the production of GM cotton, and only on an experimental basis, according to Cui, but Niu Dun, China’s vice minister of agriculture, later said that the country currently permits production of GM cotton and papaya. No GM staple foods, such as meat, eggs, milk or seafood, are allowed in commercial production.
- The FT reports George Osborne’s pressure for the relaxation of visa regulations for Chinese tourists,
- a corporate delegation embarks on the `largest ever` British tourism mission to `seduce` Chinese big spenders,
- an £8m government campaign to treble the number of Chinese visitors to the UK over the next three years is announced by Jeremy Hunt, culture secretary
- and a Cumbrian hill farmer comments on a Countryfile programme which began by referring to Snowdonia as a ‘playground’, noting perhaps the only subject omitted from ‘Fantasy Island’ (Elliott & Atkinson):
“This is a gratuitous insult to the many generations who have managed to wrest a living from these hills and whose toil created and maintain the landscape, and who provide the nursery for the livestock that feed Britain . . . We are being led by a group of influential people pursuing an impossible ecological utopia . . . I have little patience with politicians, TV propagandists and ecological fantasies at the moment”.
A Cumbrian example
The ten year old ‘Wild Ennerdale’ scheme is described as a partnership between local people and organisations which – significantly – are now the primary landowners in the Ennerdale Valley:
- The National Trust (NT),
- The Forestry Commission (FC)
- United Utilities
- Natural England
Its website reports that farm tenants, local businesses, the YHA, local people and volunteers “have caught onto the excitement and vision” of this attempt to turn a landscape back into a wilderness.
There is however, a more solid dimension to this apparently idealistic preoccupation with play and fantasy: hard cash – with Chinese visitors making an average double ‘spend’.
In August, Business Report informed its readers: “The Travel & Tourism industry is expected to directly contribute £35.6 billion and almost 950,000 jobs to the British economy during 2012. When the wider economic impacts of the industry are taken into account, Travel & Tourism is forecast to contribute over £100 billion to the UK economy and generate 2.3 million jobs – or 1 in 13 of all jobs in the UK. World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC): figures from VisitBritain show that the average spend per visit of Chinese visitors to UK is £1677, compared to the average spend per visit from all countries of £563”.
The writer first focussed on this strategy and the political-corporate drive behind it in 2000-2001
Dismissive of agriculture and manufacturing, the New Scientist reported that farmers in Britain were given a new mission in 2002 by the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food: to switch from growing food to caring for the countryside – making tourism this country’s second best earner.
Agricultural heritage centres were built in rural areas and former industrial and mining areas were encouraged to turn to tourism for regional revitalisation and put manufacturing machinery in museums. Renewable energy proposals were often blocked, fearing adverse impacts on tourism.
An Act of Parliament set up Natural England to implement recommendations by Lord Haskins of Northern Foods – a large food corporation which produces pizza, biscuits, ready meals, sandwiches, salads and puddings and requires cheap imported food to keep costs down. In 2001 Christopher Haskins pinned his hopes for the Lake District on tourism and the trade generated by servicing this sector [his ready meals?], praising the scenic caravan and holiday park sector which “has ‘shown the way’ to the rest of the tourism and hospitality industry in terms of the sustainable development of the tourism product”.
Profit before people
Natural England’s decision to allow 14 houses to slip into the sea was declared illegal by a High Court judge. This quango had urged that when the cliffs had eroded its fossils would be exposed – no doubt to the lucrative gaze of tourists.
This organisation is now encouraging the reintroduction of predators such as the sea-eagle and lynx, because sea eagles, the lynx and beavers can generate interest and income from tourism – but at what cost to local people and agriculture?
Some Scots are resisting the reintroduction of beavers. In Estonia a single pair of beavers were released in the 1920s and there are now about 100,000 whose activities have caused roads and farms to be flooded. Ministers are warned that they would be liable for any damage done by beavers in Scotland.
Robin Page, chairman of the Countryside Restoration Trust, says that the proposal to reintroduce sea eagles in Norfolk is about tourism, public relations and money. Fifteen sea eagles were released in Scotland in August and sheep farmers claim that they have attacked their flocks. Crofters report that the sea-eagles have taken up to 200 lambs.
Natural England also regards wild boar as generators of interest and income from tourism but they are degrading pasture, upturning gardens, breaking fences, charging cattle and scaring dog-walkers and children. One repeatedly entered a primary school and was only shot by rangers after it became too aggressive. Advice is being sought from Germany where the problem is even more serious. See also the Scotsman.
Next – an update on the tourist-attracting policy of ‘rewilding’.
The words of renowned musician Femi Kuti on the BBC’s World Service, following nationwide protests in Nigeria, describe the situation in this country – and others.
When asked what was at the root of the problem the answer was corruption.
“We elected the government to serve the people – instead the people serve the government”