Labeling Genetically Modified Foods in China

Are you worried about eating genetically modified foods in China? Don’t worry, labeling genetically modified foods is strictly enforced here so just learn a few Chinese characters and you should be fine. 

Moreover, there are very few genetically modified (GM) foods that are allowed on the market in China.

For those Shanghai expats who are still worried about eating GM Foods, we have a list of organic food suppliers in Shanghai at the end of this article.

Public Opposition to GM foods in China

This slow adoption of GMO (genetically modified organisms) technology in China is partly due to the local population’s concerns about the dangers of GM foods.

Many articles in both the traditional media and social media in China raise the Chinese public’s concerns about the side effects of eating GMO foods.

Several Chinese celebrities have also got in on the debate, using social media to promote their positions in favor or against GM foods. 

To assuage the public’s concerns about GM foods, the government has:

  1. So far only approved the commercial cultivation of small amounts of GM papaya and no other genetically modified food crops in China
  2. Banned the import of most foods containing GMOs

    We discuss the above two policies in our related Non GMO foods in China article.

  3. Strictly required the labeling of genetically modified foods in China
  4. Begun to promote the safety and benefits of GM foods to the public

Regulations for Labeling Genetically Modified Foods in China

Chinese government policy clearly supports people’s right to know if they are consuming GMO foods through its food labeling regulations.

In August 2015 a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture emphasized the requirement for labeling genetically modified foods:

"The Chinese food and drug authorities will improve supervision of labeling of GM foods, and those GM food producers who fail to label their products will be punished,"

The requirement for labeling genetically modified foods in China first came into effect in 2002 in regulations issued by the Ministry of Agriculture.

As part of the recent significant revision of China’s Food Safety Law, which went into effect on October 1st, 2015, the government reinforced the requirement for labeling of GM foods within this legislation.

This is much more strict than in the US where no national legislation requiring labeling genetically modified foods exists.

Only the state of Vermont has passed legislation requiring the labeling of GM foods to start by July 2016. This law, however is being challenged in US courts by several US food production and retail associations. 

The EU is much stricter than the US in regards to labeling genetically modified foods and requires food that contains over 0.9% GMOs to be labeled. 

This follows a growing negative attitude towards GMO foods in Europe. In fact many European countries have decided against allowing the cultivation of GM-crops.

Labeling of Non Genetically Modified Foods in China

Due to the public’s negative attitude towards GM foods in China, brands that use Non-GMO corn or Non-GMO soybeans prominently display Non GMO labels on their packages to attract customers.

They are, however, more expensive than the varieties of cooking oil and other foods that do contain genetically modified organisms, which are shown in smaller print on their labels.

Although labeling genetically modified foods is required, labeling products as GMO-free or Non-GMO is not permitted if genetically modified versions of the foods are not sold in China. 

The government does not want such labeling to be used as a sales gimmick, or to build on the negative attitude towards GM foods in China.

List of Approved GMO Foods in China

The Ministry of Agriculture, therefore, has drawn up a list of GMOs that are allowed to be sold in China, but at the same time must be clearly labeled.

So far, these include:

  1. soybean seeds, soybeans, soybean powder, soybean oil, soybean meal; 
  2. seed corn, corn, corn oil, corn powder; 
  3. planting seed of rape, rapeseed, rapeseed oil, rapeseed meal; 
  4. cotton seed; 
  5. tomato seed, fresh tomatoes, and tomato paste

Government Support for GMO Foods

Does this strict requirement for the labeling of genetically modified foods here mean that the government will not support the increase of GMO foods for sale in China in the future?

Not really!

In early 2015, Chen Xiwen, deputy director of the Central Rural Work Leading Group, stated that “In a certain sense, it is not science that has failed to provide a verdict about their safety (GM foods). The public media have not recognized them."  

Scientists in China’s Ministry of Agriculture also stated that China’s slow adoption of GM rice and GM corn had more to due with negative public opinion rather than science, as billions of Yuan in research had proven them to be safe.

In order to combat the public’s negative attitude towards GMO foods, the Ministry of Agriculture said in late 2014 it would use media, seminars and street advertising to address these concerns.

In February 2015 the Chinese government issued a policy document which detailed efforts to promote awareness to the general public of the benefits and safety of GM foods.

In August 2015 the Ministry of Agriculture said that China and other countries have done extensive research which proved that certified GM foods are as safe as traditional foods.

They declared that all products sold in China labeled as GM foods are safe and that the public should trust the opinions of experts like themselves who have done extensive research on this issue.

The Chinese Government is also allowing foreign food companies and organizations to join the debate and start promoting the safety of GM foods in China. 

In August 2015 Croplife International, the trade association representing a number of international biotechnology companies, set up Sina Weibo and Tencent WeChat public messaging accounts to promote their views to the Chinese public. 

How to Avoid Genetically Modified foods in China

  1. Buy certified local or imported organic food. Most organic certifiers, including the Chinese organic certifiers and the USDA, require certified organic foods to contain no GMOs
  2. For products containing ingredients that do have legal GM varieties in China (soybeans, corn, rapeseed, sugar beets, tomatoes) choose only those clearly labeled as Non-GMO:

Chinese Pinyin and Characters for genetically modified: 转基因 (zhuan ji yin)
Chinese Pinyin and Characters for Non-genetically modified: 非转基因 (fei zhuan ji yin)

  3. Choose imported foods in China: Although the US does not require labeling genetically modified foods, any importers of food into China must provide Non-GMO certificates with their shipments. Imported food shipments are strictly tested for GMOs by China customs.

Organic Food Suppliers in Shanghai

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Shanghai organic farms:

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Organic Clothing

Organic Stores and Online Organic Stores in Shanghai

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