As Chinese consumers become more aware of genetically modified (GM) food, rejection of the technology is also growing in China, according to Greenpeace.
A survey commissioned by the organisation asked 600 respondents in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou about their attitudes to biotechnology. The survey found that 62 per cent of the respondents are aware of GM food, compared to 52 per cent in a similar survey commissioned by Greenpeace a year earlier.
More tellingly, perhaps, a majority (57 per cent) of the respondents said they would choose non-GM food over GM food, a big leap from last year's 40 per cent. Only 16 per cent said they would choose GM food, compared to last year's figure of 35 per cent.
The survey shows that residents in Beijing are more aware of GM food (72 per cent), than those in Shanghai (67 per cent) and Guangzhou (47 per cent). Rejection of GM food is also highest in Beijing, as 64 per cent said they would prefer non-GM food, while the figures in Shanghai and Guangzhou are 58 per cent and 50 per cent respectively.
"It is clear that Chinese consumers are becoming more cautious as they know more about GM food," said Greenpeace campaigner Ma Tian Jie. "Consumers cannot be fooled: GM food costs and tastes the same as non-GM food, so why take the risk?"
The Greenpeace survey also asked Chinese consumers about their attitude to the GM version of one of the country's most important foodstuffs - rice. According to the survey, 73 per cent of the respondents said they would choose non-GM rice, nearly 25 per cent more than said they would chose non-GM food in general, and Greenpeace said that this was clear evidence that recent Chinese moves towards approving the production of GM rice for the first time were flying in the face of public opinion.
China leads the world in rice production, and if it decides to commercialise GM rice, it would be the first country in the world to experiment with genetic engineering on its staple crop. Officials have said a decision may be made before the middle of this year.
"The overwhelming majority of Chinese consumers do not want genetic engineering in their rice bowls. GM rice poses environmental and health risks, and it also brings the risk of market rejection," Ma said. "This is another reason why China should not risk its staple crop with genetic engineering."
Greenpeace also took direct aim at companies selling products containing GM ingredients in China, singling out Kraft Foods and Campbell's Soup for particular attention. Kraft's Ritz cracker and Campbell's corn soup, it said, were found to contain ingredients made from non-identified GM soybeans after an independent test by GeneScan, a laboratory based in Germany.
The current regulations governing the labelling of GM foods in China stipulate that GM soybean, corn, rape, cotton and tomato, their seeds and food oil made from them must be labelled as such.
The international brands were accused by Greenpeace of having "double-standards" in their GM food policy. "Kraft and Campbell's Soup have committed not to use GM ingredients in Europe, but have not done so in China. We are demanding these companies not to sell GM food in China, as consumers deserve the same rights and safety standards everywhere," Ma said.