The shattered puzzle

by Francois Pan on February 28, 2015 - 11:51pm

GMOs: the shattered puzzle

To look for the truth is like gathering pieces of puzzles. In this quest of missing pieces, I will be summarizing and analyzing three articles from Quebec, the United-States and China concerning the same issue, GMOs. I will show you how the seemingly categorical facts can be and will be dismantled, painted, perfumed, assembled and finally presented.

Last year, a news article from Montreal Gazette reported a group of Quebec farmers protesting against the introduction of a new type of genetically modified crop, namely the GM alfalfa, a commonly used livestock feed. The general concern among the farmers is that the application of this newly invented seed will lead to cross-pollination and consequently the contamination of the gene pool of the non GM plants species. Since Quebec dairy industry is heavily dependent on organic matter, in order to stay qualified as organic products producers, cross-pollination of GM seeds has to be avoided at all cost. This is why regardless of the numerous approaches from the big seed and chemical companies to negotiate with Quebec farmers, protests organized by farmers from many provinces still took place across Canada resulting in a one year delay for the introduction of GM alfalfa into the Quebec market. This debate between farmers and Ag (agricultural) companies was reported in this article in a neat fashion without having the author revealing explicitly his own opinion on the issue. However, the position of the news desk of Montreal Gazette, the author of this piece, is not entirely neutral. After citing the response from the former president of CSTA (Canadian Seed Trade Association) concerning the risk of cross-pollination of GM seeds, the author implicitly refutes the argument by citing the example of a victim of cross-pollination, a US farmer in Washington D.C. Even more revealing, at the end of the article, the author quotes the spokeswoman from CBAN (Canadian Biotechnology Action Network). She states that both the provincial and the federal government are not fulfilling their responsibility of informing the citizens about the economic, social and environmental impacts of GM products. The choice of quote by the author to end this piece reveals that just as the Quebec farmers and the dairy producers, the News Desk of  Montreal is also concerned about the potential impacts of the GM alfalfa seeds. However, the revelation of perspective is carefully avoided, or disguised if you will, in the way this report is carried out. Position taking in a supposedly neutral report is no privilege to media coverage. In fact, any presentation of any given fact has its emphasis and omission willingly or involuntarily.

To further illustrate my point, I would like to bring you on the stage of foreign GMO trade in the theater of international agricultural affairs. In March 2014, China has once again refused the importation of a specific type of corn, MIR 162, from United-States. Until June of the same year, Chinese border control intercepted nearly 1.25 million tons of MIR 162 corn. The intercepted corns were returned to US causing a loss of 2 billion dollar to the US economy. Sarah Shamkus, a US freelance journalist for The Guardian, suspects that China’s boycott of the GM corn is either a result of protectionism or a measure to soothe the increasing tension in Chinese public opinion regarding GM foods Link to article. Sarah also states that some people “squarely” blame Syngenta, the inventor of MIR162 corn for not notifying the farmers of the absence of Chinese approval for importation of MIR 162. Interestingly, Sarah’s hypotheses were proven wrong shortly after the release of her article. Only a month after the publication of Sarah’s piece, China approved the importation of MIR 162 even before Syngenta obtaining a certificate of safety of agricultural transgenic living things issued by China. In the news article published by Oriental Morning Post, the Vice Premier of China Wang Yang is quoted. He states that China and United-States should enhance their technological and agricultural cooperation, and also augment their trades of agricultural products and investments. The statement and the measure taken by China is the perfect counter-proof that Chinese disapproval of importation is not a measure of protectionism, even less a tactic to silence the public opinion. Not only had Sarah misinterpreted the Chinese government’s initiative, but she also involuntarily or voluntarily minimized the impact of Syngenta’s dishonest approach in this event. Syngenta did not commit inattention by not telling the US farmers the truth, the company had told falsehood in numerous occasions to persuade the US farmers to buy the GM seeds before having the seeds passing the Chinese safety quarantine. Link to the lawsuit. Although Sarah Shamkus’s interpretation is not representative of Chinese government domestic and foreign policies, her knowledge about the Chinese population’s anxiety over GMO’s safety is authentic. In the aforementioned article from Oriental Morning Post, the author Ou Changmei, besides summarize the details of the import approval of MIR 162 corn, repeatedly mention the importance for the newly introduced agricultural product to obtain a safety certificate issued by the Ministry of Agriculture of China. There is, in fact, a rising concern over GMOs’ safety among the Chinese population. The online debate between a famous Chinese televisions host Cuo Yongyuan and a public scientific writer Fang Shimin has putted the health issue of GM foods on a Chinese hotpot. Although no decisive  conclusion was drawn from their debate, more and more Chinese became aware of the existence of the GM foods putted on their plates.

It is interesting that from all these mentioned perspectives on GMOs we can see a clear difference in the emphasis of things. Montreal Gazette has shared environmental and economic concerns of the Quebec farmers; Sarah has made her assumptions from a quite US-centered understanding of Chinese government’s foreign policy and from her fondness for Ag companies (I didn’t make this up) ; not forgetting the author from Oriental Morning Post who majorly places his concern on food safety.  We can see that although the authors of these articles all attempt to present their issue from a neutral perspective, they inevitably give out more or less their own reading of the affair. My conclusion, after hijacking articles from around the globe, is that pure information does not exist, information is always perspectival. In the cases mentioned in my article, regions play a major role in determining the presentation of information. One CAN NOT and CAN NOT and CAN NOT possibly expected to know the truth by simply taking the first popped up information for granted, not even the second or the five hundredth one. The truth of any given issue is like that thousand piece puzzle hidden in the penthouse. No matter how careful you think you are putting it together, there will always be missing pieces.



Works cited:

Ou, Changmei. “中国已批准进口MIR162转基因玉米.” Oriental Morning Post. Oriental Morning Post, 19 Nov. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.

“Quebec Farmers Oppose Release of Genetically Modified Alfalfa.” Montreal Gazette. Montreal Gazette, 16 May 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.

Shemkus, Sarah. “Is China’s GMO Corn Ban Protecting Consumers or Protecting Markets?” The Guardian. The Guardian, 20 Nov 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.


Links to related websites:

China’s Agricultural importation policies (translated):

Syngenta lawsuit affair:

Cui Yuanyong in explains his self-funded trip to the US to learn about GMO (Chinese):

About the author

A boy who recently discovered that kindness is more important than anything~