Making sure people have enough food is a political priority in most countries, but it is hard to overstate its importance in China, with one-fifth of the world’s population and only 8% of its arable land, and where famine, scarcity and rationing are all-too-recent memories for the leadership. In 2014, for the 11th year in a row, China’s first central policy document of the year concerned rural development. For many years, agricultural biotechnology has been a significant government priority. Furthermore, China has in recent decades seen a massive increase in the production, sale and consumption of meat; phytase maize, in particular, represents an innovation geared towards increasing the efficiency and reducing the environmental costs of this expansion. So, why were the certificates allowed to lapse before the crops could be commercialised? No clear answer has emerged, but we suggest four possible explanations. First, in the case of Bt rice, China has nearly reached self-sufficiency in producing rice with conventional varieties, suggesting the ministry decided there was little need to commercialise GM rice in the near future. Second, has played an important role the “public concern around safety issues”. The third explanation regards the problems with regulation, underlay the decision. Finally, the fourth explanation: delusions of an ultranationalist variety. GM food is a “devious plot to annihilate the Chinese”, disseminated by an “anti-GM movement whose power and influence are more than matched by its fervour and sheer, undiluted paranoia.” Of course, a fuller explanation might incorporate all four elements and others. It’s an open question, how effective the technology had really proven to be. In China today, scientific and environmental decision-making is fragmented and far less technocratic than is often assumed, and public and elite anxiety does seem to run high when it comes to genetic modification. China’s anti-GM movement reflects the emergence of a larger public debate than in previous eras on many sides of this controversy. Scientists have also made impassioned public and private appeals to government. Recently, pro-transgenics advocates staged GM rice-tasting events in 22 Chinese cities. For many observers in China, the avoidance of food scarcity is a remarkable, but the dominant agricultural development paradigm has come at a cost. It has not only had implications for food safety, but other effects too, such as the widespread overuse of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, soil erosion, the fragmentation of rural communities and rising social inequality. Rather than ignoring or misunderstanding the challenge of producing safe food, citizens are establishing new networks, like Beijing Farmers Market, which connect farmers to consumers and benefit local producers while increasing trust and knowledge about sustainable agricultural practices. Certainly, some of the discourse around GM in China is paranoid and misguided, and much like its championing of clean energy, Chinese government support for innovation could perhaps be game changing for agricultural biotechnology. But focusing exclusively on one vision of high-tech innovation could not only obscure avenues for engagement on scientific and environmental decision-making, but also overlook other, emergent innovations addressing China’s agricultural, food and environmental challenges. It’s pertinent instead to ask how more open approaches to scientific governance could transform a debate, which has surely only just begun. The gLAWcal Team POREEN project Tuesday, 14 October 2014 (Source: China Dialogue)