Until recently, China seemed to be positioning itself as a world leader in bioengineered foods, spending tens of millions of dollars on new technologies and touting the benefits of genetically modified rice, soybeans, and other crops. Now, though, the nation has imposed tough restrictions on domestic planting of genetically modified (GM) crops and strict labeling rules for GM imports. Observers say the sea-change reflects a growing concern on the part of Beijing that small-scale Chinese farmers won’t be able to compete with imports from U.S. agribusiness (many of them genetically modified) and a realization that GM restrictions could essentially serve as trade protections. They also say China’s love affair with GM foods has cooled in the face of growing worldwide fears about the safety of such foods — fears that could cause the nation’s agricultural industry to suffer if it became a GM pioneer. “The general sense is that the risks are too high and the market is too small” for most GM crops, said Wu Kongmin, who heads a panel of experts conducting safety tests for China’s agriculture ministry.

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