Despite the Chinese government’s assurances that genetically modified (GMO) foods are safe, Chinese consumers are growing increasingly wary of the products, fueling a looming crisis for the country’s lucrative soybean crushing industry as non-GMO alternatives become more popular, Reuters reported.
Sales of the nation’s primary cooking oil, soy oil – most of which is made from imported GMO soybeans – have taken a hit. According to data from Euromonitor, retail sales of soy oil fell one percent last year to 35.7 billion yuan ($5.19 billion), compared to a growth of between two and six percent for alternatives such as non-GMO soy, sunflower, peanut or sesame.
Johnny An, the supply chain director of Aramark, which services more than 60 Chinese cities, told Reuters that “non-GMO oil is gradually replacing (soy oil).”
More than half of Aramark’s customers are now asking for GMO-free oil, compared to 10-20 percent just a few years ago, An added.
A Nielsen survey last year found that 70 percent of consumers in China limit or avoid at least some GMO foods and ingredients, compared with a global average of 64 percent.
China has strict rules against GMO cultivation but permits the import of a few varieties, including soybeans which are used for animal feed and for oil.
But China Agri-Industries, one of the country’s top soybean crushers, told Reuters it needs to improve its sourcing of non-GMO materials to meet “escalating market demand.”
In recent years, the Chinese government has been spending billions on research and promoting GMOs as a means to boost agricultural productivity. President Xi himself called for the domestic cultivation of GMO crops in 2014.
However, China’s well-known food safety woes have caused widespread consumer distrust of domestic food products.