Genetically modified organism (GMO), refers to an organism whose genetic material has been altered by genetic engineering techniques. With these advancements in agricultural biotechnology, desired products can be realized in both genetically modified (GM) plants and animals. For instance, GM biotechnology can increase quantities of food production, lower pesticide use  and yield products with particular traits, e.g., “Golden Mustard”, which can express high levels of beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A, for treating Vitamin A deficiency . Based on the advantages of GMOs, big seed companies in developed countries, mainly in the United States (US), launched research and development (R&D) programs for GM technology in the early 1980s . With the help of the National High-Tech R&D Program (commonly known as National 863 Program), National Basic Research Program of China (973 Program)  and special programs for transgenic technology research, China has made significant progress on GM cotton technology since 1996 . Because of these developments, the Chinese cotton industry has increased the yield and quality of cotton, and has successfully broken the monopoly of international companies . According to Reuters, China has become the largest producer of GM cotton in the world .
In addition to the progress in GM technologies, China has also developed a regulatory framework that places great importance on the bio-safety management of agricultural GMOs. The State Council promulgated the Regulation on Safety Administration of Agricultural GMOs on May 23, 2001, and later, on January 5, 2002, the Ministry of Agriculture issued three supporting regulations to facilitate the completion of bio-safety regulation on GMOs . In 2004, the State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine issued Administrative Measures for Entry/Exit Inspection and Quarantine of GM Products . China has also initially established a bio-safety management system for agricultural GMOs and a National Agricultural GMOs Bio-safety Committee. The bio-safety management system is composed by an Inter-ministerial Joint Conference System for Bio-safety Management, which is composed by 7 concerned national ministries. With regard to the National Agricultural GMO Bio-safety Committee, its main responsibility is to provide technical supports in GMO bio-safety management .
Despite the growing use and popularity of GMOs, scientists have not yet fully explored the potential environmental and health risks of GMOs. Some scientists and social organizations are worried that GMOs may create potential health and environmental risks, such as food allergy , genetic erosion, and increased vulnerability of crop plants to pests and diseases . In addition to potential environmental and health risks, there are a number of social and ethical issues also associated with GM technology, including the commodification of life and an increase in inequality . It is based on these issues that GMOs, especially GM food, remains controversial.
In China, the focus of public attention is mainly on the health issues associated with GM food. Although the commercial production of GM rice and corn are not approved in China, the safety approval for two kinds of GM strains of rice and one type of corn, given by the Ministry of Agriculture’s bio-safety committee in November 2009 , has led to great debate in the country about whether genetically modified rice, the staple food for the majority of Chinese, is safe for consumption. However, according to the article Breaking Chinese-style Fallacies and Rumors about GMOs, originally published on Nanfang Zhoumo and later cited by Ministry of Agriculture on its website, most of the doubts about the safety of GM food are fallacious. It claimed that those rumors were due to the public’s ignorance about biotechnology and the loss of confidence in government authority .
The news media can play an important role in informing the public about new technologies, such as GMOs . The news media can both reflect and shape public perceptions about new health and science developments, and some have suggested that media can have an influence on policy development . While the extent of the news media’s influence, both on public perceptions and on policy development, may differ across jurisdictions, it has been observed that the news media in China helps to popularize scientific knowledge and aims to mitigate the public’s doubts about new inventions . Key differences in the role of media in China, as compared to Western nations, may also reflect the degree to which Chinese media may reflect government agendas . Moreover, although traditional media are no longer the only source of information (i.e., Internet) , newspapers are still an important source of health information that can help to frame issues, as well as perceptions of the risks and benefits of new technology .
Despite the important role that media plays, little has been written about how the Chinese media have portrayed GMOs. We conducted an analysis of Chinese leading national media coverage of GMOs in order to understand whether GMOs are portrayed positively or negatively, and how much and what kind of information is provided about GMOs. The analysis included print news reports, from the People’s Daily and Guangming Daily, with the objective of reviewing the content of media coverage, including what kinds of GMOs have been mentioned; which issues are associated with GMOs; mention of benefits and risks associated with GMOs; and theme, i.e., whether the article supports, opposes or is neutral about research, development, and adoption of GM technology.