GM food

China's raging GM food debate leads to libel suit between fraud-buster, TV anchorman

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 4:32pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 12:09pm

Anti-fraud campaigner Fang Shimin on Monday moved to sue former veteran CCTV anchor Cui Yongyuan for damaging his reputation, aiming to end a months-long debate with him over genetically-modified food.

Fang, better known by his pen name, Fang Zhouzi, is a controversial US-educated biochemist famous for years of anti-fraud efforts in areas of life from academics to celebrity culture. His stance has led to some critics calling him “arrogant” and “self-righteous”.

In an indictment Fang published on his Tencent microblog, Fang accused Cui of libel and damaging his reputation. He pointed to over a dozen microblog postings Cui made since November alleging Fang was a fraud and implying he had embezzled cash from an anti-fraud fund.

The dispute began with the two’s fierce debates over consumption and production of GM food in China.

Over the past few months Fang had been aggressively promoting domestically-produced genetically-modified food through social networks, insisting to consumers that it is perfectly safe to consume.

His position attracted a horde of critics with many questioning his motivation; prominent among them was Cui.

A household name in the mainland for his popular talk shows and three-decade journalism career at China’s state TV network, Cui vigorously questioned Fang’s authority on the subject and has, since November, engaged in a heated and prolonged exchange of words with the activist on social websites.

“Cui’s microblog postings involved in this case are either groundless accusations or are malicious outright insults, severely damaging [the] plaintiff’s reputation,” Fang’s indictment read.

Fang also demanded in his posting that Cui issue a public apology published in two newspapers and on Tencent Weibo. In addition, he asked the former anchor for 300,000 yuan in compensation.

The posting drew a quick response from Cui, who adopted a satirical tone: “[I’ll] have to praise you for finally taking a right way to solve problems,” he said on Weibo, “[although] certainly I think your chance of winning this case is zero.”

Cui did not address the allegations Fang listed in the indictment directly but he earlier claimed to have been making a self-funded documentary including interviews with officials and experts in the United States, which highlighted the issues over the safety of genetically-modified food.

Cui could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The fracas between the two celebrities reflects wider concerns over GM food in China. While the government has been urging public acceptance of GM technology as a solution to rapidly increasing food consumption, rumours have circulated that GM products were used by rival nations as a biological weapons to conquer China, a view that remains popular among some hawkish Communist Party members and the grassroots public.