World Food Day - Threat of GE rice looms

Press release - 15 October, 2004
The possible commercialisation of genetically engineered rice (GE) in China next year is a serious threat to the food safety of the world’s most populous nation, Greenpeace warned today, on the eve of World Food Day.

A Hani farmer is holding his traditional rice seeds in his hand, Yunnan Province, China.

The possible commercialisation of genetically engineered rice (GE) in China next year is a serious threat to the food safety of the world's most populous nation, Greenpeace warned today, on the eve of World Food Day.

A Chinese scientist involved in the approval process for GE crops in China has told Greenpeace that GE rice cultivation is near (1).

"While the world is set to celebrate 'Biodiversity for Food Security' on World Food Day tomorrow, few people know that a handful of GE scientists and Chinese government officials are about to jeopardize China's biodiversity, which is fundamental to its agriculture and food, and that GE rice is set to reach China's rice bowls as soon as next year," said Sze Pang Cheung, Campaign Manager of Greenpeace China. "This is scandalous; rice is the staple diet for most Chinese people and more than 100 million people rely on it for their livelihoods."

A new report from Greenpeace explains how the commercialisation of GE rice in China threatens the rich biodiversity of local rice varieties (2). China is the birthplace of rice and still possesses one of the richest genetic resources of rice in the world, with more than 75,000 varieties. If GE rice is grown in the field, it is bound to contaminate local varieties, as seen in Mexico with GE maize (3). Research by Chinese scientists has found that the pollen of GE rice may spread as far as 110 meters at high wind speeds (4). Furthermore, if China proceeds with the commercialization of GE rice, it is likely that other Asian countries, notably Thailand and India, will follow shortly.

"GE rice poses risks to human health and irreversible environmental threats. It can reproduce and interbreed with natural organisms spreading to new environments and future generations in an unpredictable and uncontrollable way," Sze said.

2004 is the UN's International Year of Rice. 'Rice is Life', recognizes that rice is the most important crop for almost 3000 million people in the world. "Rice is life, but GE rice will gamble with lives. And it is a gamble with no way back. The future of rice should stay in the hands of those for whom rice is life, not a few GE scientists and officials," concluded Sze.

Tomorrow, Greenpeace will launch "The Rice is Life Tour" in Yunnan province which has the richest diversity of rice in China.

VVPR info: Picture download: more information on the Rice Tour visit

Notes: (1) The Chinese government is not required to inform the public before a GE crop is approved for commercialisation. Once an application reaches the Ministry of Agriculture, the ministry commission's research institutes to carry out environmental and safety assessments, which usually last from three to six months. A committee of scientists, which includes GE scientists, evaluates the assessments.(2) See Greenpeace report "Genetically Engineered Rice: Not Sustainable Agriculture" See Lu, B et al. (2003) Can transgenic rice cause ecological risks through transgene escape? Progress in Natural Science 13 (1): 17-24.International Year of Rice:"Wherever it is grown rice enters people's lives as a daily food, at religious festivals and wedding parties, in paintings and in songs. Even in nations "new to rice", its cultivation has changed landscapes and cuisine, and provided farmers with new sources of income. So, rice is a food - but more than a food. It is society, culture, politics, business, the beauty of the landscape, people in their communities. In short, rice is life."World Food Day:"The theme for World Food Day and TeleFood campaign for 2004 is 'Biodiversity for Food Security'. It will highlight biodiversity's role in ensuring that people have sustainable access to enough high-quality food to lead active and healthy lives…… Biological diversity is fundamental to agriculture and food production. People rely on the variety of food, shelter, and goods for their livelihood."