[Document] How Greenpeace got China to say “no” to GE rice

A panoramic view of the beautiful paddy terraces sitting in Ta Sa Village, Yunnan Province, China.

A panoramic view of the beautiful paddy terraces sitting in Ta Sa Village, Yunnan Province, China.

© John Novis / Greenpeace

Rice has been the staple food of the Chinese people for thousands of years. When Greenpeace entered China seven years ago, our priority naturally was investigative work on GE rice. Over the years, Greenpeace has tracked and documented GE rice throughout China, bringing the issue to the attention of the public. We’ve invited Sze Pang Cheung (nickname Kontau), Greenpeace East Asia Campaign Director, and Isabelle Meister, Deputy Campaign Director, to share their first-hand experiences with us.

5 Myths about GE food

Q: How did Greenpeace launch its GE campaign in China?

Greenpeace Campaign Director Sze Pang Cheung Kontau: "The GE rice campaign was one of our first campaigns in Mainland China back in 2004. We launched it with a five-day bus tour of Guangzhou. But it was chocolate that gave us our first media win. In Guangzhou, our team released test results that showed Nestlé was manufacturing chocolate powder with GE ingredients. This triggered a lot of public discussion, with one mother in Shanghai getting so angry that she decided to file a lawsuit against Nestlé."

Q: What happened then?

Greenpeace Campaign Deputy Director Isabelle Isabelle: "I became the Food and Agriculture Campaign Manager in 2005. It was around that time Greenpeace decided to make 'food sovereignty' a key point of the campaign. We emphasized that the ultimate outcome of commercializing GE would be that multinational corporations would monopolize the Chinese rice market." 

Kontau: "Greenpeace also revealed that many of the scientists in charge of reviewing fund appropriation for GE projects or the safety of relevant products had close relationships with GE corporations. Southern Weekend made a front-page splash with our information and that was a tipping point that helped us win the war against GE!

"In 2005, our investigation team travelled to Hubei, armed with rapid GE testing tools. Disguised as farmers, we bought several bags of rice seeds and they turned out to be GE. After we revealed this to the public, we went to lunch at a restaurant and overheard a group of diners nearby discussing the story!”

Q: Public pressure is the key, right?

Isabelle: "That's right. In 2008, the State Council approved a RMB20 billion fund for GE research and development, with rice at the top of the list. By the end of 2009, the government announced that a secret multi-ministerial meeting had passed two GE rice lines.While we were devastated by the news; in the end it was the public that brought us salvation. Chinese state magazine Outlook Weekly published a special GE-rice debate issue. Shortly afterwards, Chinese politicians began raising doubts, followed by a string of Chinese celebrities including Mao Zedong's daughter and the father of China's hybrid rice, Yuan Longping. From there we launched a lot more, very successful campaigns.”

A better, brighter, GE-free future

Q: How do you feel about the current status of the campaign?

Isabelle: "On 21 February, the State Council released draft proposal of a grain law that establishes legislation restricting research, field trials, production, sale, import and export of genetically engineered grain seeds. The night I heard that I was too excited to even fall asleep!"

Kontau: "Seeing that we've actually succeeded is amazing! Greenpeace will continue to request the Chinese government to stop all investment into GE research and devote these funds instead to a comprehensive development of sustainable agriculture."