Illegal GE rice found in baby food, rice noodles in Beijing, Hong Kong, Hubei

Feature Story - 2011-04-20
With milk scares such as melamine poisoning not so long ago, you might be forgiven for thinking that soy- or rice-based baby formulas are a safer alternative. But that may not be the case, according to recent testing by Greenpeace.

Greenpeace testing found genetically engineered Roundup-Ready soy in Wyeth's "Nursoy" formula made for infants 0 to 12 months old.

Beijing - With milk scares such as melamine poisoning not so long ago, you might be forgiven for thinking that soy- or rice-based baby formulas are a safer alternative. But that may not be the case, according to recent testing by Greenpeace.

Greenpeace tested 27 samples of baby food purchased from large Beijing supermarkets at an independent third-party laboratory. To our shock, we found that a rice formula made by Yili, one of China's leading dairy companies, contained the illegal genetically engineered rice line Bt63.

Genetically engineered rice is still in the research phases in China, and has not yet been approved for commercial planting. Thus, it is illegal for food producers to use GE rice in their products.

Nursoy, a soy-based formula made by Wyeth (parent company Pfizer), also tested positive for GE soy.

Aside from the illegality of GE rice, there are other good reasons for manufacturers to not use GE ingredients in food, especially children's food.

Most importantly, the safety of GE foods has not been determined. Research suggests that genetic engineering may result in other, unanticipated side effects to the organism. In research commissioned by Greenpeace, Dr. Xue Kun of the Minzu University of China found many differences on the protein level between the GE rice and its non-GE parent line.

These protein differences may have unintended health and environmental consequences, and without further research into their potential effects, GE ingredients should not be used in foods, especially not in food that may be consumed by children.

The Yili formula is designated for infants between 6 and 24 months in age, while the Wyeth formula is for babies 0 to 12 months.

"Infants and children are far more vulnerable to food toxins and allergens than adults," said Greenpeace Food and Agriculture campaigner Fang Lifeng. "The Royal Society has also recommended that any GE ingredients in foods for babies should be investigated most rigorously."

In other words, it’s better to be safe rather than sorry, especially when the health and development of one’s children is at stake!

Greenpeace also found illegal Bt63 rice in five Chinese food restaurants located near three elementary schools in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province. It is highly likely that children visit these restaurants. In addition, illegal GE rice was also found in three samples of dried rice noodles purchased in Hong Kong, including one from the PARKnSHOP brand. Dried rice noodles are a very popular food in southern China, where they are made into stir-fries or soups.

Greenpeace calls for Halt to Commercialization

As the safety of GE rice has yet to be determined, Greenpeace is highly alarmed to find GE rice in baby formula and foods that are popular with children. Genetic engineering may impact the long-term safety of our children and our environment.

Greenpeace urges that the government to immediately stop the commercialization of GE rice, and take drastic action against GE rice seeds and fields, as well as GE already present in the food chain, to prevent further contamination. Indeed, two of the GE-positive GE rice noodles were clearly marked as being produced and processed in Guangdong province - suggesting that GE rice has already spread from its origin in Hubei province, where GE research fields are located.

As rice is the main staple food of China, GE rice cannot be taken lightly. Once commercialized, GE rice can contaminate the environment and interfere with conventional and local strains of rice. At that point, it would be too late to stop the spread of GE rice if related health problems were confirmed. Considering that Greenpeace has already found GE rice in Beijing, Hong Kong, Guangdong, and Hubei, it may have already spread even further in China.

Chinese people get 19% of their daily protein intake from rice, and eat rice almost every day of their lives: commercializing this staple crop would be gambling with the health of an entire country.

Download the related press release

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