Illegal GE rice contamination spreads to major Chinese city

Press release - 2005-06-13
Greenpeace has discovered illegal genetically engineered (GE) rice in Guangzhou, the largest city in Southern China, raising fears that the untested GE rice is spreading out of control and has entered the food chain in major Chinese cities.

Anti-pest genetically engineered (GE) Shanyou 63 rice seeds being soaked (from Songzi Xingnong Company) in preparation for planting in Shangtukuzuiwan, Lijiadian Village, Wulijie Town, Jiangxia District, Wuhan. Trading and growing GE Rice varieties is illegal in China, but Greenpeace has discovered the Anti-pest 63 variety being commercially traded and grown on several recent investigative trips.

Hubei farmers observing tests to detect genetically engineered rice varieties in a paddy field in Nongjiapanwan, Lijiadian Village, Wulijie Town, Jiangxia District, Wuhan. Trading and growing GE Rice varieties is illegal in China, but Greenpeace has discovered the Anti-pest 63 variety being commercially traded and grown on several recent investigative trips.

Genetically engineered seedlings in a field in Hubei Province. Trading and growing GE Rice varieties is illegal in China, but Greenpeace has discovered the Anti-pest 63 variety being commercially traded and grown on several recent investigative trips.

Xudong Grain Market in Wuhan - one of the grain markets in Hubei where Greenpeace found Genetically Engineered (GE) rice being traded.

The new evidence has been revealed only weeks after Greenpeace exposed that illegal GE rice had been growing in Hubei Province(1). Chinese officials announced that they would conduct an investigation into the scandal but it appears that no action has yet been taken - meanwhile contamination appears to be spreading.

Greenpeace campaigner Sze Pang Cheung urged the Chinese government to take immediate action: "Immediate recall actions are needed if we are to prevent consumers from exposure to risks of untested GE rice. There are strong warning signs that this GE Bt rice could cause allergenic reactions, as it did when tested on mice."(2)

Greenpeace researchers collected samples from rice wholesalers in Guangzhou, and two  samples tested positive as GE rice in an independent laboratory in Germany.

The news is likely to raise concerns among rice importing countries. "Several countries, including Japan, Korea and the EU commission have already raised concerns with the Chinese government regarding the possible contamination of Chinese rice exports following the discovery of GE rice in markets in Hubei province," Sze said. "It is increasingly clear that GE rice is not wanted by the international community."

"In March of this year, the world's largest rice trader, Riceland, issued a statement calling for GE rice trials in the US to be stopped due to consumer rejection of GE foods," Sze continued.

Concerns over GE rice are also rising in China. An opinion poll released by Greenpeace in March, showed that 73% of Chinese shoppers in Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai would choose non-GE rice over GE rice.

The new research by Greenpeace has also revealed conclusive evidence of the source of the contamination.

"Some GE rice seeds that were sold in the markets were advertised as a product of New Technology Company of Huazhong Agriculture University," Sze said. "This company is owned by the same University that is responsible for field trials of GE rice in Hubei."

Greenpeace estimates that up to 29 tons of GE rice seeds have been sold in Hubei this year, and if no recall action is taken, the seeds could produce up to 14,500 tons of GE rice when harvested.

"Greenpeace is calling on the Chinese Government to take urgent action to recall the unapproved GE rice from the fields and from the food chain, and to conduct and to take immediate action against the researchers who are responsible for playing Russian roulette with our staple food crop," Sze concluded.

Other contacts:

Sze Pang Cheung, GE Campaigner, Greenpeace China, +86 10 65546931 Ext. 110 (Beijing)
Natalia Truchi, Media Officer, Greenpeace China, +86 10 65546931 Ext. 153 (Beijing)

Notes:

(1) In April a Greenpeace research team discovered unapproved GE rice being sold and grown illegally in Hubei province. An international laboratory in Germany found 19 samples tested positive as GE Bt rice – which is genetically engineered to produce an inbuilt pesticide.
(2) Moreno-Fierros, L., García, N., Gutiérrez, R., López-Revilla, R. & Vázquez-Padrón, R.I.2000. Intranasal, rectal and intraperitoneal immunization with protoxin Cry1Ac from Bacillus thuringiensis induces compartmentalized serum, intestinal, vaginal and pulmonary immune responses in Balb/c mice. Microbes and Infectection 2: 885-890 and references therein

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