Future of rice hangs in the balance as Chinese Biosafety Committee meets

Press release - 2005-06-21
The Chinese Biosafety Committee is meeting in Beijing this week to discuss the possible approval of genetically engineered (GE) rice, amid growing national and international turmoil over the illegal spread of untested GE rice from field trials in Hubei province.

Stop GE Rice sign in a field growing genetically engineered rice seedlings, Hubei province, China. Trading and growing GE Rice varieties is illegal in China. Greenpeace discovers the Anti-pest 63 variety being commercially traded and grown during several recent investigative trips.

Last week, Greenpeace reported the discovery of 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.

"Greenpeace are calling on the Biosafety Committee to halt all GE rice trials and approvals until the illegal GE rice has been contained," said Greenpeace campaigner Steven Ma. "The contamination scandal raises the question of whether the government could regulate GE rice. The government have not managed to control GE rice in the research stage, how will it regulate large scale commercialization?"

China is considering commercialization of GE rice and officials have indicated a decision may be made this year. If approved, it will be the first time that any country has allowed their staple food crop to be genetically engineered, raising serious concerns about long term food safety.

At their last meeting in November 2004, the Biosafety Committee, an official advisory group, failed to agree if the government should give green light to GE rice. Since that time, Greenpeace have revealed the uncontrolled and illegal sale of GE rice in Hubei province. The environmental organisation 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.

"We urge the Biosafety Committee to call for immediate action over the spread of illegal GE rice," Ma said. "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.(2)

Greenpeace also calls on the Biosafety Committee to increase transparency and public participation. "The proposed commercial release of GE rice is a decision that will affect every single person in China - as well as future generations," Ma said. "It is far too important a decision to be left to a small group of scientists with vested interests in the technology who have taken the issue into their own hands."

Other contacts:

Steven Ma, GE Campaigner, Greenpeace China Tel: +86 20 84114603 Ext. 807 Email: ;
Natalia Truchi, Media Officer, Greenpeace China Mobile: +86 139 10098563

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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