Farmer selling GE contaminated rice.
"The GE industry is out of control," said Greenpeace GE campaigner Sze Pang Cheung. "A small group of rogue scientists have taken the world's most important staple food crop into their own hands and are subjecting the Chinese public to a totally unacceptable experiment."
"We're 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 an immediate inquiry into the source of the contamination."
A Greenpeace research team discovered unapproved GE rice being sold and grown illegally in the Chinese province of Hubei. Interviews with seed providers and farmers indicate that GE rice seeds have been sold over the past two years. Samples of rice seed, unmilled and milled rice have been collected from seed companies, farmers and rice millers. Testing by the international laboratory Genescan has confirmed the presence of GE DNA in X samples.
Map of centres of biodiversity for rice in China and contamination area in which illegal GE strains were discovered.
The evidence from the lab, combined with field reports, confirms that the illegal GE variety is Bt Rice - which is genetically engineered to produce an inbuilt pesticide. Greenpeace estimates at least X tons of GE rice has contaminated the rice market.
According to Greenpeace International Scientific Advisor, Dr Janet Cotter, this is a very serious problem requiring urgent Government action: "There are strong warning signs that this GE Bt rice could cause allergenic reactions in humans. It has been shown that the protein produced in Bt rice (called Cry1Ac) may have induced allergenic-type responses in mice (1). To date, there has been no human food safety testing of Bt rice."
China is a major exporter of rice and it is expected that the contamination scandal may have significant trade and market impacts, particularly in countries like Japan and Korea where consumer rejection of GE foods is very high. A similar case in the USA in 2001 resulted in a $1 billion product recall amid concerns of potential allergenic reactions after GE corn (Starlink) illegally entered the human food chain.
"This will have a major impact on the Chinese as well as international rice markets," said Sze. "China is one of the world's major rice exporters and our customers in Japan, Korea, Russia and Europe are strongly opposed to GE foods."
Consumer concern over GE foods in China is also rising. In an opinion poll released by Greenpeace in March, a majority (57%) of the respondents said they would choose non-GE food over GE food, a big leap from 40% in 2004. The poll showed that Chinese consumers were even more cautious when faced with GE rice. According to the survey, seventy-three percent of the respondents said they would choose non-GE rice.
China is considering commercialization of GE rice and officials have indicated a decision may be made this year. The contamination scandal raises the question of whether the government could regulate GE rice. "The government has not controlled GE rice in the research stage, how will it regulate large scale commercialization?" Sze said.
Sze Pang Cheung, GE Campaigner, Greenpeace China;
Janet Cotter, Greenpeace International Scientific Adviser, (UK);
Zhou Meiyue, Media Officer, Greenpeace China, ;
Maya Catsanis, Media Officer, Greenpeace International (Sydney)
(1) 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.