Top rice exporters say no to genetically engineered rice

Feature story - November 28, 2006
Good news: the world's first and second largest exporters of rice have agreed to shun genetically engineered (GE) varieties. A recent agreement between rice traders from Thailand and Vietnam protects half the crop traded on the world market from the dangers of GE, and will put mounting pressure on other rice-producing nations to commit to a GE-free rice supply.

Rice is life.

According to our campaigner Jeremy Tager, the decision resulted from a  "massive backlash against the GE industry following recent scandals." Illegal and unapproved GE rice varieties from the US and China have contaminated the global rice supply, with disastrous results for many growers, distributors, and traders.

Last week, a historic meeting between the powerful Rice Exporters Association of Thailand and the Vietnam Food Association resulted in the joint announcement of a non-GE rice production policy. More than 30 of the largest rice producers and traders in Thailand and Vietnam were present to endorse the agreement. Only days earlier in India (the world's third largest exporterof rice), the representative body for India's rice exportersannounced they too were supporting a ban on GE rice field trials because of the threat they pose to their GE-free export markets.  The Indian government has yet to take action to ban field trials.

Thailand has shown the world that it can lead in rice production without GE rice. As a key agricultural producer, Thailand stands to benefit more if it stops all open-field GE crop trials and declares a GE-free policy once and for all.

Rice production accounts for11 percent of the world's arable land, or 500 million hectares, 90percent of which is produced on Asian farms of less than onehectare.

We are eating the GE industry's experiments

Stopping field trials is important because the results of GE rice experiments don't seem to be containable: they keep turning up where they're not welcome. Even as news of the Thailand Vietnam accord was breaking, we uncovered yet another major contamination, this time in the Philippines, where rice is the staple food.

Bayer's LL601 has contaminated rice products coming from the US, which are currently on sale in Manila. So far in 2006, this unapproved and illegal variety has been found in at least 24 countries. Last week contamination was announced in several countries in Africa.

Bayer ended field trials of the LL601 variety in the US five years ago. The global food industry is now facing massive costs associated with GE contamination, including testing costs, product recalls, brand damage, import bans and cancelled imports and contracts.

At least five multi-million dollar class-action lawsuits have been filed by about 300 US rice farmers against Bayer, as they struggle to protect their livelihoods from GE contamination.

Rice has been part of our staple diet around the world for over 10,000 years, it is cultivated in 113 countries - in China alone there are 75,000 varieties. Studies of the potential ecological risks of GE rice show that there is a high risk of 'transgene escape' (gene flow) from GE rice to non-GE rice varieties. Research also shows that GE rice out-crossing may threaten wild rice varieties.

Importers are banning it too

The world's largest rice processing company, Ebro Puleva  has stopped all imports of rice from the US and is expected to bring legal action against Bayer as well. Ebro Puleva controls 30 percent of the EU rice market. 

This move is only one of dozens by traders, millers, exporters, producers and retailers to protect themselves and their customers from unwanted GE foods.

Greenpeace campaigns for GE-free crop and food production that is grounded in the principles of sustainability, protection of biodiversity and providing all people access to safe and nutritious food.

Genetic engineering is an unnecessary and unwanted technology that contaminates the environment, threatens biodiversity and poses unacceptable risks to health.