Illegal GE rice contaminates food chain in China

Ban open-air rice field trials in India says Greenpeace

Press release - April 13, 2005
BEIJING/NEW DELHI, India — Greenpeace is calling for an urgent, international product recall after uncovering the illegal release of a variety of genetically engineered (GE) rice in China. The GE rice has not been approved for human consumption and may have contaminated Chinese rice exports.

"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 19 samples.

The evidence from the lab, combined with field reports, confirms that some of the illegal GE varieties are Bt Rice - which is genetically engineered to produce an inbuilt pesticide. Greenpeace estimates that at least 950 to 1200 tons of GE rice entered the food chain after last year's harvest, and that up to 13,500 tons may enter the food chain after this year unless urgent action is taken.

According to Greenpeace International Scientist, 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, Russia and Europe 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.

"The advancement of GE crops in China has always been a yardstick for India", said Divya Raghunandan, GE campaigner, Greenpeace India. "The Chinese rice contamination scandal clearly reveals that GE crops cannot be regulated. India must immediately enforce a ban on open-air rice field trials as a first step and be transparent about the status, location and biosafety of field trials for GE crops to prevent similar disasters."

Greenpeace warns that the Chinese scandal is of massive significance to rice exporters, millers and food processors of India as the slightest contamination of Basmati and rice varieties for export could be a tremendous loss to Indian agri-business and exports.

China is considering commercialization of GE rice and officials have indicated a decision may be made this year.

Video and photo images of the GE rice are available from:  http://photos.greenpeace.org.au

For more information contact:

Divya Raghunandan, GE Campaigner, Greenpeace India  +91-9845535406 email:

Vivek Sharma, Media Officer, Greenpeace India +91-9343788424 email:

Sze Pang Cheung, GE Campaigner, Greenpeace China +86 13911460884 (Beijing)

Janet Cotter, Greenpeace International Science Unit, (UK) +44 781 217 4783 (UK)

Zhou Meiyue, Media Officer, Greenpeace China, mobile +86 139 100 36849 (Beijing)

Maya Catsanis, Media Officer, Greenpeace International, mobile +61 407 742 025 (Sydney)

Notes to Editor

(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.