Just two weeks after Greenpeace exposed the illegal selling and planting of genetically engineered (GE) rice in Hubei province, a research paper published today in Science magazine (1) describes what appear to be unregulated trials of the same GE rice (Shanyou 63) that Greenpeace researchers found being illegally sold in the open market.
With rice planting due to start any day, Greenpeace said the study reveals further evidence of the failure to control GE rice trials in China.
Greenpeace China GE Campaigner Sze Pang Cheung said; “The Science paper states that farmers cultivated the GE rice without the assistance of technicians, and that quite a number of the randomly selected participants grew both GE and conventional varieties on their small family farms.”
“In other countries GE field trials are tightly regulated, monitored and separated from conventional rice crops,” Sze continued. “The Chinese system of regulating GE field trials is failing. It looks like GE rice has grown out of control under the very noses of the scientists that were trusted to control it.”
If urgent action is not taken, up to 13,500 tonnes of untested and unapproved GE rice may enter the food chain this year. This is likely to increase international concern over contamination of Chinese rice exports.
“Chinese GE researchers who have released GE rice without adequate biosafety precautions are failing to protect farmers and the Chinese public. They need to remember that GE rice is illegal because it hasn’t been shown to be safe for health or environment and because it may have major negative economic impacts,” Sze said.
“We should not be risking long term health and environmental impacts, as well as international consumer rejection of Chinese rice when we don’t need GE in the first place,” he added.
Jitters were sent through the international food industry following the Greenpeace revelations that the unapproved GE rice may also have contaminated exports. “The Japanese Health ministry has begun testing of Chinese rice imports, the European Commission has requested testing information while governments in the UK, Slovakia and Korea are all conducting some level of investigations into the contamination,” Sze said.
The Chinese government has been evaluating the proposed release of GE rice in the country but has not yet approved any varieties due to unresolved environmental, health and economic issues.
The Science article claims that GE rice is needed to improve rice production and reduce environmental impacts – claims that are strongly disputed by Greenpeace. “The research paper is an economic analysis that fails to take into account the environmental or health risks of GE rice. Instead of investing in the high risk strategy of genetic engineering, China should be investing in real, long-term solutions to sustainability in agriculture.” (2) (3)
“GE is an anti-farmer technology that locks farmers into monoculture farming, high seed costs and risks of consumer rejection. The Government needs to act immediately to stop further contamination, to uphold the law and to investigate the scientists who have released unapproved GE rice,” Sze concluded.
Notes of the Editor
Huang, J., Hu, R., Rozelle, S. & Pray, C. 2005.
Insect-resistant GM Rice in farmers’ fields: assessing
productivity and health effects in China. Science, 688-690.
29th April 2005.
(2) A United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) program into Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in China resulted in a reduction of pesticide use of over 45% - without any of the environmental, health or market risks of genetic engineering. See Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Green Farming in Rural Poverty Alleviation in China http://www.unescap.org/rural/doc/ipm2002/ch04.pdf
(3) A study into the adoption of GE Bt cotton in China
concluded that farmers still over-used pesticides on
pest-resistant crops. It found that farmers in small-scale
production systems require training in identification of
pests, natural predators, basic ecology and integrated pest
management in order to ensure sustainable production. Yang,
P, Iles, M., Yan,S., Jolliffe, F.2004. Farmers’ knowledge,
perceptions and practices in transgenic Bt cotton in small
producer systems in Northern China. Crop Protection, 24