Illegal GM rice spreads in China
2.Children and Infants in China at Risk of Eating Food Contaminated by Illegal GM Rice
1.GM rice spreads, prompts debate in China
AFP, 15 June 2011
BEIJING - Genetically modified rice has been spreading illegally for years in China, officials have admitted, triggering a debate on a sensitive aspect of the food security plan in the world's most populous nation.
Two strains of GM rice were approved for open-field experiments but not commercial sale in 2009. In January, the agriculture ministry said "no genetically modified cereals are being grown in China" outside the test sites.
But in April, an environment ministry official told the weekly Nanfang Zhoumo that a joint investigation by four government departments had found that "illegal GM seeds are present in several provinces because of weak management".
The agriculture ministry did not respond to an AFP request for clarification.
According to the website for the European Union's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, European countries found foodstuffs from China containing GM rice 115 times between 2006 and May this year.
The campaign group Greenpeace says GM rice seeds have been in China since 2005, and were found at markets in Hubei, Hunan and Jiangxi provinces last year, Fang Lifeng, a Chinese agriculture specialist with the group, told AFP.
Beijing is pro-biotechnology and has already allowed several GM crops to be grown, including cotton, peppers, tomatoes and papayas, and has authorised imports of GM soya and corn for the food industry.
But rice -- the key staple in the diet of the country's more than 1.3 billion people -- is a much more sensitive question.
"Two-thirds of Chinese eat rice every day," said Tong Pingya, a highly respected agronomist who blasted Chinese scientists for "treating the people like guinea pigs" at a conference in May chaired by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang.
"China does not need this genetically modified rice, as it produces enough and even exports a bit," Tong told AFP.
When the National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp parliament, met last year, around 100 researchers wrote to deputies asking them to revoke authorisations for the use of experimental GM grains, including a strain of corn as well as the two rice types.
They also demanded a public debate and clear labelling of products containing genetically modified organisms.
Backers of GM rice argue that it is more drought-resistant, offers better yield, and -- in the case of the variety containing the Bt gene -- allows pesticide use to be dramatically cut.
"It should be possible to authorise commercialisation around 2012-2013, but the state will probably not allow them to be used on a wide scale" in the near future, said Ma Wenfeng, a grain market analyst with the consultancy CNagri, which has links to the agriculture ministry.
According to Ma, the new varieties represent "an advance in biotechnology" and will ultimately be accepted.
For their part, environmentalists and some Chinese scientists warn against the as-yet unknown long-term consequences of using GM rice for biodiversity and human health.
Whether using them is in farmers' interests is an open question, according to Greenpeace's Fang, because "GM seeds cost two to five times more than ordinary seeds" and "in terms of yield, there isn't really a difference".
GM rice strains developed in Chinese laboratories also raise questions about intellectual property.
The Bt gene is patented by the US agribusiness giant Monsanto, which could demand royalties and compensation from China if that variety is commercialised.
2.Children and Infants in China at Risk of Eating Food Contaminated by Illegal GE Rice
Greenpeace, April 20 2011
Beijing - Greenpeace testing has found illegal genetically engineered (GE) rice in baby formulas and dried noodles, as well as rice purchased from restaurants near schools in Hubei province. Illegal GE rice was present in samples collected from Beijing, Wuhan, and Hong Kong, some of which originated from Guangdong province an alarming indicator of the extent of GE contamination.
"Genetically engineered rice is still in the research phases and the government has yet to approve it," said Fang Lifeng, Greenpeace Food and Agriculture Campaigner. "Thus we should not be finding GE rice in food at all especially not in food commonly given to infants and children, who are the most vulnerable of all consumers."
Purchased in Beijing, a rice formula made by leading Chinese dairy company Yili tested positive for GE Bt63 rice at an independent third-party laboratory. The formula is designated for infants 6 to 24 months in age. Testing also found GE rice in dried rice noodles, including in PARKnSHOP-brand (A.S. Watsons Group) noodles purchased in Hong Kong. Rice noodles are a popular food, especially in southern China. Illegal Bt63 was also found in rice purchased from five fast food restaurants located next to three elementary schools in Wuhan, Hubei province. These restaurants are likely visited by children.
"Infants and children are far more sensitive to food toxins and allergens than adults. The Royal Society recommended that any GE ingredients in foods for babies should be investigated most rigorously," pointed out Fang. "As the safety of GE rice has yet to be determined, it is highly alarming to find GE rice in baby formula and foods that are popular with children."
In research commissioned by Greenpeace, Dr. Xue Kun of the Minzu University of China found variations in the protein content between the genetically engineered rice Bt63 and its parent line Minghui63: 169 protein spots varied in abundance by more than two-fold, 114 protein spots by more than three-fold, and 45 protein spots varied by more than four-fold between the two lines.
Dr. Xue said, "The protein differences could be due to unanticipated effects of genetic engineering, and they may also have unintended health and environmental consequences. Without further research into these protein differences, GE ingredients should not be used in foods, especially not in food that may be consumed by children."
Moreover, two GE-positive samples of rice noodles and the Yili baby formula were manufactured in Guangdong, highlighting that GE rice has spread south beyond its origin of contamination in Hubei.
Greenpeace urges the government to immediately stop the commercialization of GE rice, and take drastic measures against GE rice seeds and fields, as well as in the food chain, to prevent further contamination. Greenpeace calls for China to strengthen its biosafety research, and conduct a comprehensive long-term assessment of GE rice’s impact on the environment, nutrition and food safety. As Chinese people get 19% of their protein from rice, the main staple food, GE rice must not be allowed to gamble with the safety of the nation.
Huang Wei, Greenpeace Media Officer
whuang [at] greenpeace.org
+86 (10) 6554 6931 ext. 157