Chinese authorities question genetically altered rice allegation

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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Authorities in the People's Republic of China today questioned the integrity of tests conducted by Greenpeace, the environmental awareness organisation, purporting to show that genetically engineered (GE) rice has been illegally farmed and sold, in the largest rice-producing country.

Greenpeace alleges through a press release that "it appears GE Rice is being sold, planted, consumed, and possibly exported", with the Chinese government not having approved the crop. Local farmers in Hubei Province where the GE crops were allegedly found, had tipped the organisation off.

Greenpeace says it tested rice bought there during February and April, and 19 of the 25 samples taken returned positive results for transgenic DNA, with two containing an alteration that means the rice incorporates genes from a bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), used to produce a toxin that kills pests. (see tests results summary)

"We've asked the agricultural department in Hubei Province to conduct on-the-spot examination on this issue," an unidentified official with the Office of Genetically Modified Organism Safety under the ministry of Agriculture was reported as saying, by China Daily.

"We have not seen the concrete testing reports. Moreover, the testing of GM (Genetically Modified) rice seeds should be based on China's technical standards," he said.

Programme director for Greenpeace in Beijing, Liu Haiying, told by the newspaper that samples collected in Hubei Province were sent to a gene testing laboratory in Germany.

Zhu Xinquan, chairman of the Chinese Society of Agro-Biotechnology, said to China Daily: "I cannot agree with the findings of the report by Greenpeace and I am wondering if the tests conducted by the organization are scientific or not."

"Regulations on GM food have been in force for several years in China and the nation is doing more research before approving the commercialization of GM rice. A cautious attitude must be taken on the safety of GM rice since it is a highly important food for Chinese people," said Zhu to China Daily.

Scientists at Huazhong Agriculture University in Wuhan, capital of Hubei, have been conducting tests with the engineered strain of rice. [1]

The area is geographically close to an area diverse in rice strains, where Greenpeace says that natural evolution of rice is threatened by the potential of escaped GM rice genes. This is centered in the nearby provinces of Guizhou, Guangxi and Yunnan. [2]

Greenpeace says, "No country in the world has commercially released GE rice."

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