BEIJING, CHINA -- April 12 -- 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 where consumer rejection of GE foods is very high. A similar case in the USA in 2000 resulted in a $1 billion product recall amid concerns of potential allergenic
reactions after GE corn (Starlink) illegally entered the human food chain.
"This will have a major impact on the Chinese as well as international rice markets," said Sze. "China is one of the world's major rice exporters and our customers in Japan, Korea, Russia and Europe are strongly opposed to GE foods."
Consumer concern over GE foods in China is also rising. In an opinion poll released by Greenpeace in March, 73% of the respondents said they would choose non-GE rice over GE rice.
China is considering commercialization of GE rice and officials have indicated a decision may be made this year. The contamination scandal raises the question of whether the government could regulate GE rice. "The government has not controlled GE rice in the research stage, how will it regulate large scale commercialization?" Sze said.
(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.