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China to start growing GE rice - Rice at risk?
China - Yunnan Province, October 17, 2004
It appears the Chinese government could start the planting of genetically engineered (GE) rice as early as 2005. What is for sure is that the GE industry must be cheering on the Chinese Government on GE rice as this will no doubt encourage the rest of Asia to go GE.

So why are they taking this risky step, are they tackling a major problem with their domestic rice crops? Not that we can see. Will it increase yields? Not if it follows the patterns of current lower yielding GE crops. Will it endanger the thousands of strains of non-GE rice in China? Certainly.

China is home to rice and still possesses one of the richest genetic diversities of rice in the world - boasting some 75,000 strains. Not only is rice vital to China's food supply but it is also at the heart of its culture - as with most of Asia. GE rice threatens all of this.

So it seems ironic that while China develops GE rice, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is celebrating 2004 as 'The International Year of Rice' and World Food Day under the slogan that 'Rice Is Life'.

"No one, except a few GE scientists and government officials, knows that GE rice may reach their rice bowls soon," said Sze Pang Cheung, Campaign Manager of Greenpeace China. "This is scandalous as rice is the staple diet for most Chinese people and it is the source of livelihood for more than 100 million farmers."

If GE rice is grown in the field, it will contaminate local varieties. Research by Chinese scientists has found that the pollen of GE rice may spread as far as 110 meters.

"If rice is life, GE rice is a gamble with our life. Moreover, GE rice can multiply and spread once released into the environment. It is a gamble with no way back," Sze commented.

To make matters worse, under Chinese regulation, there is no requirement for the public to be informed and consulted before a GE crop is approved for commercialisation. Once an application reaches the Ministry of Agriculture, the ministry will commission research institutes to carry out environmental and safety assessments, which usually last from three to six months.

Commercialisation of GE rice in China would have regional and global impact. It is widely believed that India, the second largest producer and consumer of rice, and other rice producing countries (Thailand and Vietnam), may follow China's footsteps if it commercialises GE rice. The GE industry also hopes that commercialisation of GE rice will open up the gate to other GE crops in Asia, the most important global market for the GE industry.
MGR Archive 17.10.2004
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