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Genetically suspect rice in China
The farmer reached down into a sack he kept stored on the second floor of his house in a small farming village south of the city of Wuhan and pulled up a fistful of rice that he said had no equal. .

"This is really remarkable rice," he said, forcing it into the hands of his guests. "All you do is plant it and it grows. You don't need to use all those chemicals any more." .

The farmer and other crop growers in this area call this unique variety "anti-pest rice" because it acts as its own insect repellent in the rice paddies. But some Chinese growers and foreign specialists say they suspect much of this region's rice has been genetically modified.

. In China, it is illegal to sell genetically modified rice on the open market. .

The environmental group, Greenpeace, which had rice in this area tested by an independent lab in Germany, says the results show that some of the rice was altered with a gene that creates resistance to pests. .

Although experiments with gene-altered rice are under way in most rice-producing countries, including the United States, cultivation and consumption have been tempered by criticism over the potential health or environmental consequences. Although no such effects have been proved, the opposition has worried regulators, leading them to be cautious in approving gene-altered rice. It also has prompted reluctance among growers around the world to embrace a crop that may be labeled Frankenstein food. .

Yet in several small villages around Wuhan, in Hubei province, a large rice-growing region in central China, genetically engineered rice appears to be for sale, even by government officials who are supposed to be enforcing a ban on its sale until it is approved for commercialization, perhaps this year. .

Chinese officials hope the commercialization of genetically engineered rice in China, the world's largest producer and consumer of rice, would be a momentous global event because rice is the world's largest and most important food staple. If the technology works, the altered rice could offer higher yields. .

But now activists like Greenpeace are warning that in Hubei, genetically engineered rice has prematurely seeped into China's food system. They say the possible health and environmental risks are worrisome because genetic engineering is still in the experimental stage. .

If biotech rice has found its way into the food system, China could become the first place in the world where a major crop, in this instance rice, is being directly consumed by humans - and without regulatory approval. But there are many unanswered questions, starting with the scale or even the existence of the health risks. .

There are other unanswered questions. Chinese government officials say they are beginning their own investigation. So, aside from explanations from local farmers, there are no official answers to questions about how much or how long the potentially genetically modified rice has been sold and how many people may have eaten it. .

. Greenpeace said it had bought rice in seed markets and had the suspect packages tested by GeneScan, a respected biotechnology testing lab in Germany. . .

Many rice sellers in Hubei said the supplies had come from a local university that specializes in biotech rice research. They said bags of rice could be bought there. But the university store was out of the rice. .

"All the anti-bug seeds have been sold out," said a woman operating the agriculture store at the Huazhong Agriculture University in Wuhan. "We started to sell them around January, and it was the most popular product and sold out in the middle of February." .

At a government-owned seed market south of Wuhan, a sales agent said the "anti-pest rice" was no longer available and it was not legal to sell it.

.There was none at the government store, the sales agent said. But minutes later, after some negotiation, the government sales officer agreed to sell a bag of "anti-bug rice" for a premium price. His assistant then pulled a bag from under a shelf and placed it in a dark bag. .

The bag of seed had the same label that Greenpeace had identified as containing a variety of genetically engineered rice. The label shows a lightning bolt striking a bug. The package does not identify the seeds as genetically modified rice but only as "anti-pest" rice. .

Greenpeace's accusations are certain to complicate China's aggressive push to commercialize genetically engineered rice, which proponents had hoped would dramatically alter the debate over the safety of genetically modified crops. . .

Scientists in China hoped the Chinese government would approve biotech rice and declare its consumption safe later this year, setting the stage for other rice-producing countries in Asia, like Thailand and Vietnam, to follow suit by introducing their own versions of biotech rice. .

But now, China is dealing with a situation that has plagued biotech efforts in other parts of the world after unapproved varieties of corn, for example, reached the food supply and black market biotech seeds were smuggled across borders. .

In the United States, genetically modified corn is a growing portion of the marketplace, and modified soybean is widely sold and well accepted. But the health and environmental concerns that crept up in the late 1990s have stalled the commercialization of biotech wheat. . .

. Fears in Europe and the United States that the crops have not been sufficiently tested has created volatile debate over the last seven years. That is not the case in China, however, where biotech research, particularly on rice, is largely driven by government labs trying to improve crop yields and reduce the use of pesticides. . .

But now, the government investigation, led by China's Ministry of Agriculture, will examine Greenpeace's assertion that a group of "rogue scientists" have sold experimental varieties of genetically altered rice on the open market to consumers in Hubei. .

"This is irresponsible and dangerous," said Sze Pang-cheung, a Greenpeace official who helped uncover the sales in Hubei and estimated that more than 1,000 tons of genetically engineered rice were on the local market. "The government needs to act. If they cannot control GE rice even at the experimental stage, how are they going to control large-scale commercialization?" .

Still, just one day after Greenpeace announced its findings, seed market officials in Hubei talked openly about the popularity of the "anti-pest rice" and admitted selling it at a premium price.

. Farmers and seed market officials say the planting of biotech seeds is widespread in the region and has occurred for about two years. But they also say many farmers do not eat the rice they harvest. Some farmers think that anything that kills a field pest could also prove harmful to people. .

But the rice farmer holding the fistful of rice in his home says he and his family eat all the anti-pest rice he produces. .

"Why not?" he says with a broad smile. "I don't believe the government would poison its own people." .

. See more of the world that matters - click here for home delivery of the International Herald Tribune. .

< < Back to Start of Article WUHAN, China The farmer reached down into a sack he kept stored on the second floor of his house in a small farming village south of the city of Wuhan and pulled up a fistful of rice that he said had no equal. .

"This is really remarkable rice," he said, forcing it into the hands of his guests. "All you do is plant it and it grows. You don't need to use all those chemicals any more." .

The farmer and other crop growers in this area call this unique variety "anti-pest rice" because it acts as its own insect repellent in the rice paddies. But some Chinese growers and foreign specialists say they suspect much of this region's rice has been genetically modified. .

In China, it is illegal to sell genetically modified rice on the open market. .

The environmental group, Greenpeace, which had rice in this area tested by an independent lab in Germany, says the results show that some of the rice was altered with a gene that creates resistance to pests. .

Although experiments with gene-altered rice are under way in most rice-producing countries, including the United States, cultivation and consumption have been tempered by criticism over the potential health or environmental consequences. Although no such effects have been proved, the opposition has worried regulators, leading them to be cautious in approving gene-altered rice. It also has prompted reluctance among growers around the world to embrace a crop that may be labeled Frankenstein food. .

Yet in several small villages around Wuhan, in Hubei province, a large rice-growing region in central China, genetically engineered rice appears to be for sale, even by government officials who are supposed to be enforcing a ban on its sale until it is approved for commercialization, perhaps this year. .

Chinese officials hope the commercialization of genetically engineered rice in China, the world's largest producer and consumer of rice, would be a momentous global event because rice is the world's largest and most important food staple. If the technology works, the altered rice could offer higher yields. .

But now activists like Greenpeace are warning that in Hubei, genetically engineered rice has prematurely seeped into China's food system. They say the possible health and environmental risks are worrisome because genetic engineering is still in the experimental stage. .

If biotech rice has found its way into the food system, China could become the first place in the world where a major crop, in this instance rice, is being directly consumed by humans - and without regulatory approval. But there are many unanswered questions, starting with the scale or even the existence of the health risks. .

There are other unanswered questions. Chinese government officials say they are beginning their own investigation. So, aside from explanations from local farmers, there are no official answers to questions about how much or how long the potentially genetically modified rice has been sold and how many people may have eaten it. .

. Greenpeace said it had bought rice in seed markets and had the suspect packages tested by GeneScan, a respected biotechnology testing lab in Germany. . .

Many rice sellers in Hubei said the supplies had come from a local university that specializes in biotech rice research. They said bags of rice could be bought there. But the university store was out of the rice. .

"All the anti-bug seeds have been sold out," said a woman operating the agriculture store at the Huazhong Agriculture University in Wuhan. "We started to sell them around January, and it was the most popular product and sold out in the middle of February." .

At a government-owned seed market south of Wuhan, a sales agent said the "anti-pest rice" was no longer available and it was not legal to sell it. .

There was none at the government store, the sales agent said. But minutes later, after some negotiation, the government sales officer agreed to sell a bag of "anti-bug rice" for a premium price. His assistant then pulled a bag from under a shelf and placed it in a dark bag. .

The bag of seed had the same label that Greenpeace had identified as containing a variety of genetically engineered rice. The label shows a lightning bolt striking a bug. The package does not identify the seeds as genetically modified rice but only as "anti-pest" rice. .

Greenpeace's accusations are certain to complicate China's aggressive push to commercialize genetically engineered rice, which proponents had hoped would dramatically alter the debate over the safety of genetically modified crops. . .

Scientists in China hoped the Chinese government would approve biotech rice and declare its consumption safe later this year, setting the stage for other rice-producing countries in Asia, like Thailand and Vietnam, to follow suit by introducing their own versions of biotech rice. .

But now, China is dealing with a situation that has plagued biotech efforts in other parts of the world after unapproved varieties of corn, for example, reached the food supply and black market biotech seeds were smuggled across borders. .

In the United States, genetically modified corn is a growing portion of the marketplace, and modified soybean is widely sold and well accepted. But the health and environmental concerns that crept up in the late 1990s have stalled the commercialization of biotech wheat. . .

. Fears in Europe and the United States that the crops have not been sufficiently tested has created volatile debate over the last seven years. That is not the case in China, however, where biotech research, particularly on rice, is largely driven by government labs trying to improve crop yields and reduce the use of pesticides. . .

But now, the government investigation, led by China's Ministry of Agriculture, will examine Greenpeace's assertion that a group of "rogue scientists" have sold experimental varieties of genetically altered rice on the open market to consumers in Hubei. .

"This is irresponsible and dangerous," said Sze Pang-cheung, a Greenpeace official who helped uncover the sales in Hubei and estimated that more than 1,000 tons of genetically engineered rice were on the local market. "The government needs to act. If they cannot control GE rice even at the experimental stage, how are they going to control large-scale commercialization?" .

Still, just one day after Greenpeace announced its findings, seed market officials in Hubei talked openly about the popularity of the "anti-pest rice" and admitted selling it at a premium price. .

Farmers and seed market officials say the planting of biotech seeds is widespread in the region and has occurred for about two years. But they also say many farmers do not eat the rice they harvest. Some farmers think that anything that kills a field pest could also prove harmful to people. .

But the rice farmer holding the fistful of rice in his home says he and his family eat all the anti-pest rice he produces. . "Why not?" he says with a broad smile. "I don't believe the government would poison its own people." .

. See more of the world that matters - click here for home delivery of the International Herald Tribune. .

Back to Start of Article WUHAN, China The farmer reached down into a sack he kept stored on the second floor of his house in a small farming village south of the city of Wuhan and pulled up a fistful of rice that he said had no equal. .

"This is really remarkable rice," he said, forcing it into the hands of his guests. "All you do is plant it and it grows. You don't need to use all those chemicals any more." .

The farmer and other crop growers in this area call this unique variety "anti-pest rice" because it acts as its own insect repellent in the rice paddies. But some Chinese growers and foreign specialists say they suspect much of this region's rice has been genetically modified. .

In China, it is illegal to sell genetically modified rice on the open market. .

The environmental group, Greenpeace, which had rice in this area tested by an independent lab in Germany, says the results show that some of the rice was altered with a gene that creates resistance to pests. .

Although experiments with gene-altered rice are under way in most rice-producing countries, including the United States, cultivation and consumption have been tempered by criticism over the potential health or environmental consequences. Although no such effects have been proved, the opposition has worried regulators, leading them to be cautious in approving gene-altered rice. It also has prompted reluctance among growers around the world to embrace a crop that may be labeled Frankenstein food. .

Yet in several small villages around Wuhan, in Hubei province, a large rice-growing region in central China, genetically engineered rice appears to be for sale, even by government officials who are supposed to be enforcing a ban on its sale until it is approved for commercialization, perhaps this year. .

Chinese officials hope the commercialization of genetically engineered rice in China, the world's largest producer and consumer of rice, would be a momentous global event because rice is the world's largest and most important food staple. If the technology works, the altered rice could offer higher yields. .

But now activists like Greenpeace are warning that in Hubei, genetically engineered rice has prematurely seeped into China's food system. They say the possible health and environmental risks are worrisome because genetic engineering is still in the experimental stage. .

If biotech rice has found its way into the food system, China could become the first place in the world where a major crop, in this instance rice, is being directly consumed by humans - and without regulatory approval. But there are many unanswered questions, starting with the scale or even the existence of the health risks. .

There are other unanswered questions. Chinese government officials say they are beginning their own investigation. So, aside from explanations from local farmers, there are no official answers to questions about how much or how long the potentially genetically modified rice has been sold and how many people may have eaten it. .

. Greenpeace said it had bought rice in seed markets and had the suspect packages tested by GeneScan, a respected biotechnology testing lab in Germany. .

. Many rice sellers in Hubei said the supplies had come from a local university that specializes in biotech rice research. They said bags of rice could be bought there. But the university store was out of the rice. .

"All the anti-bug seeds have been sold out," said a woman operating the agriculture store at the Huazhong Agriculture University in Wuhan. "We started to sell them around January, and it was the most popular product and sold out in the middle of February." .

At a government-owned seed market south of Wuhan, a sales agent said the "anti-pest rice" was no longer available and it was not legal to sell it. .

There was none at the government store, the sales agent said. But minutes later, after some negotiation, the government sales officer agreed to sell a bag of "anti-bug rice" for a premium price. His assistant then pulled a bag from under a shelf and placed it in a dark bag. .

The bag of seed had the same label that Greenpeace had identified as containing a variety of genetically engineered rice. The label shows a lightning bolt striking a bug. The package does not identify the seeds as genetically modified rice but only as "anti-pest" rice. .

Greenpeace's accusations are certain to complicate China's aggressive push to commercialize genetically engineered rice, which proponents had hoped would dramatically alter the debate over the safety of genetically modified crops. .

. Scientists in China hoped the Chinese government would approve biotech rice and declare its consumption safe later this year, setting the stage for other rice-producing countries in Asia, like Thailand and Vietnam, to follow suit by introducing their own versions of biotech rice.

. But now, China is dealing with a situation that has plagued biotech efforts in other parts of the world after unapproved varieties of corn, for example, reached the food supply and black market biotech seeds were smuggled across borders. .

In the United States, genetically modified corn is a growing portion of the marketplace, and modified soybean is widely sold and well accepted. But the health and environmental concerns that crept up in the late 1990s have stalled the commercialization of biotech wheat. . .

. Fears in Europe and the United States that the crops have not been sufficiently tested has created volatile debate over the last seven years. That is not the case in China, however, where biotech research, particularly on rice, is largely driven by government labs trying to improve crop yields and reduce the use of pesticides. . .

But now, the government investigation, led by China's Ministry of Agriculture, will examine Greenpeace's assertion that a group of "rogue scientists" have sold experimental varieties of genetically altered rice on the open market to consumers in Hubei. .

"This is irresponsible and dangerous," said Sze Pang-cheung, a Greenpeace official who helped uncover the sales in Hubei and estimated that more than 1,000 tons of genetically engineered rice were on the local market. "The government needs to act. If they cannot control GE rice even at the experimental stage, how are they going to control large-scale commercialization?" .

Still, just one day after Greenpeace announced its findings, seed market officials in Hubei talked openly about the popularity of the "anti-pest rice" and admitted selling it at a premium price. .

Farmers and seed market officials say the planting of biotech seeds is widespread in the region and has occurred for about two years. But they also say many farmers do not eat the rice they harvest. Some farmers think that anything that kills a field pest could also prove harmful to people. .

But the rice farmer holding the fistful of rice in his home says he and his family eat all the anti-pest rice he produces. .

"Why not?" he says with a broad smile. "I don't believe the government would poison its own people."
MGR Archive 17.4.2005
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