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GM Rice Discovery Denied

Officials and experts on Wednesday denied a Greenpeace finding that the use of genetically modified (GM) rice in China is "out of control," speculating on the reliability of the international environmental protection group's research.

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

Greenpeace tested rice bought in central China's Hubei Province and found 19 of 25 samples to contain grain modified with bacterial genetic material in order to fight pests, said Liu Haiying, the organization's program director in Beijing.

Samples collected in Hubei were sent to a gene testing laboratory in Germany, she said.

Sze Pang Cheung, Greenpeace genetic engineering campaigner, said in Hong Kong that the GM industry is "out of control."

An official from the Ministry of Agriculture's Office of Genetically Modified Organism Safety (OGMOS) said, "We have not seen the testing reports, but the testing of GM rice seeds should be based on China's technical standards."

"We've asked the agricultural department in Hubei to conduct on-the-spot tests," said the unnamed official.

Greenpeace estimated that 950-1,200 tons of GM rice was grown in China last year from a planted area of 1,900-2,400 mu (127-160 hectares).

This year the area is expected to grow to 20,000-25,000 mu (1,333-1,667 hectares) with an output of 10,000-12,000 tons, according to Greenpeace.

The group's concerns are especially grave because the region is close to areas in which wild rice grows, and to the "center of rice biodiversity" in Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi.

The OGMOS official said field trials of GM rice are being conducted in Hubei and elsewhere, but that plantation acreage is limited to 30 mu (2 hectares).

GM rice has been planted for several years in research conducted by Huazhong Agricultural University, but no licenses are granted anywhere in the world for its commercial use.

Zhu said that "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 its safety since it is a highly important food for Chinese people."

The ministry official added, "Sales of GM rice seeds are strictly prohibited and there are GM safety offices at province level to conduct regular checks."

(China Daily April 14, 2005)

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