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UPDATED: February 26, 2010 NO. 9 MARCH 4, 2010
Safety Concerns
Warnings of long-term risks arising from genetic engineering of rice


STAPLE FOOD: All kinds of rice are on sale in a shop in the Bailing Market in Guangzhou's Yuexiu District, Guangdong Province (LIU DAWEI) 

China possesses about 75,000 varieties of rice, making it the country with the richest genetic diversity of rice in the world. The introduction of GM rice could lead to the loss of wild species and also encourage more troublesome weeds.

"Biological diversity must be protected and respected as the global heritage of humankind, and one of the world's fundamental keys to survival," Fang said.

Exports and IP rights

Mass planting and commercialization of GM rice may affect Chinese exports of crops because of strict restrictions on GM crops in many other areas, including European Union countries, Xue said.

Since 2005, GM rice variety Bt Shanyou 63 has been the subject of controversy. The unapproved variety had been found to be illegally sold and planted in Hubei Province, contaminating Chinese rice products exported to Europe and Japan.

A controversy arose when the European Union's executive body, the European Commission, said in July 2009 that China needed to tighten export controls on rice products, such as baby food, because shipments might contain traces of the Bt 63 strain, which is not authorized in the European Union.

Others say GM crops are the intellectual property (IP) of the developers, which are almost exclusively large chemical corporations.

Although Chinese researchers involved in GM rice studies claim they own IP rights to GM rice breeds, Fang argues that China does not own full rights.

Fang said China did not own full rights for any of the eight GM rice strains for which applications are under way for commercial planting or being researched, in connection with at least 28 foreign patented technologies.

"These IP rights are mainly held by Monsanto, DuPont of the United States and Bayer of Germany, three large-scale transnational bio-corporations," he said.

At least 11 foreign patents are associated with the two GM rice lines that have been given biosafety certificates by China's Ministry of Agriculture.

China will be susceptible to huge IP costs when it starts mass commercialization of GM technology, Fang said.

Under IP rights, farmers are not allowed to plant their own leftover seed from GM crops but instead must purchase it from developers.

"This will lead to that most of the world's seed supply being under the control of a few business institutions," said Fang.

A 2008 Friends of the Earth report called Who Benefits From GM Crops says, "The majority of GM crops are not destined for hungry people in developing countries, but being used to feed animals, generate biofuel and produce highly processed food—mainly for consumption in rich countries. GM crops have not increased food security for the world's poor. None of the GM crops on the market is modified for increased yield potential and research continues to focus on new pesticide-promoting varieties that tolerate application of one or more herbicides."

Zhang Hongliang, a professor at Minzu University of China, said if the Chinese commercialization of GM crops fails it could cause crucial damage and even if it succeeds, China's agriculture will be under the control of Western countries because of their ownership of IP rights.

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