Illegal rice found again in China's food supply

SHANGHAI, June 13, By DAVID BARBOZA, NY Times, June 14, 2005 via Cropchoice:
Genetically altered rice, which is not approved for human consumption anywhere in the world, has been found again in China's food supply, this time in one of the country's biggest cities, the environmental group Greenpeace said on Monday.

Researchers for Greenpeace say bags of rice purchased in the southern city of Guangzhou were tested by an independent laboratory and found to contain genetically altered rice, which is illegal to sell on the open market in China.

The findings suggest that China may have inadvertently become the first country where people are consuming genetically modified rice, even though safety testing has not yet been completed.

Scientists around the world continue to debate the use of genetically altered crops, but there has been little or no evidence that genetically altered crops are harmful to human health.

Two months ago, China's Ministry of Agriculture said it would investigate claims by Greenpeace that genetically altered rice was being illegally planted and sold in Hubei Province in central China. The findings have not yet been released.

Now, Greenpeace asserts that rice that has been genetically altered to resist pests has spread from experimental plots in Hubei to wholesale rice markets in Guangzhou, which is about 90 miles north of Hong Kong.

"This illegal and unapproved rice has spread out of Hubei Province and it is reaching other parts of the country," said Sze Pang Cheung, a Greenpeace researcher in Beijing.

Mr. Sze said Greenpeace bought the rice from a Guangzhou wholesaler, who buys from Hubei and then resells about 60 tons of rice a day, much of it to Guangzhou restaurants. Last April, Greenpeace said a group of "rogue scientists" in Hubei had allowed altered rice to illegally seep into a corner of the market by selling it to regular farmers.In the United States, the planting of genetically altered corn and soybeans is widespread. But since the late 1990's, European and American regulators have slowed the approval process over health and safety concerns, as well as consumer fears.