Government and Policy

GM rice has long-term risks

By Wang Zhuoqiong and Shan Juan (
Updated: 2010-02-04 18:57
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Genetically modified rice may potentially cause serious public health and environmental problems, experts warn.

Genetically modified organisms have genetic material, or DNA, that has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. Genetic modification allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, and also between non-related species, to create advantages, experts say. Such methods are used to create genetically modified plants, which are then used to grow genetically modified food crops.

Two major issues about GM rice are their tendencies to provoke allergic reactions and the uncertainty of gene transfers.

Fang Lifeng, Greenpeace's food and agriculture campaigner, told China Daily that the long-term risk of genetically modified rice should be taken into consideration.

"Once the engineered rice gets into the food chain on large scale, it will have a very big impact on food safety, environmental safety and biological diversity," Fang warned.

He cited some examples on the long-term risk of genetically modified food since it first appeared on the market in 1994.

In 2008, the immune systems of laboratory mice that consumed genetically modified corn were found to be abnormal.

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The official nod to pesticide-resistant rice has triggered questions on whether the resistance technology will also work on humans.

"If the substance is killing pests, will it be hurting us if we eat it every day?" Jiang Gaoming, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Botany told the International Herald Leader.

Other uncertainties about GM food includes what chain reactions it will impact the life on earth and the food chain.

Widely cited environment concerns include the potential capability of the genetically modified plants to introduce the engineered genes into wild populations, and the susceptibility of non-target organisms to the gene product.

Other worries include the stability of the gene, and the reduction in the spectrum of other plants, including a loss of biodiversity, and the increased use of chemicals in agriculture.

The environmental safety aspects of genetically modified crops vary according to local conditions, the World Health Organization says.

Internationally, most governments consider that specific assessments are necessary for genetically modified food.

Specific systems have been set up for the rigorous evaluation of genetically modified organisms and foods relative to both human health and the environment.

Similar evaluations are generally not performed for traditional foods.

Hence a significant difference exists in the evaluation process prior to marketing these two groups of food, experts said.

Greenpeace China's spokesman Fang Lifeng said that the genetically modified crops should not be planted on a large scale as the health risks have not yet been ruled out.

Although the Chinese researchers involved in the GM rice studies claim that they own the intellectual property rights to the GM rice breeds, Fang Lifeng argued that China does not own the full IP rights of genetically modified foods.

Fang said that major international companies such as Monsanto possess the main IP rights.

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