Non-GM super rice in China

rice farmer
Chinese rice farmer
Photo by kevsunblush on Flickr
April 2012
“ ... non-GM, breeding methods are fast and inexpensive, hugely successful, and uniquely able to introduce stable complex changes in plants. GM crops have not progressed beyond two basic traits (herbicide-tolerance and Bt-insecticide generation), both of which are extensions of the existing, unsustainable, chemical-dependent model of agriculture. GM crop development remains, not only limited in scope, but expensive, inefficient, and monopoly-, and patent-dependent.”

If you suspect the above statement is anti-GM extremism, look at what's happening in China, a country held up by the pro-GM lobby as a shining example of the benefits Britain is missing out on by not growing GM crops.

China has been plagued for years by contamination of its staple food, rice, with illegal, untested GM varieties. Whether this is happening because of regulatory weakness, inefficiency on the part of its pro-biotech administration, scientific carelessness, farmer and seed-supplier ignorance, deliberate action by the GM stake-holders trying to force acceptance of GM in the country, or all of these together, has never been clear. However, although it imports GM animal feed and has embraced GM cotton, GM poplar trees and petunias, GM papaya, and a few rather hush-hush GM vegetables, the Chinese government has drawn the line at giving its people GM rice to eat.

A law has now been enacted which restricts research, field trials, production, sale, import and export of genetically engineered grain seeds. The draft stipulates that no organisation or person can employ GM technology in any major food product in China.

The Chinese have three very good reasons to exclude GM rice.

Two-thirds of its people eat rice every day. Any problems arising in their rice supplies could be devastating.

There has already been an inescapable lesson from the multiple waves of illegal gene contamination in their rice. Not only have the people, infants and elderly of China been exposed to untested novel proteins, but their rice export market has suffered. At the end of 2011, the European Commission announced tough new controls due to the identification of four illegal GM rice traits in consignments from China. Certified analyses of all Chinese rice shipments both in the country of origin and on arrival in the EU are now required.

Finally, GM rice is unnecessary. The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture has announced the success of a new, non-GM, high-quality, super-rice which can yield an astounding 900-plus kilograms per mu (1/15 hectare) under optimal conditions. Under commercial conditions, the yield is likely to be 700 kilograms per mu, besting Australia's current world-record rice yield average of 660 kg per mu. Top yields are achieved by selecting best variety, plus ideal stalk-length, and identifying optimum management and paddy conditions, including well-composted organic fertilizer with supplementary nitrogen applied at the appropriate time if a particular strain requires it.

The conclusion?
Intelligent breeding and appropriate crop husbandry are what's required to produce good yields of safe crops. Unnatural proteins from scrambled genomes with forced foreign gene-expression just can't do it.

  • Boris Cambreleng, GM rice spreads, prompts debate in China, AFP 15.06.11
  • Children and Infants in China at Risk of Eating food Contaminated by Illegal GE Rice, Greenpeace Press Release, 20.04.11
  • EC Toughens Checks as China Fails to Stop GM Rice Contamination, GM Freeze Release, 19.12.11
  • Monica Tan, China drafts legal proposal to completely shut down GE rice, Greenpeace, 22.02.12
  • Leigh Phillips, EU imposes stiff controls to block Chinese GM rice, EU Observer, 15.11.11
  • Super-rice without GM, Science in Society 53, Spring 2012
  • Yinghui Zhang-Carraro in Update on GMOs in China, GM Watch, 5.02.12,

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