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Greenpeace seeks ban on open-air GE rice trials

Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: . Greenpeace India has demanded a ban on open-air trials of genetically engineered (GE) rice in the country, following the reported contamination of the food chain by "illegal" release of a GE rice variety in China. The GE rice has not been approved for human consumption, and may have contaminated Chinese rice exports, according to reports. "The advancement of GE crops in China has always been a yardstick for India," said Divya Raghunandan, GE campaigner, Greenpeace India.

"The Chinese rice contamination scandal reveals that the GE crops cannot be regulated. India must immediately ban open-air rice field trials as a first step and be transparent about the status, location and bio-safety of field trials ... to prevent similar disasters.'' She said the Chinese scandal was significant for rice exporters, millers and food processors, as the slightest contamination of Basmati and other export varieties could result in a tremendous loss to Indian agri-business. A Greenpeace research team found unapproved GE rice being sold and grown in the Chinese province of Hubei. Interviews with seed providers and farmers indicated that seeds were sold over the past two years. Samples of rice seed and unmilled and milled rice were collected from seed companies, farmers and rice millers. A test conducted by Genescan, an international laboratory, confirmed the presence of GE DNA in 19 samples. The evidence from the laboratory, combined with field reports, confirmed that some of the illegal GE varieties were Bt Rice, genetically engineered to produce an inbuilt pesticide.

Greenpeace has estimated that at least 950-1,200 tonne of GE rice entered the food chain after last year's harvest, and up to 13,500 tonne may enter this year unless action is taken.

According to the Greenpeace International Scientist, Janet Cotter, this is a serious problem requiring urgent action. "There are warning signs that this GE Bt rice could cause allergenic reactions in humans. It has been shown that the protein produced in Bt rice (Cry1Ac) may have induced allergenic-type responses in mice. To date, there has been no human food safety testing of Bt rice."

It is expected that the contamination scandal may have a significant trade impact in Japan, Korea, Russia and Europe.

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