China Shuts Down GE Rice?
Image Credit: Flickr / romainguy

China Shuts Down GE Rice?


China’s State Council has released a ground-breaking draft proposal of a grain law that establishes legislation restricting research, field trials, production, sale, import and export of genetically engineered grain seeds. The draft stipulates that no organization or person can employ unauthorized GE technology in any major food product in China.

“This is actually a world-first initiative that deals with GE food legislation at state law level,” according to my colleague, Fang Lifeng, a food and agriculture campaigner with Greenpeace.

“There are currently too many loopholes and weak control over GE food and technology in China. This law needs to clarify what ‘relevant laws and regulations’ can be applied to regulate GE crops. We urge legislators to accelerate the legislation of Genetically Engineered Organisms Bio-safety Law, and also to enhance the supervision of GE food and other products. Otherwise, this law will only be paying lip service,” Fang warned.

The grain law will likely have significant ramifications for China’s rice, the country's most important staple food. The origins of rice cultivation can be traced to the valleys of the Yangtze River, with some estimates suggesting cultivation began over 7,000 years ago. It dictates the lives of millions of farmers in the Chinese countryside and feeds over a billion Chinese citizens each year. And using experimental GE technology to meddle with such a widely eaten crop could spell disaster – ecologically, financially and for human health.

This latest announcement comes after a highly successful and complex seven year campaign by activists to keep GE rice out of the country’s food market.

In 2004, Greenpeace activists were in Yunnan, visiting farmers who employed traditional Chinese farming methods such as when they got wind that Chinese scientists had applied to commercialize four varieties of Chinese GE rice. While the announcement didn’t mean any immediate commercialization of GE rice – the rice would still have to pass many more stages of approval – it was a major step towards commercialization. “I was totally shocked,” said Sze Pang Cheung, now Campaign Director of Greenpeace.

Cheung and his team set about unraveling the complex web of players involved in the push to commercialize. “For a scientist to have a high level of credibility they need to be separated from approval bodies and industry,” Cheung says. “But in China, GE scientists are such a close knit gang that the people sitting on approval boards for research money, biosafety boards that approve product safety, the scientists at public research institutes, and those at biotech companies who plan to produce and profit from GE rice are either one and the same, or closely connected.”

Cheung says he also sent a team undercover to Wuhan, Hubei’s provincial capital, where they had heard rumors that GE rice was already being illegally farmed. The activists would ask around for any new strains of pest-resistant rice, buy a few bags of these, and test the samples back in their hotel rooms. The quick-testers came up positive. Farmers in the region were already unwittingly buying and growing these seeds, which meant GE rice was already being sold in China – completely illegally.

China is a country where money talks, nationalism is rampant and people take their food seriously. And it would be multi-national companies – not Chinese farmers – who would stand to profit from GE rice from technology and patents. Never before had a country’s staple food gone GE. Monsanto had tried and failed to commercialize GE wheat in Canada, and there were fears they were hoping China would become the first guinea pig, opening the gate to genetic experiments with staple crops.

All of these concerns – the tangled web of scientists with conflicting interests, the government's proven inability to control GE from “infecting” the market, and the viable threat of national food security – were getting airplay in the Chinese media. Despite this, and the concerns of the public, by the end of 2009 it was looking all but inevitable that China’s rice would go GE. The government, long after the fact, announced that a secret multi-ministerial meeting had passed two GE rice lines even though they had not received biosafety certificates at the time.

With no time to lose, the campaign team stepped up its anti-GE message and received help from the most unlikely of sources: Chinese state magazine Outlook Weekly published a front-page GE-rice debate issue. Then Chinese politicians began raising GE doubts, followed by a string of Chinese celebrities including Mao Zedong’s daughter and the father of China’s hybrid rice, Yuan Longping. Several Chinese scholars signed a petition urging caution on GE rice and submitted it to the annual parliament meeting.

A media storm soon broke out: TV, magazines, newspapers, online media were all joining the debate. Greenpeace also exposed Wal-Mart for allegedly selling GE rice and filed a legal case against them. The team beamed a GE shopper’s guide to half a million Chinese consumers through mobile and Internet services. Chinese consumers joined the campaign, ringing up companies and demanding they go non-GE. Two huge corporations, Cofco and Yihai Kerry, made non-GE pledges and a string of supermarkets also pledged not to use GE ingredients in their own brands and with their fresh unpacked fruits, vegetables and grains.

The tide towards GE rice had made a remarkable reversal. In September 2011, China’s major financial weekly, the Economic Observer, quoted an information source close to the Agriculture Ministry saying that for the next 5 to 10 years, China had suspended the commercialization of GE rice. This latest announcement puts further restrictions on the growth of GE rice in the nation.

“China’s money must be spent on supporting food that is safe for human consumption and the production of which has taken into account environmental impacts,” Fang says. “And GE technology has clearly failed to do either.”

Monica Tan is a writer and Beijing-based web editor for Greenpeace East Asia. 

March 7, 2012 at 05:42

Because china now has plastic rice. Just google “plastic rice china” to find out.

USAma Bin Laden
March 6, 2012 at 18:32

Like many Western “environmental” organizations such as Greenpeace, Monica Tan conveniently minimizes the sinister role of America in terms of food security and Genetically Engineered “Frankenfoods”–even as they posture as activists on these issues.

-Thus, Tan only briefly mentions American corporations like Monsanto in her article. This is a glaring omission, as US businesses like Monsanto are THE major pushers of GE food (like its infamous Terminator seeds) on the planet.

Indeed, Tan glosses over the fact that GE companies like Monsanto are fundamentally dependent on the American state to put pressure on other countries to open their markets to Monsanto’s GE food in the first place. This is done through USA-dominated institutions like the World Trade Organization or various bilateral trade agreements.

In other words, so-called “multinational” corporations like Monsanto are multinational only in terms of their REACH, but NOT in terms of their national origin and base or whose interest they serve.

In the latter case, Monsanto is thus an extension of American corporate power.

-Finally, the issue of food security is another glaring example of how Tan conveniently obscures the malevolent hand of the United States. That is, one (unspoken) pillar of American geopolitical power and strategy has been to control the food security of other countries, akin to how the USA seeks to control the energy resources that foreign nations are dependent upon.

As Henry Kissinger bluntly put it, “Control the oil and you control nations. Control the food, and you control the people.”

This has been a central feature of American imperial strategy dating back to the Cold War. More recently, America’s pushing of GM food has been deployed as a new weapon in this geopolitical stratagem.

As William Engdahl suggests, the “story of the genetic engineering and patenting of plants and other living organisms cannot be understood without looking at the history of the global spread of American power in the decades following World War II.”

Tan’s silence on this essential issue is damning. And it suggests that she (along with Greenpeace) wishes to cover up for the United States.

A much better and more informative discussion of Genetically Modified Food, food security, and the role of America can be found in the writings of William Engdahl and his book like Seeds of Destruction.

March 5, 2012 at 01:13

Thanks, Rob. You are correct. I am biased when it comes to Wikipedia, too often folks rely solely on it.

March 4, 2012 at 03:34

The ‘Qi’ of GMO rice flows differently and thus is Energetically less nourishing. Thats why China dropped GEs.

Rob Moser
March 3, 2012 at 15:53

If you go the the references section of the wiki article I linked, you will find several examples of published, peer-reviewed papers referenced that back up the claims made.

Refusing to consider wikipedia a valid cite is understandable, if there is no primary-sourced data available to corroborate. That is not the case here.

March 3, 2012 at 15:11

Genetically-modified organism = grotesquely mutated organism. Despite all the marketing hype and lies from the biotech industry, the process of genetically altering organisms is one of grotesque mutation. It is an abomination against nature. It is ignorance of the highest order for anyone to think that they can hack at the basic code of life and improve upon what nature in all its wisdom can do. I’m so extremely happy to read of the wisdom of people in China to protect their food and protect Earth.

John Chan
March 3, 2012 at 11:51

I do not know much about biology; therefore I only can ask simple questions,
1. Why does anybody want to force farmers, particular those in the developing countries with little knowledge of modern science, to buy seeds every planting? What’s wrong to keep a portion of the harvest as seeds?
2. If foreign genes are helpful, why is terminator (suicide gene) needed? Why should human being tampers food crops’ genes with no material benefits other than financial reasons?
3. If GMO products are safe, why are GMO product manufactures and merchants, like Monsanto, behaving so weird and oddly as shown in the following documentary?

March 3, 2012 at 07:47

Let’s take a look at how « rice » is called in different countries in the West. It is “riz” for the French, “arroz” for the Spaniards, “reis” for the Germans, “rijst” for the Dutch,…
You see what I mean, it is phonetically almost the same. Normal, you would say: its cultivation is not indigeneous. Same as for the word “tea” and “coffee” right?

Now, try to find out how the equivalent for “rice”, “tea” and “coffee” are pronounced in Chinese, Vietnamese, Laotian, Korean, Japanese, Indonesian, Malai,…(you can try Goggle translate).

Do you see what I try to arrive at? If we trace the origin of rice domestication from the linguistic perspective, we may also infer that rice cultivation was INDEPENDENTLY discovered by several people, and not necessarily by the ancestors of the ethnically majorities living in the countries we know today.

March 3, 2012 at 07:46


firstly, dont confuse serious research done by top scientists and experts in their respected fields as “similar to wiki”

if so there is nothing further to debate here, you are not intelligent enough to hold an debate with.

secondly, get your /bad/ wild theories out of your head and listen to some widely accepted scientific facts, no one said the Han peoples(one group of many in china) was the first to do anything with rice, but that cultivation started inside the borders of what is now modern china by the peoples who are now a part of the modern chinese(surprise! there’s more than one peoples in china), the fact that some of those peoples went further south has nothing to do with this argument.

secondly, finding some links on the internet proves nothings unless the info is from a very respected source and is recent(u haven’t even shown your source at all). as i have shown, the LATEST gene-re sequencing techniques used in an research that is done by a number of well respected experts in well respected universities have come to a conclusion that a majority of scientists already agree on, that is rice cultivation was started by the peoples living in the Yangtze area. and yes their descendents can still be found there as well as other area further south, you wanna argue against top experts in an area that you clearly know nothing about? you better bring some extraordinary evident.

some things to note here, scientific majority, respected scientists, respected universities, latest gene-re-sequencing techniques, all verifiable information

and notice none of the above sounds like “different government sites says”

your claim that since some of these people moved south later on means nothing to the argument, it’s like arguing that americans founded the roman empire because some Romans eventually left Rome and settled in germany whose descendents then moved to american a thousand years later which then following the revolutionary war became american.

PS dont use tourist site made by governments as sources those are mean for tourists not serious debates/arguements

Jeffrey lujan
March 3, 2012 at 02:25

All of you idiots here bickering over rice need to stop. It’s obvious that it’s from china. And the people living in china are Chinese so by default it’s the Chinese. When will this Asian separatist nationalism stop. Koreans and Japanese people need to stop trying to steal all Chinese inventions and discoveries and making it their own. The Chinese invented technologies involving mechanics, hydraulics, and mathematics applied to horology, metallurgy, astronomy, agriculture, engineering, music theory, craftsmanship, nautics, and warfare. And the Koreans. Liquor stores, African American beauty products, Kim chi, and the Japanese, porn, porn , crazy weird people, porn, fantasy samurai warriors,even more weirder shit. I truely understand that the Japanese and Korean people feel inferior towards the Chinese people and rightfully so, as a result they will try and create their own history. It’s within this inferiority complex that you will end up with ridiculous claims from the Koreans and Japanese. I truely hope one day that Korea and Japan will see themsves as being able to offer their little history to the world instead of trying to take Others….

March 3, 2012 at 01:21

actually, you’re wrong, Golden Rice does work, proven to have much higher beta-carotene levels, the only reason no one has ever eaten it is because anti-GMO activists block it at every turn

March 3, 2012 at 01:20


You need to use some logic in your reasoning. Or learn more about basic biology. By suicide gene I can only assume you’re talking about “terminator” technology (which never worked in the first place). But assuming it could work, it didn’t cause any “suicide”, it made the plant infertile so that it wouldn’t produce seeds that could grow. Now explain to me how that gene would spread? It is specifically designed so that it cannot reproduce, meaning no gene flow. Anti-GMO activists got the terminator shut down and it was the dumbest move they could have made. Terminator tech could have served as a guarantee that these foreign genes never invaded surrounding species but since everyone got all up in arms over the farmers not being able to replant the seeds (which they’re not allowed to do anyway, and also hybrid seeds can’t be replanted) a very useful technology got shut down

March 2, 2012 at 23:36

This has got to be one of the most biased articles I have read in a long while. This even beats The Daily Mail for taking scientific findings and research completely out of context. I would like to see references and their supposed hotel lab results, to back up Monica Tan’s wild accusations.

I would like to point out that it is impossible to sequence the entire rice genome in a hotel room, without getting contamination. I think it would have been very suspicious if a bunch of holiday makers turned up at a hotel with a van load of lab equipment. It’s also the only way to tell if it is GM, as they could have just bought seed which had been soaked in pesticides and herbicides, which would give exactly the same effect that a pest free GM strain would when fed to pests/grown.

I’m am wary of GM crops, but if they are properly tested, they could truly benefit the globe as we can’t provide enough of anything to the current population and its only going to get worse. With GM crops we could remove the need to spray toxic and harmful pesticides and herbicides into the environment, we could produce drought resistant plants, we could grow plants that produce currently expensive pharmaceuticals such as antibodies, vaccines and proteins. Which could treat cancers, HIV, rabies, Cholera, Heb B and A,diabetes,veterinary diseases and we could make Biofuel/Bioplastics, which are biodegradable and yet function the same as crude oil byproducts.

Jeff Parling
March 2, 2012 at 21:50

Many of the claims about golden rice seem to be the stuff of Public Relations rather than having a basis in fact:

March 2, 2012 at 21:31

Alex, I am not sure why name calling is in order. I am not ignorant, nor do I have blatant disregard for the well being of those in need. But none of these claims made were true. Not only is Golden Rice not “already saving the sight of thousands of children”, there is no evidence to support the claim that it is capable of doing so.

The critical issue was the levels of expression of beta-carotene. The available figures ( show Golden Rice produces only small amounts of this vitamin A precursor, or provitamin A. Worse still, after the rice is cooked, the amount of provitamin A is reduced by another 50 per cent.

According to Prof. Ingo Potrykus, creator of the ‘Golden Rice’ , “We are, of course, also working on an increase in provitamin A concentration, and there are several possibilities we are testing.” He also said, “We have good reasons to believe, that the approach has a fair chance to be successful. We have to be patient for a few years, until this can be verified or falsified.”

The absence of animal testing data on Golden Rice is especially worrying as Golden Rice is engineered to overproduce beta carotene, and studies show that some retinoids derived from beta carotene are toxic and cause birth defects.

I am attempting to be a rational and objective party to this ongoing debate about GMO’s. No name hurling, no attacks are being made. It frightens me that when, in the name of science, people fail to ask critical questions. Any more thoughts on your part are welcome.

March 2, 2012 at 21:11

Sorry Rob, can’t go to Wikipedia for facts. I understand what Golden Rice is supposed to be, I also understand it hasn’t delivered on it’s promise. None of the GMO crops have delivered on the promises made.

March 2, 2012 at 20:52

The reason Golden rice Is Golden is that it is full of Vitamin A in order to combat blindness, not because it is full of pesticide. People like you condemn thousands of children annually to blindness and an early grave. your naive, narrow minded and highly vocal point of view makes me figuritavley, and children in africa and southeast asia literally sick.

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