Thursday, February 25, 2010

Trials for genetically modified rice in Hubei

An article in Zhejiang Online discusses the controversial introduction of genetically modified rice and corn varieties.

The article says, "According to a February 25 Youth Times (Qingnian Shibao) report, genetically modified rice and corn varieties quietly passed national safety certification at the end of 2009, meaning that these products will soon end up on our citizens’ tables." The article says the public's attention was grabbed by the government's prominent support voiced in its "No. 1 Document" released this month which said, "Advance the industrialization of new genetically modified varieties using scientific assessment, on the basis of management according to law."

The new varieties are resistant to rice borers. They were created by inserting into the rice plant a toxic protein which kills the insects when they eat it.

Tu Yumin, now a professor at Zhejiang University's crop science research institute, spent over a decade developing the rice varieties--"Hua Hui No. 1" and hybrid "Bt Shan You 63"--which passed safety certification by the Ministry of Agriculture’s Genetically Modified Organization Safety Management Office last November.

Prof. Tu explains that the protein is toxic only to insects because it is not absorbed by receptors in the acidic stomachs of humans and animals.

The genetically modified rice will be sold in the market on a pilot basis in Hubei Province. Prof. Tu did most of the work developing it at Central China Agricultural University in Hubei.

A Zhejiang Province agricultural official says his province has no timetable for allowing genetically modified products in Zhejiang. He warns that the effects on the environment and human health are still vigorously debated by scholars. Even developed countries with longer experience with GM crops are hesitant to allow them into their markets. [Let those poor folks in Hubei be the first to eat genetically modified rice.]

The article describes some of the concerns about "breaking boundaries between species," effects on human health, upset of ecological balance, and the potential for big multinational companies to get monopolies through patents.

The advantages of genetically modified rice are listed. "Solving the grain shortage issue," increasing production efficiency, reducing pesticide use and pollution. Production and research costs are relatively lower than other breeding technologies. Genetic modification technology can increase food nutrition and raise value-added, and offering more types of food raises the quality of food.

The article says everyone agrees that consumers should have freedom of choice. All information about such technologies should be made public and products should be clearly labeled.

The article lists the steps for genetically modified varieties to reach the market:
1. Laboratory research. All research results are kept within the laboratory.
2. Intermediate experimental stage (2 years). Product is raised in small plots on research farms; it cannot contaminate species outside the farm.
3. Environmental release stage (3-3.5 years). Seed is planted in a large field outside the research station to produce a set quantity of product. This product is evaluated by feeding to lab rats and the reactions are observed. First they look for acute toxicity reaction; if a reaction is immediately observed, the experiment is discontinued. Then look at genetic toxicity, that is multigenerational verification. Ensure that long-term eating of rice doesn’t cause cancer, effects on organs, body.
4. Production testing stage (2 years). After planting, ensure that yields are high and stable, and it is actually pest-resistant.
5. Award of national safety certificate. After validation it can enter commercialization and use.

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