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[SANET-MG] GM rice in China
• In your article you described some leading candidates for the strains
China is likely to approve (insect-resistant rice produced with Cry
toxins; and disease-resistant rice produced with tricosanthin). To the
best of your knowledge, has China come any closer to specifying which
strains it will commerialize?
Ans: On 27 January 2005 China daily reported that that three Bt strains
and a strain resistant to bacterial blight were being considered by the
Chinese Ministry of Agriculture for release this year for two years of
field safety testing. The strains had been extensively field tested
earlier and the final field safety releases are likely to be very large.
The bacterial , Bacillus thuringiensis, Cry toxins I expect will be
used include Cry 1Ab, Cry1Ac and a fusion gene containing active parts
of Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac but other toxins may be used in the final
selection, but the above have been most actively tested in China. In all
cases the inserted toxin genes are synthetic approximations of the
bacterial gene and these constructions include antibiotic resistance
genes and some control genes from plant viruses and or plants. The
bacterial blight resistance gene (not trycosanthin at this time) from
rice called Xa21 is the strain likely to be tested. The rice gene Xa21
comes from a wild rice that is difficult to cross with the food strains.
The construction includes antibiotic resistance genes and control
genes. These genetic constructions have been tested mainly for agronomic
performance not for human safety.
• Reports I've seen state that even after China issues the biosafety
certificates, the rice would still have to undergo up to 2 years of
field testing. If that's the case, would that alleviate any of the
concerns you have about the safety risks to humans? Why or why not?
Ans: The final field safety tests are likely to be very large
because earlier field safety testing had been done. I do not know what
safety tests are being planned but China has, I believe, agreed to label
and identify the rice food. I hope that they will study the people
consuming the rice because there are concerns over the allergenicity of
the Bt toxin containing food. Xa21 rice is likely to be safe for humans
but testing should be done.
• We know that GM corn cross-pollinates with conventional corn through
wind drift. Does rice "reproduce" in the same way? What is the risk of
rice produced elsewhere in Asia or other parts of the world being
contaminated by GM rice? Will we still be able to claim any rice as
Ans: In fact there is good evidence that GM rice does spread pollen a
lot further than corn. Not only food rice but weed rice like red rice
can take up the resistance genes making them more virulent. There are
rapid and somewhat inexpensive tests for the transgenes in the rice so
pollution of organic crops and conventional crops will be detectable
and they will happen! I believe the Chinese strains will not be patented
by the US corporations although the Bt genes have been patented. In
North America there is a real worry that companies like Monsanto will go
after the polluted farmer to recover license money! However, the Chinese
government may encourage spread of the transgenes? USDA which controls
organic certification has recently maintained that the polluted organic
farmers will not loose their certification, although they may lose the
export market. In Canada the government would like to just quietly
palm off the polluted crops as being organic! There should be a global
principle that protects the rights of organic farmers to be reimbursed
for transgenic pollution but Canada and US have established a
principle that the polluted must pay license fees!
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