Chinese people say "NO" to GE rice

Feature Story - 2011-02-23
“We don’t want GE rice!” is the clear message that has rung loud and clear in China. Here at the Greenpeace office in Beijing, we have been getting more and more calls and emails from parents, housewives, college students, seed sellers, and even farmers, all with the same question: How can I avoid genetically engineered (GE) rice? We can feel the anxiety and anger about GE food in these calls, and now it is even clearer. A recent survey we commissioned showed that 69% of mainland consumers and 79% of Hong Kong consumers do not want GE rice.

A rice farmer of the Hani people in Yunnan Province, China, holds a handful of rice grains. Traditionally farmed heirloom varieties of rice are under threat from GE varieties.

Rice is the most important staple food for Chinese people. It plays an important role in Chinese culture, tradition, history and social life, with a history of 7,000 years of growing thousands of varieties of rice. As babies we are fed rice porridge, and rice is an intricate part of nearly all our meals. Unfortunately, rice, our daily food, is now at risk: despite the people's rejection, GE rice is on the edge of commercialization.

As rice is such an important part of Chinese life, Chinese consumers are sending an extremely strong message by showing their rejection of GE rice so clearly. In 2010, Greenpeace commissioned a consumer survey in several cities and areas of China. The survey results from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou show that 69% of consumers would choose non-GE rice and 77% would choose baby food without GE rice. In Hong Kong, 79% of consumers say "NO" to GE rice. Rejection is also spreading to other parts of China - a follow-up survey clearly shows that in Wuhan and Changsha, in central China, 65% of consumers would choose non-GE rice, and 83% would choose baby food with non-GE rice.

So far, the seed sellers' and farmers' rejections of GE have not been listened to or respected. The entire process that would lead towards GE commercialization has taken place behind closed doors. The Chinese people were not even informed that two lines of GE rice have received biosafety certificates, a ky step towards commercialization.

Working for Greenpeace and towards a world free of GE, I don't want to have to answer the calls of angry and anxious people because they may soon not be able to avoid GE food. I urge the government to carefully listen to the voices of mothers and farmers everywhere. I urge the government to stop ignoring the voice of the people. GE rice should be stopped immediately. The government must take the threat that GE crops pose to the environment, health and food security seriously, and stop this experiment with people's food.