Genetically modified rice found for sale in Wuhan supermarket

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 8:31am

Genetically modified (GM) rice, which is illegal to sell or grow commercially on the mainland, has been found on sale in a large supermarket in Wuhan.

State television commissioned tests on five packets of rice picked at random on sale at the supermarket and three were found to contain a genetically modified variety of the crop.

The weekly News Probe programme on CCTV said there was also evidence that GM rice had been sold in Hunan, Anhui and Fujian.

China imports huge amounts of genetically modified crops, particularly soya beans, but does not allow GM rice to be grown or sold on the mainland. The government previously said more tests were needed to ensure the safety of GM varieties of rice.

News Probe commissioned the Chinese Academy of Inspection and Quarantine to test the samples of rice on sale in Wuhan. It found three of the five packets contained a genetically modified strain of rice that was designed to be pest resistant.

It was one of two varieties developed by Dr Zhang Qifa, a professor at Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan, Hubei , in 1999. The Ministry of Agriculture authorised experimental planting of the two varieties in 2003 and issued them with safety certificates in 2009, but it has never approved commercial planting. The safety certificates expire next month.

The report said the European Union had also tested rice imported from China and found traces of the same genetically modified variety found in the Wuhan supermarket.

Zhang said "it was not impossible" for the seeds to leak into the commercial market, but the university was not to blame. He said they could have been taken away in 1999 when they were first introduced to the agricultural ministry and other experts.

It was also possible that some seed companies had reproduced varieties in 2003 during the experimental planting of the rice.

"You can't say [the seeds] were leaked on purpose. It's possible the seed companies have taken away the seeds and reproduced them illegally," he said.

A Wuhan farmer told the programme the pest-resistant seeds were popular as they saved the cost of applying pesticides.

Greenpeace said in an earlier report that four of 15 samples of rice and rice products it bought in Wuhan in November contained genetically modified varieties.

Wang Jing, an agricultural campaigner at Greenpeace, said the reports showed the supervision of GM crops needed to be tightened.

Liu Su, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the report "could force the agricultural authorities to face and solve supervision problems".