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2-Plants: Scepticism over Chinese GM rice claims

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Scepticism over Chinese GM rice claims
SOURCE: SciDev.Net, UK, by Priya Shetty
DATE:   14 Oct 2005

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Scepticism over Chinese GM rice claims

Crop researchers have voiced scepticism over claims that genetically
modified (GM) rice needs less pesticide than conventional varieties.

Jikun Huang of the Beijing-based Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy
and colleagues published a paper in Science this April saying that
farmers growing GM rice used 80 per cent less pesticide than those
growing non-GM rice (see GM rice 'good for Chinese farmers' health and

Huang's team concluded that opting for GM rice would not only reduce
pesticide use and save the lives of hundreds of Chinese farmers who die
each year from exposure to the chemicals, but would also save the farmers

But in this week's issue of Science, three groups of researchers raise
concerns over the findings, questioning the study's reliability, legality
and financial implications.

K. L. Heong, from the International Rice Research Institute in the
Philippines, and colleagues say farmers might have been using less
pesticide for their GM rice crops because they had decided beforehand
that they would need fewer chemicals, not because they saw fewer insects.

Farmers tend to spray more insecticide than is needed to ensure all
insect pests are wiped out, say Heong's team. Indeed, other research has
shown that pesticide use can be reduced without reducing yields, and
without the need for GM rice (see Bangladeshi farmers banish insecticides).

Also writing in Science, Pang Cheung Sze and Janet Cotter of Greenpeace
China, point out that it is still illegal to grow and sell GM rice in
China, but that at least one of the varieties in Huang's study was found
in Chinese markets earlier this year.

Finally, David Cleveland and Daniela Soleri of the University of
California at Santa Barbara, United States, express concerns that the
Huang's team did not discuss the costs of genetically modifying rice.
"One estimate of the cost to develop a GM variety is 50 times that of a
conventional variety," they write.

They note that there are cheaper ways to reduce plant disease and boost
yields, such as growing more than one crop in a field.

Huang and colleagues have responded to all three concerns.

They say that although pesticide use could be reduced for conventional
crops, the reduction would still only be a quarter of that achievable
with GM rice.

They maintain that contrary to Greenpeace China's allegations, the GM
strain they used had been approved by the Chinese government's biosafety

Finally, they agree with Cleveland and Soleri that China needs other
methods alongside GM crops to tackle hunger and poverty.

However, they say their study's purpose was to look at one aspect of GM
crops, without providing an overall assessment of the advantages and
disadvantages of commercialising them.

Link to full letter in Science

                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Chinese GM cotton 'boosts yield by up to 25 per cent'
SOURCE: SciDev.Net, UK, by Hepeng Jia
DATE:   23 Sep 2005

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Chinese GM cotton 'boosts yield by up to 25 per cent'

Chinese researchers say they have developed genetically modified (GM)
cotton that yields up to 25 per cent more than current GM varieties.

The new variety was announced last week (19 September) when the Chinese
Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) revealed in a press release that
the research had passed a key Ministry of Agriculture evaluation late
last month.

Guo Sandui, who led the research, told SciDev.Net that he expects the
ministry to approve sales of the new variety within one year. He adds
that his research team is applying to patent their new invention and will
publish the relevant papers soon.

The GM plants contain a bacterial gene called Bt, which produces a
chemical that kills bollworms -- major insect pests that feed on cotton.

Guo says the new strain is unusual, as although existing varieties Bt
cottons kill bollworms, they do not improve outputs significantly.

He says this is because, until now, researchers had not identified the
genes needed to restore the fertility that is usually lost while
developing hybrid varieties of cotton.

Guo claims that his team has found such 'restoration genes'. The
researchers then crossed plants with the genes with other breeds of
cotton to develop their hybrid GM variety.

The CAAS news release said that if Guo's new variety were planted on all
Chinese land now growing GM cotton, farmers could earn an extra US$1.2
billion a year.

China first commercialised GM cotton in 1997, and two main varieties are
being grown there -- one developed by US biotech company Monsanto and a
Chinese variety developed by Guo's team.

By 2004, more than 3.3 million hectares in China were planted with GM
cotton. That represents not only more than half of China's total cotton
fields, but also five per cent of the global area planted with GM crops,
according to a 2005 report by the International Service for the
Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.

Xue Dayuan, a GM safety scientist at Nanjing Institute of Environmental
Sciences, fears that bollworms could develop resistance to the Bt gene,
which has been used now in Chinese cotton for eight years. But Guo says
that because Chinese farmers always rotate cotton with -- and grow cotton
alongside -- other, non-GM, crops, the insects have a natural refuge
nearby, and are thus unlikely to develop resistance.


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