It was a battle that took seven years to win. For now.
On one side: Greenpeace International. On the other: GMO rice. The result: Recently, Greenpeace announced a successful end to its anti-GMO rice campaign in China.
GMO rice - or rice derived from genetically modified organisms - is the newest in a long line of what Canada's Agriculture Ministry categorizes under the broad term "novel foods." These are foods in which the DNA (genetic material) has been modified or changed in a way that is not natural to the item. The modifications are generally made to make the crop resistant to insects, disease, viruses, or herbicides. Some GMO manufacturers also claim they can make crops healthier, for example by boosting certain vitamins or minerals in certain crops.
In the recent Greenpeace case, the Chinese government had plans to commercialize genetically modified rice crops. Greenpeace was concerned that introducing the modified rice to national and international food markets would destroy traditional farming techniques in China. In the end, thanks in part to pressure from within the country, China appears to have suspended the commercialization of GMO rice.
It's a victory for Greenpeace, and one that adds to the discussion about genetic modifications found throughout the global food chain. The concept of modifying crops is not new, but methods like cross-breeding take time to transfer desirable traits. Manipulating genes in a lab is faster.
Consumer concern over genetically modified crops has been on high alert since their introduction to commercial food markets became public around 1994. Today, tomatoes, corn, milk, soy, and canola oil are among the types of food products most often genetically modified, and consumers are still taking a cautious approach.
The World Health Organization notes that genetically modified foods are investigated by government agencies (Health Canada in this country) for toxicity, tendency to provoke allergy, nutritional effects of the modifications, and unintended effects, among other factors.
The truth is, if you've ever bought processed foods in a grocery store, you have likely eaten GMO foods. Greenpeace Canada states up to 70 per cent of processed foods found in grocery stores contain genetically engineered ingredients.