Greenpeace sues Wal-Mart China over genetically modified rice

Greenpeace sues Wal-Mart China over genetically modified rice

Wal-Mart China is under the Greenpeace gun over allegations that it sold GM rice in some Chinese stores
Wal-Mart genetically modified rice
Will your next rice bowl be full of genetically modified grains? Not if Greenpeace can help it.

Chinese consumers have yet another staple to worry about as Greenpeace takes Wal-Mart China to Chinese court for selling genetically modified (GM) rice, which is illegal in China, according to the international environmental watchdog.

Uncertain Wal-Mart case

Earlier this year, Greenpeace reported that a Wal-Mart store in Wuhan is selling GM rice. The report was based on a third-party inspection of the location.

In March, Greenpeace also reported that banned GM rice was sold in a Wal-Mart store in Changsha. That case was soon dealt with as Chinese government did its own inspection and Wal-Mart swept the suspected rice off shelves. Greenpeace ChinaGreenpeace worker filing a lawsuit against Wal-Mart at the Shenzhen court.

But this time this time around, the dispute may not go away so easily. Last week, Greenpeace filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart, announced the NGO’s spokeswoman Wang Weikang. “The court in Shenzhen agreed to accept the case, if we could submit additional material. The missing part would be done within the next 10 days.”

Asked by CNNGo why Greenpeace decided to charge Wal-Mart with illegal GM rice sales, Wang said, “We want them to make changes … they should dispose GM rice and set up a quality control system to avoid it happening again.”

News outlets report that this is the first time that Greenpeace has ever taken legal action to prevent the selling of GM rice in China.

Greenpeace has been especially active in China over the past half decade, especially with respect to stopping the commercialization of transgenic food (also know as genetically modified food), as it believes that this type of staple will harm the environment and China’s biodiversity.

However, Wal-Mart denies that banned GM rice is being sold in its stores. “Our suppliers have to provide official inspection results. Only qualified ones are allowed to sell goods in Wal-Mart,” claimed Li Ling, public relations director of Wal-Mart China.

To date, Wal-Mart has yet to be notified by court about suits related to GM rice sales, added Li.

The China GM rice chain

Besides the controversial Wal-Mart case, the country might soon be dealing with broader issue of banned GM rice.

According to an ongoing Greenpeace investigation of nine Chinese regions starting in July 2009, GM seeds were traded in provinces of Hubei and Hunan, while GM rice and its processed products such as rice powder were sold in retail stores in Hubei, Hunan, Fujian and Guangdong provinces.

We want them to make changes … they should dispose GM rice and set up a quality control system to avoid it happening again— Wang Weikang, Greenpeace spokeswoman

In addition, Chinese media carried a similar report earlier this year, saying that some villagers nearby Wuhan were still planting banned GM rice, partly because of its higher pest resistance compared with normal rice.

Although China bans mass production and sales of GM crops due to its potential health risks, cases of illegal GM rice cultivation, sales and exportation to Europe, a major anti-GM food market, have been caught by local authorities since 2005.

To resolve this problem, Wang says Greenpeace asks “retailers to improve their supply chain control." The NGO also "asks government to put more efforts on supervision [of these major retailers].”

Currently retailers such as Carrefour and NGS Supermarket have given Greenpeace their pledged that they will not sell any GM food, while many others, including Wal-Mart, have yet to make this commitment

The issues raised by Greenpeace over Wal-Mart's rice is part of the larger issue of food saftey that China is working to address. A recent survey jointly conducted by the Xiaokang Magazine and Tsinghua University showed that food safety is Chinese people's primary concern, "with 72 percent putting it ahead of 10 other issues including social security, and medical and marriage safety."

Coco Liu is a freelance writer, primarily covering China's business and culture issues.

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