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Study Says Genetically Engineered Rice Cuts Use of Insecticides

I’m Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

A study in China suggests that two kinds of genetically engineered rice can reduce the costs, and dangers, of poison chemicals.

One kind of rice includes a gene found in the bacterium known as Bt. Bt lives in soil and on plants; it is a natural insecticide. It is poisonous to some kinds of insects. Bt maize is commonly planted in the United States. The other kind of rice was engineered to resist insects with a gene from the cowpea plant.

The two-year study involved tests of Bt rice in Hubei province and cowpea rice in Fujian. Scientists collected information from small farms already testing insect-resistant rice without technical aid. Some farmers are growing both insect-resistant and traditional rice.

The scientists found that the Bt rice produced six to nine percent more grain than other kinds of rice. The cowpea rice, based on fewer observations, did not appear to increase productivity.

Still, the findings show that resistance to insects improved for both kinds of rice. The study says farmers used eighty percent less insecticide than usual.

Science magazine published the findings. Jikun Huang led the study. He is director of the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy, in the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The study notes that no country has yet released a major food grain crop that has been genetically changed. Engineered crops are now used mostly for animal feed and products like cotton.

The Chinese farmers in the study made their own decisions about when to use insecticides. Those with traditional rice crops used chemicals almost four times per growing season on average. But farmers with the insect-resistant rice used insecticides an average of less than once per season.

Less insecticide meant fewer sick farmers. The study says the farmers growing insect-resistant rice did not report any health problems from the use of poisons.

China has not approved genetically engineered rice for market. But a report from Hubei last month said insect-resistant rice appears to have been sold illegally for the last two years. That report came from the environmental group Greenpeace, which oppose genetic engineering. China says it is investigating the Greenpeace report.

Some countries will not import genetically engineered foods. Not everyone is sure that such products are safe for people or the environment.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. I'm Gwen Outen.