Environmental campaign group Greenpeace has discovered genetically modified rice, unapproved for human consumption, that appears to have been planted and sold illegally in China for the last two years, it said today (Wednesday).

The Chinese government has not authorised GM rice for commercial planting, and has to date permitted only field testing, the group said. Nevertheless, it appears GM rice is being sold, planted, consumed, and possibly exported in China, one of the largest exporters of Rice. Many of the markets to which China sends its rice demand GE-free grain, and the contamination could negatively impact China's rice sales, particularly in Japan, Korea, Russia, and the European Union, it said.

No country in the world has commercially released GM rice. In the US, despite widespread plantings of GE maize (corn) and soy, no commercial GE rice crops have been planted for fear of consumer and market rejection.

Greenpeace said that local farmers had tipped off its investigators that GM rice was being sold without government approval several months ago. Its investigators found samples of rice seed and unmilled and milled rice containing GM strains. The results were tested by the laboratory GeneScan, which confirmed the presence of transgenic DNA in 19 samples.

Two of the samples tested positive as Bt rice - a form which has been genetically modified to produce an inbuilt pesticide.