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[Duurzaamlijst] The "Golden Rice" hoax

VPRO's Noorderlicht had gisteravond een uitzending over vitamine 
A rijst. Hoewel onderstaande info bij de redactie bekend was, werd 
er in de uitzending geen enkele aandacht aan besteed. Wellicht 
was het op de redactie zoekgeraakt. Vandaar het verzoek om 
onderstaande mail te sturen aan: noorderlicht@vpro.nl  en 

W. de Lange

TITLE:  The "Golden Rice" hoax - When public relations replaces
science SOURCE: Diverse Women for Diversity, India, by Dr. 
Vandana Shiva
DATE:   September 2000

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html

The "Golden Rice" hoax
When public relations replaces science

"Golden Rice": A technology for creating vitamin A deficiency.

Golden rice has been heralded as the miracle cure for malnutrition 
and hunger of which 800m members of the human community 
suffer. Herbicide resistant and toxin producing genetically 
engineered plants can be objectionable because of their ecological 
and social costs. But who could possibly object to rice engineered 
to produce vitamin A, a deficiency found in nearly 3 million children, 
largely in the Third World?

As remarked by Mary Lou Guerinot, the author of the Commentary 
on vitamin A rice in Science,

  one can only hope that this application of plant genetic 
engineering  to ameliorate human misery without regard to short 
term profit will  restore this technology to political acceptability.

Unfortunately, vitamin A rice is a hoax, and will bring further
dispute to plant genetic engineering where public relations 
exercises seem to have replaced science in promotion of untested, 
unproven and unnecessary technology. The problem is that vitamin 
A rice will not remove vitamin A deficiency (VAD). It will seriously 
aggravate it. It is a technology that fails in its promise.

Currently, it is not even known how much vitamin JA the genetically
engineered rice will produce. The goal is 33.3% micrograms/100g of
rice. Even if this goal is reached after a few years, it will be
totally ineffective in removing VAD.

Since the daily average requirement of vitamin A is 750 micrograms 
of vitamin A and 1 serving contains 30g of rice according to dry 
weight basis, vitamin A rice would only provide 9.9 micrograms 
which is 1.32% of the required allowance. Even taking the 100g 
figure of daily consumption of rice used in the technology transfer 
paper would only provide 4.4% of the RDA.

In order to meet the full needs of 750 micrograms of vitaminA from
rice, an adult would have to consume 2 kg 272g of rice per day. 
This implies that one family member would consume the entire 
family ration of 10 kg. from the PDS in 4 days to meet vitaminA 
needs through "Golden rice".

This is a recipe for creating hunger and malnutrition, not solving it.

Besides creating vitamin A deficiency, vitamin A rice will also create
deficiency in other micronutrients and nutrients. Raw milled rice has
a low content of Fat (0.5g/100g). Since fat is necessary for vitamin 
uptake, this will aggravate vitamin A deficiency. It also has only
6.8g/100g of protein, which means less carrier molecules. It has 
0.7g/100g of iron, which plays a vital role in the conversion of
Betacarotene (precursor of vitamin A found in plant sources) to
vitamin A.

Superior Alternatives exist and are effective.

A far more efficient route to removing vitamin A deficiency is
biodiversity conservation and propagation of naturally vitamin A rich
plants in agriculture and diets.

Table 1 gives sources rich in vitamin A used commonly in Indian foods.

Source                  Hindi name       Content (microgram/100g)
(Amaranth leaves)       Chauli saag              266 -   1,166
(Coriander leaves)      Dhania                 1,166 -   1,333
(Cabbage)               Bandh gobi               217 (Curry leaves)   
      Curry patta            1,333 (Drumstick leaves)      Saijan
patta1            283 (Fenugreek leaves)      Methi-ka-saag           
450 (Radish leaves)         Mooli-ka-saag            750 (Mint)       
          Pudhina                  300 (Spinach)               Palak
saag               600 (Carrot)                Gajar                  
 217 -     434 (Pumpkin (yellow))      Kaddu                    100 - 
   120 (Mango (ripe))          Aam                      500
(Jackfruit)             Kathal                    54 (Orange)         
      Santra                    35 (Tomato (ripe))         Tamatar    
              32 (Milk (cow, buffalo))   Doodh                     50
-      60 (Butter)                Makkhan                  720 -  
1,200 (Egg (hen))             Anda                     300 -     400
(Liver (Goat, sheep))   Kalegi                 6,600 -  10,000 Cod
liver oil                                 10,000 - 100,000

Inspite of the diversity of plants evolved and bred for their rich
vitamin A content, a report of the Major Science Academies of the
World - Royal Society, U.K., National Academy of Sciences of the USA,
The Third World Academy of Science, Indian National Science Academy,
Mexican Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Brazilian
Academy of Sciences - on Transgenic Plants and World Agriculture has

  vitamin A deficiency causes half a million children to become
  partially or totally blind each year. Traditional breeding methods
  have been unsuccessful in producing crops containing a high vitamin
  A concentration and most national authorities rely on expensive and
  complicated supplementation programs to address the problem.
  Researchers have introduced three new genes into rice, two from
  daffodils and one from a microorganism. The transgenic rice exhibits
  an increased production of betacarotene as a precursor to vitamin A
  and the seed in yellow in colour. Such yellow, or golden rice, may
  be a useful tool to help treat the problem of vitamin A deficiency
  in young children living in the tropics.

It appears as if the world's top scientists suffer a more severe form
of blindness than children in poor countries. The statement that
"traditional breeding has been unsuccessful in producing crops high in
vitamin A" is not true given the diversity of plants and crops that
Third World farmers, especially women have bred and used which are
rich sources of vitamin A such as coriander, amaranth, carrot,
pumpkin, mango, jackfruit.

It is also untrue that vitamin A rice will lead to increased
production of betacarotene.Even if the target of 33.3 microgram of
vitamin A in 100g of rice is achieved, it will be only 2.8% of
betacarotene we can obtain from amaranth leaves 2.4% of betacarotene
obtained from coriander leaves, curry leaves and drumstick leaves.

Even the World Bank has admitted that rediscovering and use of local
plants and conservation of vitamin A rich green leafy vegetables and
fruits have dramatically reduced VAD threatened children over the past
20 years in very cheap and efficient ways. Women in Bengal use more
than 200 varieties of field greens. Over a 3 million people have
benefited greatly from a food based project for removing VAD by
increasing vitamin A availability through home gardens. The higher the
diversity crops the better the uptake of pro- vitamin A.

The reason there is vitamin A deficiency in India in spite of the rich
biodiversity a base and indigenous knowledge base in India is because
the Green Revolution technologies wiped out biodiversity by converting
mixed cropping systems to monocultures of wheat and rice and by
spreading the use of herbicides which destroy field greens.

In spite of effective and proven alternatives, a technology transfer
agreement has been signed between the Swiss Government and the
Government of India for the transfer of genetically engineered vitamin
A rice to India. The ICAR, ICMR, ICDS, USAIUD, UNICEF, WHO have been
identified as potential partners. The breeding and transformation is
to be carried out at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore,
Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack and Punjab Agricultural
University, Ludhiana and University of Delhi, South Campus.

The Indian varieties in which the vitamin A traits are expected to be
engineered have been identified as IR 64, Pusa Basmati, PR 114 and ASD

Dr. M.S. Swaminathan has been identified as "God father" to ensuring
public acceptance of genetically engineered rice. DBT & ICAR are also
potential partners for guaranteeing public acceptance and steady
progress of the project.

Genetically engineered vitamin A rice will aggravate this destruction
since it is part of an industrial agriculture, intensive input
package. It will also lead to major water scarcity since it is a water
intensive crop and displaces water prudent sources of vitamin A.

Transferring an Illusion to India.

The first step in the technology transfer of vitamin A rice requires a
need assessment and an assessment of technology availability. One
assessment shows that vitamin A rice fails to pass the need test.

The technology availability issue is related to whether the various
elements and methods used for the construction of transgenic crop
plants are covered by intellectual property rights. Licenses for these
rights need to be obtained before a product can be commercialised. The
Cornell based ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of
Agri-biotech Application) has been identified as the partner for
ensuring technology availability by ensuring technology availability
by having material transfer agreements signed between the
representative authority of the ICAR and the "owners" of the
technology, Prof. I. Potrykus and Prof. P. Beyer.

In addition, Novartis and Kerin Breweries have patents on the genes
used as constructs for the vitamin A rice. At a public hearing on
Biotechnology at U.S. Congress on 29th June 2000, Astra-Zeneca stated
they would be giving away royalty free licenses for the development of
"Golden rice". At a workshop organised by the M. S. Swaminathan
Research Foundation, Dr. Barry of Monsanto's Rice Genome initiative
announced that it will provide royalty- free licenses for all its
technologies that can help the further development of "golden rice".

Hence these gene giants Novartis, Astra-Zeneca and Monsanto are
claiming exclusive ownership to the basic patents related to rice
research. Further, neither Monsanto nor Astra - Zeneca said they will
give up their patents on rice - they are merely giving royalty free
licenses to public sector scientists for development of "golden rice".
This is an arrangement for a public subsidy to corporate giants for
R&D since they do not have the expertise or experience with rice
breeding which public institutions have. Not giving up the patents,
but merely giving royalty free licenses implies that the corporations
like Monsanto would ultimately like to collect royalties from farmers
for rice varieties developed by public sector research systems.
Monsanto has stated that it expects long term gains from these IPR
arrangements, which implies markets in rice as "intellectual property"
which cannot be saved or exchanged for seed. The real test for
Monsanto would be its declaration of giving up any patent claims to
rice now and in the future and joining the call to remove plants and
biodiversity out of TRIPS. Failing such an undertaking by Monsanto the
announcement that Monsanto giving royalty free licenses for
development of vitamin A rice like the rice itself can only be taken
as a hoax to establish monopoly over rice production, and reduce rice
farmers of India into bio-serfs.

While the complicated technology transfer package of "Golden Rice"
will not solve vitamin A problems in India, it is a very effective
strategy for corporate take over of rice production, using the public
sector as a Trojan horse.

|                   GENET                     |
| European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering |
|                                   |
|             Hartmut MEYER (Mr)              |
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|           D - 38116 Braunschweig            |
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