Pro-GMO Propaganda Campaign Attacks Greenpeace Over “Golden Rice”


The latest update in an ongoing pro-GMO campaign uses Nobel laureates to claim that Greenpeace is blocking the introduction of genetically modified Golden Rice into the market, while ignoring that globally, groups have criticized the legitimacy and effectiveness of this product. Respected commentators, Claire Robinson and Jonathan Latham, expose the Golden Rice sham and the players behind the campaign.

Robinson’s post features University of Washington anthropologist and friend of CAGJ, Devon Peña, who breaks down why the laureates in question do not have the qualifications to push for this GM product.

Links to the articles can be found below:

Pro-GMO campaign exploits Nobel laureates to attack Greenpeace and fool the people

107 Nobel Laureate Attack on Greenpeace Traced Back to Biotech PR Operators



IRRI Sets Record Straight on Golden Rice

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has granted the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines $1.3 million to help develop Golden Rice, a genetically modified strain of rice containing beta-carotene which the body may be able to convert to vitamin A.

In recent weeks, two news stories broke hyping up the expectations of Golden Rice.
In a response to the exaggerated news stories, the International Rice Research Institute issued a clarifying statement.
Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, has also discussed the hype regarding Golden Rice’s claim to combat vitamin A deficiency. According to Hansen, there have been three versions of the genetically modified rice varieties to date. The first version (GR1) had low levels of beta-carotene– a precursor to vitamin A–so low in fact, that a report by Greenpeace exposed that an individual would have to consume TEN pounds of the rice in order to get the desired levels of beta-carotene. Although the second version (GR2) had higher levels of beta-carotene, the real issue, Hansen states, was that because the genes were easier to insert in japonica varieties of rice, people in South Asia (who were accustomed to indica rice) would not eat the new variety. “It wasn’t until 2010 that they had been able to cross GR2 with local indica varieties and get plants out into the field to test. We still don’t know the levels of beta-carotene in the GR indica varieties. In addition, they still haven’t done the proper safety testing…” says Hansen.

Furthermore, according to Vandana Shiva, in one village she is familiar with, over 350 varieties of plants grow (dismissed as “weeds”) which are dietary sources of vitamin A. It is also likely that without other nutrients in a balanced diet, the child’s body may not be able to manufacture vitamin A from the precursors.

Regrettably, if an adequately nutritious and safe to consume variety of Golden Rice is ever developed, it would be foolish to assume that this technology would be made available to those who need in most, without prioritizing corporate interest. In a piece posted on GM-Free Cymru, Dr. Brian John writes, “The idea that Golden Rice is being ‘given to the world’ as a grand humanitarian gesture, with the high-profile support of the Rockefeller and Gates Foundations, is a scam — as realised by many observers even in the early days of the project. Syngenta owns the patents and the commercial rights in Golden Rice. It is not ‘giving away’ the technology but sub-licensing it with very specific conditions…So Syngenta keeps ownership, spreads the financial risk, accepts no liability, undermines the regulatory system, puts moral pressure on those who stand in the way of its ambitions, and still stands to make a killing if anybody (other than a small farmer) grows any Golden Rice hybrid in the future.”

Fools Gold : the deficiencies of biofortification

In 2000 Science published the details of a long-awaited project: the successful creation of ‘golden rice.’ Promising to remedy large-scale vitamin A deficiency (VAD) in the developing world, thus curing blindness and even death among many children, biotech companies heralded this beta-carotene enriched rice as a silver-bullet in the battle against malnutrition and exemplar of the benefits of GM crops.

Over the past decade, however, doubts over the effectiveness and equity of golden rice and similar fortified GM crops have grown. The first set of concerns center around nutritional benefits. The original logic behind golden rice was simple: Plants do not produce vitamin A but do produce its precursor, beta-carotene, which is then converted into vitamin A by the body. Since rice is a staple food in much of the developing world, engineering it to contain high levels of beta-carotene would make this nutrient accessible to the most vulnerable. Or this is what biotech proponents argued. However, studies on the bioavailability of beta-carotene found that young children would have to eat a colossal six pounds of rice per day in order to receive adequate levels. Yet rice research has continued and Syngenta, the biotech company responsible for second generation golden rice (GR2), claims that it contains 20 times the amount of beta-carotene as its predecessor. Perhaps critics simply need to give researchers time to get the dosage right.

However, nutritional theory is different from applied nutrition and even though GR2 is positively overflowing with beta-carotene, this doesn’t confront a deeper oversight. There are still questions about how much of the nutrient is lost during storage and cooking. Furthermore, beta-carotene is fat soluble, so in order for the body to transport and absorb it there must be an adequate amount of lipids in a person’s diet. Rice is primarily composed of carbohydrates, and since many of those most vulnerable to VAD have a highly limited diet low in lipids, simply stuffing their rice full of beta-carotene is ineffective in delivering this vital nutrient.

Thus an effective long-term solution to VAD must come from a diverse diet rich in a variety of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats,and the best way to provide a diverse diet for impoverished farming communities is to foster local production of a diverse array of crops. As Michael Hansen Ph.D, a senior scientist with the Consumer’s Union, concludes, “vitamin A deficiency is a symptom of poverty and you need to treat the problem, not the symptom.”

The thinking behind golden rice is one example of a simplistic approach to agriculture and poverty reduction evidenced by biotech companies seeking positive PR and by philanthropic organizations such as the Gates Foundation, which has spent over $20 million on R&D for Golden Rice, seeking technocratic fixes for malnutrition and promoting corporate control of farming.  Similar biofortification efforts also funded by the Foundation have recently turned towards cassava, a staple for many African farmers. In the case of rice, however, part of the solution to VAD could come from landraces—varieties of a species locally adapted to a specific environment and culture. These varieties often provide valuable nutrients not found in their industrially manufactured brethren.  For example, certain landraces in the Philippines contain twice as much protein as high yielding varieties (HYVs).

Furthermore, black and purple landraces contain high beta-carotene levels and high lipids levels to aid absorption. Unfortunately, many landraces are no longer cultivated, swept away by monocultures of HYVs. And while these indigenous varieties often remain in seed banks, they are not available to farmers and, without continual cultivation, cannot adapt to changing local conditions. Another part of the solution to nutritional deficiencies may lie in fostering the return of these old crops. Like the myriad rice landraces—black, purple, and red, long and skinny, short and squat—the solution to nutritional deficiencies requires diversity, dynamism,  local adaptation, and farmer control over seed. It is not to be found in a single, patented, beta-carotene injected, silver-coated bullet.

by Jeremy Cherfas, 2007
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