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Checkbiotech: GM rice controversy boils over
Posted by: DR. RAUPP & madora (IP Logged)
Date: October 04, 2004 08:48AM ;

Scientists and environmentalists continue to be at loggerheads over a
genetically modified strain of rice developed in Switzerland, October 2004
by Luigi Jorio .

Its supporters say ?golden rice? is a milestone in the history of genetic
engineering, but opponents have accused them of making empty promises. ?This
is intellectual fraud,? said Clément Tolusso, press officer for the
environmental group, Greenpeace, in western Switzerland.

The continued debate over the pros and cons of golden rice comes as the
United Nations celebrates the International Year of Rice.

In 2000 a group of researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology in
Zurich succeeded in transmitting to a grain of rice the ability to produce
beta-carotene ? which the body coverts into vitamin A ? and to increase iron

In Asia, where rice is the main food for millions of people, vitamin A and
iron deficiency is a serious problem.

These essential dietary components are found in animal products, fruits and
vegetables, which are not always available to poor families.

A lack of these nutrients can cause anaemia, vision loss or a weakened
immune system, and is one reason for the high rate of mortality and illness
among women and children in developing countries.


Those behind golden rice believe the genetically modified organism (GMO)
marks an important step in the fight against malnutrition.

?The idea is to provide a food that can at least partially make up for these
deficiencies,? Rainer Holzinger, a scientist at the Institute for Plant
Sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, told

But critics of golden rice and GM foods in general argue that these products
are not the answer.

?The problem is not that there isn?t enough food for everyone,? says
Tolusso. ?It has to do with the accessibility and stockpiling of food.?

A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated that the real
causes of hunger and malnutrition are poverty and lack of access to food

And these are two problems that transgenic foods do not address, say

Greenpeace also claims that an adult would have to eat at least 12 times the
average intake of 300g of rice a day to get the daily recommended amount of
vitamin A.

Wider implications

Campaigners are also concerned about the wider implications of what might
happen should golden rice and other GMOs take the place of traditional

Varieties created and selected through genetic engineering are richer in
nutrients and more resistant, which makes them more competitive than natural

But these artificial products are the property of the company that invents
them. Swiss biotech firm Syngenta, the world?s leading agribusiness, holds
the patent in the case of golden rice.

To fight this ?undue appropriation?, around 30 Asian non-governmental
organisations have written numerous letters of protest.

Farmers in developing countries, who ought to be the greatest beneficiaries
of these innovations, have also come out against a globalised agricultural
system dominated by multinationals such as Syngenta and Monsanto of the
United States.

But researchers insist the aim of GMOs is not to create monopolies or to
introduce new farming techniques, but to try to improve nutrition and health
in many developing countries.

?There are various possible approaches,? said Holzinger. ?Transgenic rice
may be a legitimate answer.?


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