Info Service on Health Issues (December 06/02)
Transgenic rice is no magic bullet to solve hunger
engineered (GE) rice is ineffective, expensive and risky to human health,
farming communities and the environment in rice growing regions. This
was revealed in a Greenpeace report ‘Future of Rice’ (www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/future-of-rice).
The report claims that corporations promoting GE rice are promoting
the patents they own over the rice and increasing their profits, and
has nothing to do with feeding the hungry of the world.
following article is reproduced with the permission of South-North Development
Monitor (SUNS) # 6150, 28 November 2006.
rice is "risky and not necessary"
By Chee Yoke Heong, Kuala
Lumpur, 27 November 2006
Genetically engineered (GE)
rice and the risks it brings are unnecessary, as there are many varieties
of rice in existence that are grown sustainably by millions of farmers
around the world, maintains Greenpeace in its new report.
The report, 'Future of Rice' says that genetic engineering when compared
to other rice breeding methods and to traditional rice growing practices
is "ineffective, unpredictable, expensive and risky to human health,
farming communities and the environment in rice growing regions".
According to the environmental group, GE rice is no magic bullet and
will cause more problems than it can possibly solve. The promises are
to remain a dream as these high-tech rice varieties are not likely to
offer massive increases in yield or prevent diseases or pests. Nor do
they offer long-term reductions in chemical and fertilizer use that
will improve the environment, the quality of food or the health of farm
Rice is the world's most important staple food - grown in over 100 countries,
consumed by over two billion people and the primary source of protein
for millions. Therefore, what happens to it will have a lasting impact
on the livelihoods of millions with its inherent environmental and socioeconomic
Currently, there are a number of GE rice being developed but none is
being grown commercially though some are being planted illegally such
as in China. The report debunks the myths surrounding these types of
GE rice, adding that they are not solutions to problems of rice production.
A particular rice being pushed by GE advocates in Asia is the bacterial
blight rice which is a transgenic rice variety that has been injected
with a gene from a wild rice intended to control bacterial leaf blight.
The report says that this rice is unnecessary because bacterial blight
is not a major agricultural problem in Asia and other non-GE methods
can be employed.
Also, rice farmers are unlikely to benefit from its introduction because
its large-scale cultivation will lead to a breakdown in resistance resulting
in the appearance of more virulent strains.
Meanwhile, several types of Bt rice - rice that is genetically engineered
to contain Bt genes from a soil bacterium to enable it to produce toxins
to kill rice stem borer pests - are in the pipeline. But the report
says that no food safety assessment has been finalised and its impacts
on health and safety remain in question.
While no environmental assessment is publicly available, studies from
other Bt crops such as maize and cotton indicate that Bt rice will also
have serious environmental consequences such as threats to long term
health of soil.
Again, Bt rice is also unnecessary because stem borer is a low level
chronic pest that causes little damage to crops, says the report.
GE corporations, such as Bayer, are also pushing for the adoption of
genetically engineered rice that is resistant to herbicides. But wide-scale
use of herbicide-tolerant crops could result in increased dependence
on toxic chemicals with its inherent danger to human health.
Another controversial GE rice under development is the 'Golden Rice'
- so named for the GE rice that produces beta-carotene (pro-vitamin
A) which its proponents believe to be the answer to solving the problem
of vitamin A deficiency, which is a major form of malnutrition in developing
But the Greenpeace report points out that the food safety of Golden
Rice has never been established, thus raising concerns about its safety
for humans. The report contends that it will also exacerbate malnutrition
because it encourages a diet based on one staple.
"The high risks of growing and using GE Golden Rice as food to
alleviate vitamin A deficiency are not at all justified by the theoretical
benefits," Greenpeace says.
There are concerns that if GE rice is commercialised, this could lead
to the contamination of other rice crops including wild rice varieties.
Already, there have been incidents of contamination with GE rice from
field trials causing massive financial losses to farmers, millers, traders
and retailers worldwide with untold impact on the environment.
This is particularly risky for Asia which is the centre of origin of
rice. The loss of wild species of rice could potentially lead to the
loss of genetic resources for current and future breeding needs.
It also means increased exposure of humans to GE organisms through their
diet and hence exposing them to risks associated with GE food in a direct
The report also claims that the development of GE rice by the corporations
is about expanding their profits and not feeding the hungry of the world.
When large corporations such as Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta or Dow promote
a GE rice, they are in fact promoting the patent they own over the rice
so that farmers must buy new seeds from them every year. They are also
promoting their chemicals that must be used on the patented rice.
The report, therefore, encourages practices that move away from industrial
agricultural practices such as genetic engineering. It stresses the
need to embrace rice knowledge developed by farmers over thousands of
years and the diversity of rice varieties, and to combine these with
new technologies such as marker assisted selection.
"Existing biodiversity of rice varieties and their nutritional
composition needs to be explored before engaging in transgenics,"
it quoted the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation as saying.
The report gives examples of existing solutions to current problems
with rice production that are being used and working in various parts
of the world.
It points to massive reductions in chemical use on farms in the Philippines
where 80% of pesticide sprays used by rice farmers (a trend widespread
in Asia) is found to be not necessary; to reductions in chemical use
and increased yields and incomes in Vietnam as a result of programmes
that reduce the use and increase the efficiency of fertilisers.
In India, farmers have reduced pest related crop losses through the
re-introduction of beneficial predators, such as wasps. In Myanmar,
predatory ants are spread in fields and feed on the eggs of problem
pests. In China and many other countries, the use of fish or ducks in
rice paddies has resulted in decreased pests, increased yields and an
additional source of protein and income when the fish or ducks are harvested.
Many of these solutions ensure that farming communities continue to
control their land and crops while reducing the environmental and health
impacts that come with the chemically-intensive monoculture farming
systems, concluded the report.
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