TWN Info Service on Health Issues (March 07/06)
30 March 2007
A US company claims that it could help save the lives of millions of children with rice containing human genes. The rice has been engineered to produce milk proteins which then can be extracted for use in food and drinks and oral rehydration solutions. Friends of the Earth (FOE) Africa has criticised this as a distraction from existing solutions like access to safe water and sanitation to save children from diarrhoea. The report ‘Does Africa Need a Genetically Modified Solution to Diarrhea’ is available at: http://www.eraction.org/publications/medicinerice.pdf or http://biosafety-info.net/file_dir/148786973545f8e1f41389b.pdf
The following action alert exposes the plan as a sheer marketing ploy in the name of diarrhoea control.
GMO ACTION ALERT
By Dr. Mira Shiva
Dr. Vandana Shiva
International Peoples Health Council (South Asia)
22 March 2007
California based Ventria Bioscience has been given preliminary approval to grow a rice containing human genes on 3000 acres in Kansas.
The claim is that food products using the human proteins from rice could help save millions of children who die of diarrhoea and the resulting dehyrdration. The company plans to harvest the proteins from the rice and use them in drinks, desserts and muesli bars. Children with diarrohoea are not given muesli bars. Rehydration needs liquids, not solids.
The best rehydration for breast fed babies is mother's milk. Ventria is in fact using the 'lacto ferrin' found in breast milk to produce the transgenic rice. Breast fed babies can directly get lacto ferrin in breast milk instead of getting it through Ventria's "genetically engineered" rice with human genes in it.
Older Children, do not need the "cannibal rice" either. Oral rehydration is an established, time tested, safe method for diarrhoea and prevention of dehydration.
Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) / Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) was considered the greatest medical revolution of the 20th century. It saved lives of millions starting from 1971 Bangladesh war of Independence and has been successfully used in the developing countries' war for child survival. Diarrhoea and acute respiratory infection have been identified as the two major causes of infant mortality, worsened by the malnutrition of children.
While UNICEF / WHO ORS packets have been promoted, it has been the home made ORS called "Jeevan Jal" Salt sugar solution that has saved lives of children, especially where the free, low cost UNICEF ORS packets did not reach, and costly commercial ORS packets are the only alternative and the later are not easily affordable. A packet costs Rs. 6 - 10/- i.e for one litre. Over two packs may be required for each episode of diarrhoea. Large numbers of the afflicted children come from poor families whose income may be less than the cost of the packet. For over two decades anganwadi workers and village health workers, trained mothers and the community in making and using homemade ORS for the children with diarrhoea.
In India, for centuries, diarrhoea has been treated with home fluids for rehyrdration eg. Rice Kanji, Coconut Water, Butter Milk, Aniseed Water.
Rice Kanji not only provides calories to the child with diarrhoea, but it has an added advantage that it does no cause OSMOTIC DIARRHOEA. Butter Milk, besides providing fluid to compensate for the fluid loss in diarrhoea, it has natural Lacto Baccillus which helps in controlling diarrhoea. Lacto Baccillus capsules are being prescribed for diarrhoea care commercially.
When simple, low cost, locally available culturally appropriate safe and effective options for addressing diarrhoea care exist, as stated and promoted by International Public Health bodies such as UNICEF and WHO, International Peoples Health Council, there is absolutely no scientific, basis for a genetically modified rice with human genes to be introduced in the name of diarrhoea care.
Respected public health advocates David Werner of Health Wrights and David Sanders in "Questioning the Solution" had dealt with the politics of the ORS. They show that promotion of cereal based oral rehydration solution was delayed till the pharmaceutical companies could get their cereal based ORS packets commercially produced. This happened even though community health oriented health personnel, whether in India or Mozambique, recognised the value of cereal-based fluids and supported and promoted rice kanji - the rice fluid obtained by boiling rice. On epidemiological grounds, availability of clean drinking water and effective sewage treatment would be more useful in addressing water borne diseases like diarrhoea especially in the Third World. Promoting genetically modified rice with human genes in the name of diarrhoea care is an insult to the very concept of comprehensive health care - it is an unadulterated marketing stunt in the name of a diarrhoea care. The effective solution for which already exists and needs to be implemented and promoted as part of health literacy. Children need clean water and rice Kanji. They do not need untested "cannibal rice".