GM opponents should stand trial - golden rice inventor
But Potrykus stands condemned out of his own mouth as a biotech salesman without scruple with regard to the truth or the holding out of false promises to some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the world.
Potrykus has claimed for years to have solved the problem of Vitamin A Deficiency despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Potrykus has also openly stated that his PR promotion of golden rice is intended as a promotional for genetic engineering and as a means of swaying the public debate.
Both his hyperbole and his attacks on critics of the technology are riddled with self-contradiction (item 2).
1.GM opponents should stand trial - golden rice inventor
2.Potrykus and the hyping of golden rice
1.GM opponents should stand trial - golden rice inventor
- AAP NEWSFEED, November 24, 2003
If Ingo Potrykus had his way, opponents of genetically engineered crops would stand trial in an international court. Dr Potrykus, the man who invented a rice that has been genetically altered to carry vitamin A, said today it was up to those opposed to GM technology to justify the suffering they were inflicting on millions of people. The Switzerland-based Dr Potrykus is in Australia to discuss his creation of golden rice, which he and supporters believe will save almost one million children a year from going blind through severe vitamin A deficiency.
About 135 million children suffer from vitamin A deficiency, largely in developing countries where rice is the stable food. Rice does not naturally carry vitamin A. Golden rice has been altered to carry it, and around an estimated 200 grams a day would provide the recommended daily intake of vitamin A to a child.
It's the delays in getting golden rice released in developing countries for which Dr Potrykus believes GM opponents must be held accountable. "I would tell those opponents that they are responsible for the hundreds of thousands of children who go blind every year," he told AAP.
"I would make them responsible, have them in an international court and get them to justify the pain and suffering they are inflicting on so many people."
Dr Potrykus said new research on golden rice in The Philippines had found overwhelming support for the technology among both farmers and housewives. He said it was now estimated golden rice would save the Philippines health system between $32 million and $150 million a year.
The success of golden rice has meant it has an iconic status in GM circles.
"It is a big burden to bear," Dr Potrykus said. "All plants have deficiencies of minerals and vitamins, so if we saw more altered crops that would help."
Only one GM good crop, a canola altered to make it resistant to a specific herbicide, has been approved for general use in Australia. But a series of state moratoriums mean this canola, and one that is likely to be approved for use by year's end, will only be grown on trial plots. Dr Potrykus said eventually consumers would demand GM crops when they realised the benefits they brought. He urged scientists to be more vocal in support of GM, to offset those opposed to the technology.
"We have to overcome the hysteria that's out there," he said.
"There is not one case of an adverse health outcome from GM crops anywhere in the world.
"Against that, we have opponents who can only talk in terms of hypothetical risks that have not been proven.
"I'm sure that one day the community will see the benefits of GM technology."
Dr Potrykus, who spoke in Melbourne today, was to address the University of Adelaide's Waite campus tomorrow, before further talks in Canberra, Sydney and Perth.
2.Potrykus and the hyping of golden rice
Potrykus and his work remain highly controversial for two reasons: its PR exploitation, and the question of whether Golden Rice provides either the most effective or the most desirable solution to Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD).
The controversy over the PR uses of Golden Rice arose in 2000 when, a year after his official retirement, Potrykus decided it was the time to launch a publicity offensive on Golden Rice. He initially submitted a paper to the journal Nature, with a covering letter pointing up its relevance to the wider GM debate, but Nature rejected it. At that point, Peter Raven, a close ally of Monsanto's, became involved and with Raven's help Potrykus managed to launch his publicity bandwagon.
Potrykus says, 'The press conference in St. Louis, the presentation at the Nature Biotechnology Conference in London, the Science publication with the commentary (Guerrinot 2000), the feature story in TIME Magazine all led to an overwhelming coverage of the "Golden Rice" story on TV, radio, and in the international press.'
His relationship with the biotech industry is a long-standing one. As a result of his research, he is named as 'inventor' and thus has interest in some thirty plant-related patents, most of them belonging to Syngenta/Novartis. Alert to the value of the PR bonanza arising from Golden Rice, the biotech industry was keen to help Potrykus get round the multiple impediments posed by the intellectual property rights (IPR) the industry posessed. Potrykus records how 'only (a) few days after the cover of "Golden Rice" had appeared on TIME Magazine, I had a phone call from Monsanto offering free licenses for the company's IPR involved. A really amazing quick reaction of the PR department to make best use of this opportunity.'
However, the PR exploitation of Golden Rice triggered a number of awkward questions. The journalist Michael Pollan, for instance, wrote in The New York Times magazine, 'A spokesman for Syngenta, the company that plans to give golden rice seeds to poor farmers, has said that every month of delay will mean another 50,000 blind children. Yet how many cases of blindness could be averted right now if the industry were to divert its river of advertising dollars to a few of these programs?' (ie existing, but less well publicised, programs for delivering Vitamin A)
Even Gordon Conway of the Rockefeller Foundation was moved to comment that 'the public relations uses of Golden Rice have gone too far. The industry's advertisements and the media in general seem to forget that it is a research product that needs considerable further development before it will be available to farmers and consumers.'
Pollan responded to another Conway comment, 'We do not consider golden rice the solution to the vitamin-A deficiency problem' , with a question: 'So to what, then, is golden rice the solution?' The answer, Pollan said, was plain: 'To the public-relations problem of an industry that has so far offered consumers precious few reasons to buy what it's selling -- and more than a few to avoid it. Appealing to our self- interest won't work, so why not try pricking our conscience?'
Potrykus himself, in responding to the criticisms of Golden Rice voiced by Greenpeace, claimed to share their disgust 'about the heavy PR campaign of some agbiotech companies using results from our experiments.' However, when asked in an interview by a biotech supporter whether he believed the industry had 'overhyped' the value of golden rice he responded very differently, 'I did not follow the advertisements of the industry, but it is difficult to overhype the value of golden rice.'
In reality, it was Potrykus himself who had encouraged the PR use of Golden Rice as a lever for promoting genetic engineering. He has said that he saw the publicising of Golden Rice as 'a timely and important demonstration of positive achievements of the GMO technology. GMO technology had been used to solve an urgent need and to provide a clear benefit to the consumer, and especially to the poor and disadvantaged. To make the information available to a wider audience for a more balanced GMO discussion, we submitted the manuscript to Nature with a covering letter explaining its importance in the present GMO debate.'
Potrykus saw Golden Rice, then, as a poster-child for GM, which had been struggling to demonstrate any benefits to consumers or the poor. This in turn, he hoped, could help to sway public debate. Potrykus has also proven more than happy to use Golden Rice as a PR weapon with which directly to attack the biotech industry's critics.
He has written, 'What these radical opponents are doing is "Brunnenvergiftung" (well-poisoning) to the disadvantage of the poor. What I find very disturbing, is the fact, that they can play their dirty game without having to take responsibility for what they are damaging.'
In this spirit he has accused Greenpeace of 'crimes against humanity' and complains bitterly of the biosafety checks imposed as a result of the concerns they and other critics have raised. The consequence he says 'is that many thousands are dying, or have severe health problems such as irreversible blindness, who otherwise could live healthy and productive lives.' ('Swiss scientist scores Greenpeace', The Philippine Star, 1 September 2002)
This is curiously at odds with another Potrykus' admission about the criticisms raised by Greenpeace: 'I am happy to acknowledge, that Greenpeace is arguing on a rational basis... I also acknowledge, that Greenpeace has identified a weak point in the strategy of using Golden Rice for reducing vitamin A-deficiency.'
That weak point is the ability of Golden Rice to actually deliver results. The amount of vitamin A precursor it contains falls far short of the normal recommended daily allowance. Some estimates even suggest it would require a child to eat 20-50 bowls of rice a day to get the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A.
Yet Potrykus was already telling the world back in 2000 that 'GMO technology had been used to solve an urgent need and to provide a clear benefit'. It was these claims that lay behind the Time headline, 'This rice could save a million kids a year.' But as Gordon Conway of the Rockefeller Foundation has made clear, Golden Rice should never have been touted as 'the solution to the vitamin-A deficiency problem'. It is a research product in need, as Conway says, of 'considerable further development.'
The renowned Indian scientist Dr Pushpa Bhargava is among many who have complained that when they looked at the arithmetic the Golden Rice 'hype' fell apart: 'it was found that only a miniscule fraction of the daily requirement of vitamin A will be taken care of by the amount of rice one normally consumes in our country in one day. When I pointed out this to the inventor of golden rice at a meeting in Chennai on 30th October 2002 organized by National Academy of Agriculture, I was told that the daily requirement of vitamin A prescribed by WHO was unrealistic-that is, far too high! Should WHO standards set up after stringent analysis cease to be a benchmark when they are inconvenient? Besides, for meeting even the prescribed WHO requirement of vitamin A, there are other cheaper and better sources already available.' (Indian biotechnology needs truth, not hype)
Potrykus has always claimed that his research focuses on problems which cannot be solved by traditional methods but this, in fact, ignores known low-risk solutions such as encouraging farmers to go back to growing indigenous vitamin A-rich plants among main crops, a practice wiped out by 'Green Revolution' herbicide-intensive farming methods. In their place Potrykus offers a massively expensive project, in terms of both devlopment, testing and distribution, involving all the uncertainties of genetic engineering.
Hans Herren is another critic of Golden Rice. Herren's work on natural biological control helped save the endangered cassava crop in large areas of Africa (from Senegal to Mozambique), removing a threat to the food security of some 300 million people. A World Food Prize winner, Herren has commented, 'We already know today that most of the problems that are to be addressed via Golden Rice and other GMOs can be resolved in matter of days, with the right political will.'
Vitamin A deficiency, like almost all hunger and malnutrition, thrives where there is poverty, poor food distribution, lack of land and resources to grow food, and a lack of political will to address these issues. And if the will and resources are suddenly available to overcome these difficulties in the case of Golden Rice, why are they not available in the case of cheaper alternative sources of vitamin A already available?
The Golden Rice project makes no sense except in a context of Public Relations.