Potrykus challenged on Golden Rice and corporate control
2.Corporate Control of Food
NOTE: Father Sean McDonagh is an Irish Catholic priest who has worked for many years in the Philippines. He's also the author of a number of books on environmental issues, including one on GM and corporate greed.
Fr. Sean McDonagh SSC
(February 20 2009)
How could anyone oppose crop that promises to deliver untold benefits to poor people? This the cri de coer (cry from the heart) will be voiced by Dr. Ingo Potrykus during the Pontifical Academy of Sciences Study-Week on Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development (151-19 May). In his abstract “My Experience With Golden Rice,” he claims that onerous regulatory processes in many countries have slowed down access to this Vitamin A enhanced rice for the past 10 years. In his estimation the fact that it has taken more than 10 years for this genetically engineered rice to complete the regulatory process has led to the death of 400,000 people. He alleges that, “there is probably no scientific justification for the world-wide established regulatory system which is responsible for such damage.” This is quite a generalisation but at superficial reading of the situation many unbiased people might be inclined to agree with Dr. Potrykus's comments on golden rice. However, once one digs a little beneath the surface things appear to be different.
"Foodwatch", a German non-government organisation, raises serious questions about the Golden Rice. The rice is modified to generate carotenoids which the human body synthesizes into vitamin A. They claim that the serious questions which have been raised about the quality and safety of the product have not yet been answered. Even data about how much carotenoid remains in the rice after it has been cooked or stored have not been made available to the public. In the absence of such basic data it is difficult to judge whether this product is helpful or harmful to human beings and the environment "Foodwatch" points out that, while Dr. Potrykus claims that the product meets the highest safety standards, he is actively campaigning for a broad loosening of the regulatory process. In fact one of the goals of the Pontifical Academy's Study Week is to "explore ways how to change regulations such that it enables use of the technology for the benefit of the poor, without compromising safety”¦”¦"
The Indian Scientists Dr. Vandana Shive dismisses "Genetically Engineered 'Vitamin A Rice' (as) A Blind Approach to a Blindness Prevention. She points out that there are many other sources of Vitamin A such as eggs, chicken, meat, milk and butter. Betacarotene, the vitamin A precursors, is also found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, carrots and pumpkin. It is also available in fruits such as mangos. She makes the point that concurs with my own experience during the years I spent working in Mindanao with the T'boli people, that the way to achieve lower-cost, accessible and safer alternatives to genetically engineered rice is to increase biodiversity in agriculture." She points out that a shift to rice and irrigation will have serious consequences for water conservation in communities where water is often scarce. Cultivating Vitamin a rice will lead to mining water from aquifers or building of large irrigation dams with associated environmental problems such as salinization and water logging. Sourcing Vitamin A from indigenous green vegetables and fruit is better both for humans and the environment. Furthermore, eating Vitamin A rice at every meal is both monotonous and not a balance died. Why shouldn’t the poor have access to a balanced diet which would includes cereals, root crops, fruit and meat?
Other reputable scientists dispute Potrykus's claims about the safety of Vitamin A rice. In a letter to Professor Russell of Tufts University in February 2009, more than 20 scientists, including the well-known geneticist David Suzuki, criticised the feeding trials on golden rice which were being carried out at the university. The letter stated, "we wish to remind you that the variety of Golden Rice used in these experiments (GR2) is inadequately described in terms of biological and biochemical characterisation on the Clinical Trials website and indeed anywhere else in the publicly available literature and has woefully inadequate preclinical evaluation. It is a genetically modified product which has not been shown to be distinctive, uniform and stable over time. It has never been through a regulatory/approval process anywhere in the world”¦. More specifically, our greatest concern is that this rice, which is engineered to overproduce beta carotene, has never been tested on animals and there is an extensive medical literature showing that retinoids that can be derived from beta carotene are both toxic and cause birth defects. In these circumstances the use of human subjects (including children who are already suffering illness as a result of vitamin A deficiency) for GM feeding experiments is completely unacceptable. The three Projects listed breach the Nuremberg Code/medical ethics code on a number of counts, and we urge you to call them to a halt immediately."
Finally, golden rice is being used by corporations as a battering ram to get support for GMOs globally under the cloak of helping the poor. In fact corporate controlled GM crops would lead to a disaster in food production globally.
2.Corporate Control of Food
Fr. Sean McDonagh, SSC
(February 22 2009)
The geneticists and biotechnologists who are 'using' the Pontifical Academy of Sciences Study-Week in May 2009 to demand reduction in the regulatory regimes appear to be living in a parallel universe from many other crop scientists.
Nowhere is there better evidence of this, than in the introduction to the paper for the Pontifical Academy of Sciences Study-Week, "Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development," written by Dr. Potrykus In Dr. Potrykus world just about everyone is conspiring against GMOs. He claims that the current "regulatory regime (established without any scientific justification) prevents using the technology to the benefit of the poor." He also believes that the (negative) "political climate surrounding GMOs which has spread from Europe to the rest of the world" has led to "GMO-over-regulation which makes the use of GMOs for the public sector inaccessible for cost and time reasons." Finally, he states that there is "financial support from governments to professional anti-GMO lobby groups." No one appears have told him that GM crops are being produced by transnational corporations such as Monsanto and Syngenta who have powerful political allies in Washington, Brussels and every capital city in the world,
A very different scenario is painted by the journalist Andrew Pollack in an article in The New York Times,(Feb. 19th 2009) where 26 scientists write that biotechnology seed companies are thwarting research. They are accusing biotech companies of preventing university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of GM crops. "No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions," the scientists wrote in a statement submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. The (U.S) E.P.A. is seeking public comments for scientific meetings it will hold next week on biotech crops.
These 26 corn insect specialists have withheld their names because they fear being cut off from research grants by the companies. The problem, according to the scientists is that farmers and other buyers of genetically engineered seeds have to sign an agreement meant to ensure that growers honour company patent rights and environmental regulations. These agreements also prohibit growing the crops for research purposes.
While the university scientists can freely buy pesticides or conventional seeds for their research, they cannot do that with genetically engineered seeds. Instead, they must seek permission from the biotech corporation. companies. At times permission is denied. On other occasions the company insists on reviewing any findings before they can be published.
One scientists, Ken Ostlie, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota, who has signed the statement told the author, "If a company can control the research that appears in the public domain, they can reduce the potential negatives that can come out of any research."
These scientists are not opposed to GM technology. "Rather, they say, the industry's chokehold on research means that they cannot supply some information to farmers about how best to grow the crops. And, they say, the data being provided to government regulators is being "unduly limited."
William S. Niebur, the vice president in charge of crop research at the biotech company Du Pont defended his company's policies on the grounds that they were following government regulations. Monsanto and Syngenta spokespersons made similar robust defense of their policies.
However E.P.A. spokesman, Dale Kemery, said on February 17th 2009, that the government required only management of the crops' insect resistance and that any other contractual restrictions were put in place by the companies.
Mark A. Boetel, associate professor of entomology at North Dakota State University, said that before genetically engineered sugar beet seeds were sold to farmers for the first time last year, he wanted to test how the crop would react to an insecticide treatment. But the university could not come to an agreement with Monsanto and Syngenta, the companies responsible, over issues such as the right to publish research findings.
One of the most pernicious developments in recent years was highlighted by Dr. Shields of Cornell who points out that financing for agricultural research had gradually shifted from the public sector to the private sector. That makes many scientists at universities dependent on financing or technical co-operation from the big seed companies. "People are afraid of being blacklisted," he said. "If your sole job is to work on corn insects and you need the latest corn varieties and the companies decide not to give it to you, you can't do your job."
This is the real world of corporate control of crop research, not the fanciful world being portrayed by Dr. Potrykus.