Was natural 'Golden Rice' known to Indian farmers centuries ago?/Bt cotton: promises and disappointment (17/9/2003)

The industries 'feed the world' claims appear to be going into final meltdown.

Item 2 is extracted from a longish article in a Pakistan daily drawing together the evidence that Monsanto's Bt cotton does not perform as advertised under the kind of climatic conditions found in Pakistan.

1. India: Was natural 'Golden Rice' known to Indian farmers centuries ago?
2. Bt cotton: promises and disappointment
1.India: Was natural 'Golden Rice' known to Indian farmers centuries ago?
from Genetic Food Alert <[email protected]>

The evidence that 'vitamin A enhanced' GM Golden Rice is being developed purely as a public relations stunt by the biotech industry have been strengthened further. It is now revealed (see below) that no survey of traditional rice varieties was carried out to see if any were naturally higher in Vitamin A. No attempt was made by the Golden Rice scientists or  their sponsors to use conventional breeding methods to develop this product.

This follows the news in January that a non-GM rice with extra vitamin A, Iron  and Zinc (called IR-68114) had independently been developed through traditional breeding in the Philippines without any great fanfare of publicity. [See www.indianexpress.com/full_story.php?content_id=17506]

Of course the discovery or development of a natural Golden Rice would be of no  use to the biotech indiustry because it could not be patented and would have  no PR value. [But GM Golden Rice is years away from commercial use and would  have to be eaten in vast quantities to provide worthwhile amounts of vitamin  A - the amounts that could be obtained from small quantities of carrots, spinach or other green vegetables.]

EXTRACT: "Since, the technology of the genetically-modified 'Golden Rice'  developed by Dr Ingo Potyrkus of Switzerland and Dr Bayer of Germany to be transferred to Indian rice varieties had raised a major debate in the country,  it could perhaps be fitting to look inwards into our own germ plasm resources  and find out if such varieties did exist and how would they perform, Dr Nene  told Business Line."

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------

Was 'Golden Rice' known to Indian farmers centuries ago?
The Hindu Business Line, India, by M. Somasekhar
Sep 8, 2003
archive: http://www.genet-info.org/

"There is a definite case to revisit the existing rice germ plasm and analyse 'golden' coloured farmers varieties for the vitamin A content."

WAS 'Golden Rice', or the recently-developed genetically-modified rice variety claimed to provide vitamin A supplements, known to Indian farmers and cultivated in some parts of the country a few hundred years ago?

If the descriptions in the ancient manuscript titled Kashyapiya Krishisukti, a treatise on agriculture written by Kashyapa around 700-800 A.D. are any indication, the hints are in the direction of a reasonable yes.

Two mentions of 'Peetavarna Vrihi' or yellow rice, which Kashyapa claimed to improve digestion and a 'Sambaka' variety called 'Hema' or golden could have been sources of vitamin A.

Giving this interpretation, Dr Y.L. Nene, who is heading the Asian Agri- History Foundation (AAHF), here said, "There is a definite case to revisit the existing rice germ plasm and analyse 'golden' coloured farmers varieties for the vitamin A content".

The AAHF obtained a copy of the treatise written in Devanagari script from the Adyar Library, Chennai and translated it and published it in English. The manuscript details with various aspects of agriculture written in a simple style by Kashyapa, who possibly lived in Kosala in the present central Uttar Pradesh from soil conditions, to monsoons and agricultural practises focussed in irrigated areas.

Interestingly Kashyapa's book laid emphasis on human nutrition. Varieties of rice are first in the priority list. The grains (pulses) for preparation of soup are second, vegetables third and ghee, milk etc, fourth. A mix of these four makes a complete meal and brings stability to human life by providing nourishment and health, it says, Dr Nene explained.

Dr Nene, who retired from the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) as Deputy Director-General, set up the AAHF to generate a sound database on Indian agricultural history and undertake translation and building up a library in 1996.

A corpus of Rs 40 lakh was raised through a dozen scientists, Mahyco and Sehgal Foundation of US to take up this task.

Since, the technology of the genetically-modified 'Golden Rice' developed by Dr Ingo Potyrkus of Switzerland and Dr Bayer of Germany to be transferred to Indian rice varieties had raised a major debate in the country, it could perhaps be fitting to look inwards into our own germ plasm resources and find out if such varieties did exist and how would they perform, Dr Nene told Business Line.

The Golden Rice is claimed to be a potential solution to eliminate the largescale vitamin A deficiency existing among the poor in countries such as India. A claim disputed by agri-environmentalists. In addition to opposing the genetic modification technology, these groups argue on the levels of vitamin A and the adverse impact on the environment.

Under a Department of Biotechnology (DBT) led initiative, several national research institutes are trying to transfer the technology and inject the traits into Indian rice varieties. The Hyderabad-based, Directorate of Rice Research, the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, Coimbatore, the South Delhi Campus of Delhi University etc are involved in the project.
2.Bt cotton: promises and disappointment
By Munir-Ud-Din Khan and I M Chaodhry
Dawn, Pakistan, Online, 15 September 2003

Genetically engineered/transgenic or Bt crops were developed through biotechnology in the USA by the multinational company known as Monsanto. ...These products including cotton and other varieties and BT, are produced in the USA, Canada, Argentina, China, South Africa, Mexico, Spain, Australia and India and now are being distributed all over the world. On the other hand, there is a very strong consumer resistance against such GM products in various international markets. Nevertheless there are also strong lobbies in each country in favour of such products and campaigns are underway to persuade farmers and policy makers to help introduce Bt cotton varieties in Pakistan on the pretext that not only it would require chemical spraying against bollworms, farmers' profitability would also go up very high... The Bt cotton is said to be environment-friendly, high yielding and increases profitability of farmers.

The daily Hindu (Jan 26, 2003) and Gene Campaign (April 15, 2003) presented the data on India's very first GM crop, Bt cotton collected from 100 farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The data clearly shows that Bt cotton was not resistant to the bollworm and farmers sprayed about the same amount of pesticides on both, thus showing no great saving in pesticide. Field data also show that the Bt cotton plant is weak and that the boll size is small, the length of cotton fibre is shorter than in non-Bt cotton, so the yield is less and the quality poor.

On the economic side, the input costs were almost Rs1000/acre higher than for non-Bt conventional cotton varieties. The Bt seed alone costs four times as much as good varieties of non-Bt cotton; savings on pesticides were merely Rs.217/acre while the Bt seed was Rs1200/acre more expensive.

The failure of Bt cotton varieties is bitter and widespread. The environmental conditions and the insect pest complex available in Pakistan are not much different than India. One can imagine the fate of the farmers with Bt cotton.

In another study in China during 2002 by four Chinese state- owned science institutes, scientists suggested for the first time that the crop was permanently damaging the environment and that insects were building up resistance to Bt toxin. It suggests that GM cotton, which incorporates a gene isolated from the bacterium harms the natural parasitic enemies of the cotton bollworm, the pest that it is designed to control. It also indicates that populations of pests other than cotton bollworm had increased in Bt cotton fields and some had replaced it as primary pests. The scientists found that the resistance of Bt cotton to bollworm decreased significantly over time. GM cotton, they said, will require increasing amounts of traditional chemical oversprays to control the pests within a few years.

A report covering five years of commercial production of Bt cotton in China, published by Greenpeace, says bollworm control is no longer complete by the third and fourth generations of the pest, and control falls to 30 per cent after 17 generations. The scientists said Bt cotton would probably lose all resistance to bollworm after 10 years.

According to the first Australian research into the potential for impacts of genetically modified (GM) insect resistant cotton (called lngard-R or Bt-cotton) on soil biodiversity it has been observed that Bt-toxin is expressed in roots at a similar level to leaves. The fine roots have higher levels of toxin than bulk roots. In addition, this research has shown that cotton roots also appear to release Bt-toxin, as has previously been shown in corn, although the amount of toxin released is difficult to quantify and the mechanism(s) by which it is released remains unknown.

If Bt-toxin enters the soil environment and accumulation occurs, the potential for adverse impacts to non-target organisms and soil ecosystems, both on-site and off-site, would need to be evaluated. If the observed trend is real, its significance is not yet clear since the changes to soil biota could be detrimental, neutral or beneficial to agricultural soil ecosystems.

According to the daily Hindu (Jan 26, 2003), the official write-off on Bt cotton performance in Andhra Perdesh says that Bt cotton was a disappointment and the Bt variety had failed to yield desired results. The farmers paid up to Rs. 1600 for a Bt cotton packet as against Rs.450 to 500 of normal varieties. However the yield was said to be below or on par, with the local hybrid varieties. The standing Bt crop in over 30,000 hectares in Maharashtra has been damaged severely.

The Bt cotton in Australia was introduced with a storehouse of promises, the promise of clean, green crops and seed that promises Australians a less pesticide-polluted environment. But in Australia the performance had not fulfilled the promises as under Australian conditions, the level of Bt toxin drops drastically at the end of the season. So the Australian farmers would still have to spray before harvesting.

There are doubts about keeping of "refuges" which may help the insect rather then the toxin. A "refuge" is a normal non-Bt crop planted near the fit crop on an area covering 4-10 per cent. Heliothis breeding up in the refuge won't get a bite of Bt, so they won't build any resistance. The plan is that when resistant heliothis charge out of the Bt crop they'll meet the non-resistant hehothis heading out of the refuge. They don't fight though, but mate and their offspring should lose most of their resistance to Bt but the worry is that the pests may not behave according to plan.

In case of commercialization of Bt cotton in Pakistan, there is every possibility that the expression of Bt in cotton plant will not be uniform as the cotton belt spreads right from Punjab to lower Sindh and comprises very harsh and diverse agro-ecological conditions. Nevertheless, there were firm promises, acid assurances about the success of Bt cotton but it can safely be concluded that the Bts have not come up to the expectations under comparable agro-climatic conditions of three very important cotton growing countries like India, China and Australia.

According to reports some farmers tried to grow Bt cotton in Sindh but so far all such attempts of introducing Bt cotton in Sindh and Punjab have failed to deliver desired results as the cotton crop was attacked heavily by virus, pathogenic and minor pests like juiced, and white fly. Moreover none of the cotton varieties imported from abroad has shown success under local environments, therefore the same may be expected of the Bt varieties if not developed locally.

The food safety and environment friendliness of Bts are still controversial and very sensitive issues. About half of our local edible oil production comes from cotton and the cottonseed cake after extracting oil is fed to the milk animals and poultry.

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