Should India cultivate GM rice? / Tell Arnie to terminate pharma rice (9/4/2004)

2.3rd World Front Against Biopiracy Sought - Financial Express
3.Groups protest decision to allow pharma rice - The Scientist
4.Tell Arnie to terminate pharma rice

Suman Sahai
The Hindu, April 5, 2004

This year has been declared the International Year of Rice in acknowledgement of the central role this cereal plays in global food security. Nearly half the world’s population eats rice as its staple food. The reason for focusing on rice is the fear of shortages because of declining productivity in some parts of the world and the burgeoning world population. In this backdrop, genetically modified rice is being discussed as an answer and both public sector and private sector research institutions in India and elsewhere, have launched projects to produce GM rice with various properties. Golden Rice is already well known, there are efforts to introduce resistance to fungal diseases, researchers are working to produce herbicide tolerant rice, similar to Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and Mahyco, the company that gave us Bt cotton, is working, along with other research institutions, to produce a Bt rice. Other rice projects are attempting to change the quality of rice starch and disturbingly, a private company is producing rice containing the Bt cry9C gene, which is the gene used in Starlink corn, suspected of having allergenic properties and therefore banned for human use by the USDA!

The fundamental question is whether India should allow the cultivation of GM rice since it is a ‘high risk’ area, being a major center of origin and diversity for rice. Mexico, the country that is the center of origin and diversity for corn, has a clear-cut policy. It has imposed a ban on not just the cultivation of GM corn, but also research in GM corn. Mexico has taken this position in order to safeguard the natural gene pool of corn, another major staple food of the world. A center of origin is from where a particular crop originated a few thousand years ago. Food crops, as we know, are not collected from the forests, they were developed (bred) by a careful process of selection and crossing, by tribal and farming communities from the wild plants found in nature. India is one of the centers where rice originated so lots of rice varieties and the plants related to rice (wild relatives) are also found here. This means that the greatest number of rice and related genes are found in India, particularly in the Jeypore tract of Orissa, and the swathe cutting across Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, as well as in the Northeastern tract.

Centers of origin are considered high-risk areas for GM crops because if the foreign genes contained in the GM variety were to move into the natural gene pool, the results could be potentially catastrophic. Scientists promoting agbiotech argue that rice is a self-pollinating crop and will not accept outside pollen and genes. This is simply not true.  Several studies exist showing cross-pollination happens in rice. Recent reports from China and Latin America are showing that gene flow between GM rice and other rice happens at rates that are high enough to cause concern. Experiments have also found that the herbicide tolerance gene can move to native varieties and create new, difficult to control, weeds. There are other studies that show that the introduction of foreign genes by the process of genetic engineering can cause a phenomenon called ‘gene silencing’ in the plant that is receiving the foreign gene. This means certain genes in the plant will become silent ( non-functional) and not produce what they normally should. Gene silencing could have very grave implications if it were to spread to the natural gene pool by careless scientists.

Genetic diversity is crucial for the long-term survival of any crop. When a crop variety somewhere becomes vulnerable either due to the onslaught of a disease it cannot fight, or because the soil has become water logged or alkaline, scientists need to breed another variety of the crop for that region. They do this by searching for suitable genes in related varieties and the natural gene pool.  If these genes were to be unavailable, the vulnerable variety would perish, depriving people in that region of food. That is why it is important to maintain genetic diversity. If GM rice were to harm the native gene pool of rice by making certain genes non-functional or changing the normal functions of other genes,  it would have terrible implications for the food security of the rice eating regions of the world.

Too little is understood about what happens when foreign genes are abruptly pushed into the genetic material of living organisms like plants. What little is known is largely negative. The Precautionary Principle is central to GM work, dictating that when faced with uncertainty, it is better to be cautious and not proceed. India must not cultivate GM rice until a solid body of research is done under Indian conditions to understand the implications of foreign genes shifting to rice diversity. Agbiotech proponents argue collecting this data could take several years. So be it. One cannot rush when the stakes are so high. In any case, several other lines of research are yielding more promising results than the GM route. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) pioneered by Madagascar is showing spectacular results in various countries including India.

2.Meet Seeks Jt 3rd World Front Against Biopiracy

The two-day second conference on biotechnology for Asian development [held in New Delhi, India, April 7-8] has expressed concern over the "asymmetric" global intellectual property rights (IPRs) regime which has failed to protect traditional knowledge from biopiracy. The gene-rich developing countries need to guard against any form of biopiracy, the conference, that ended here on Thursday said.

The conference also emphasised on regional cooperation for promoting biotech, capacity building and biosafety related issues on priority basis.

The conference was organised by the New Delhi-based NGO Research and Information System for the Non-Aglined and Other Developing Countries (RIS) in collaboration with CII and IUCN Regional Biodiversity Programme and supported by UNESCO and the Indian government.

After the conclusion of the meet RIS director-general Nagesh Kumar said, "there is an asymmetric treatment by the global regime for IPR protection of knowledge resulting from modern innovation systems vis-a-vis the products of traditional knowledge system and biodiversity that actually represents the work of the generation of farmers."

3. California OKs GM pharm crops
Groups protest decision to allow rice engineered to produce human lactoferrin and lysozyme | By Charles Q Choi
The Scientist, April 8, 2004

International groups of scientists, consumers, and environmental activists are urging the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to reject an emergency proposal to grow pharmaceutical rice. The rice would be the first time a genetically modified (GM) food crop in the United States was planted for commercial-scale drug production.

"The implication is there could be a precedent set here on biopharmaceutical crops on which we don't have a full national policy in place yet, and there are clearly questions here about human safety," Michael Hansen, an ecologist and senior research associate at Consumers Union's Consumer Policy Institute in Yonkers, NY, told The Scientist.

On March 29, the California Rice Commission, which makes recommendations to CDFA, approved by a 6 to 5 vote the Sacramento, Calif.–based biotech firm Ventria Bioscience's proposal to grow rice genetically engineered with human genes to produce lactoferrin and lysozyme.

Both proteins are found in bodily secretions such as milk, tears, and saliva, and possess antibiotic, antifungal, and antiviral properties. Among other ailments, the company hopes these drugs can kill bacteria that cause severe diarrhea, such as

Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas spp., or Vibrio cholera. "Ventria's products have the potential to save the lives of 2 million children a year," said Ventria president and chief executive officer Scott Deeter.

Ventria sought approval via an emergency proposal to grow up to 120 acres of the crops in 10 Californian counties away from the state's primary rice fields. The planting season lasts from April to July, and since the standard review process can take months, Ventria went on a fast-track process to avoid delaying plans until next year. CDFA secretary A.G. Kawamura must decide whether to approve, deny, or modify the rice commission's recommendation by April 12.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) urged Kawamura to deny the recommendation. "I don't know of any emergency involved here to deny the public any right to participate in these deliberations and accomplish any approval in only 10 days. Not getting into the field as soon as possible is not really an emergency," said Margaret Mellon, director of the UCS food and environment program.

Deeter objected, saying Ventria's proposal had been discussed in public meetings since March 2003, with attendees including the UCS and Consumers Union. "We've by no means been trying to sneak this through. We're absolutely committed to listening to any data and scientific evidence that's new," Deeter said.

Consumer and environmental groups fired off letters urging Kawamura to deny the recommendation and hold public hearings on the application instead. The Consumers Union, along with four other groups, noted that pharmaceutical crops might trigger food allergies, kill off wildlife or beneficial microbes, or transfer disease-resistant traits to related weeds.

The Center for Food Safety also noted that groups in Japan, the largest foreign market for Californian rice, have said they might reject GM rice or even rice grown near GM crops.

"Ventria says they can limit contamination, but cannot offer a 100% guarantee. For us, even the smallest chance of contamination is too much for us to risk," Yoko Tomiyama, chairperson of Consumers Union Japan, wrote in a March letter to the California Rice Commission.

As of now, it's unclear whether Ventria can begin planting this year even with CDFA approval, because further US Department of Agriculture (USDA) consent is also needed.

"From discussions with USDA officials, we understand that Ventria Bioscience does not yet have a Plant Pest Act permit to grow pharmaceutical rice in California counties south of the major rice-growing area of the state," Mellon and UCS senior staff scientist Jane Rissler wrote in a letter to Kawamura on March 31. "Since the USDA permit may take up to 120 days to obtain and is required before planting can begin, the company may not be able to plant this spring even with CDFA approval."

Deeter agreed. "Submitting a permit is a fairly exhaustive process that doesn't happen quickly, from past experience," he said.

Links for this article

Ventria Bioscience: Lactoferrin and Lysozyme http://www.ventriabio.com/products/

"To CDFA: Pharm Rice in California," letter from the Union of Concerned Scientists, March 31, 2004. http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_environment/biotechnology/page.c fm?pageID=1376

"Consumer and environmental groups urge California officials to deny firm's request to grow pharmaceutical rice," Consumers Union press release, April 1, 2004. http://www.consumersunion.org/pub/core_product_safety/000957.ht ml

"California Rice Commission approves genetically engineered rice," Center for Food Safety press release, March 29, 2004. http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/inthenews/PRGERice3.29.2004. pdf


Will the California Department of Food and Agriculture grant approval to grow commercial fields of rice genetically engineered to contain pharmaceutical drugs?

Newspapers all over the United States and in numerous international markets are watching to see the outcome of this growing controversy...

There seems to be disagreement on when the California Department of Food and Agriculture will rule on this matter. The decision may come before the end of this week or early next week. But the San Francisco Chronicle... states that California's secretary of agriculture has until May 1 to make his decision.

We will keep you informed as we hear any new developments.

Thousands of you have e-mailed comments to California Secretary of Food and Agriculture A.G. Kawamura and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger from our web site at: http://www.thecampaign.org/alert_calif.php

Please tell your friends to visit our web site and participate in this important ACTION ALERT. The more Kawamura and Schwarzenegger hear from people opposing approval, the more likely they are to turn down the request to grow this controversial rice.

Thanks for your active participation!

Craig Winters
Executive Director The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods The Campaign PO Box 55699 Seattle, WA 98155 Tel: 425-771-4049 Fax: 603-825-5841 E-mail: mailto:[email protected] Web Site: http://www.thecampaign.org  

Mission Statement: "To create a national grassroots consumer campaign for the purpose of lobbying Congress and the President to pass legislation that will require the labeling of genetically engineered foods in the United States."  

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