GM rice "a distant dream for India" (15/8/2004)

In the following article GM rice is described as India's "dream" and as part of "India's plans" but most of the comment is derived from Swapan Datta, a plant biotechnologist at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.

Datta and the IRRI have been laying the foundations for releasing GM rice across Asia since long before most people in India, or anywhere else in the world, had ever dreamt, let alone heard, of GM rice.

The first work on GM rice was undertaken at IRRI as far back as 1990. By 1993 IRRI had begun "rice biotechnology training" courses for Asian scientists. The same year IRRI launched the Asian Rice Biotechnology Network (ARBN) and began its release of GM plants into transgenic greenhouses. By 1996 work on the genetic engineering of popular Asian cultivars was under way.

IRRI is also part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an association of public and private donor agencies that funds 16 international research centres.

Swapan Datta is rice crop leader of the CGIAR's Challenge Program on Biofortification, which involves genetically modified "nutrition enriched" plants - like Golden Rice.

Golden Rice is also presented in the article as part of India's dream. But it was invented in the laboratory in Switzerland of Ingo Potrykus, and gained momentum after the likes of Monsanto and Syngenta realised its immense PR potential. Monsanto man Gerard Barry then moved to IRRI to take control of the the Golden Rice Network, overseeing the release of Golden Rice in Asia.

CGIAR, of which IRRI is a part, has Syngenta Foundation on its board, while IRRI has over the years benefitted from the support of such corporations as Monsanto, Union Carbide Asia, Bayer Philippines, Eli Lily, OccidentalChemical, Ciba Geigy (later part of Novartis Seeds which is now part of Syngenta), Chevron Chemical, Upjohn, Hoechst, and Cyanamid Far East.

Finally, notice the emphasis in the article on speed. Recurrent in the statements of GM promoters in India at the moment, as they strive to fix the regulatory system, is the need to "speed up the clearing process" for GM crops - simply, of course, to more readily fulfill "India's plans" and India's "dream".

Enriched rice a distant dream for India
Business India, August 14 2004

New Delhi, Aug 14 : Fears of environmental damage and food safety have held up India's plans to develop varieties of genetically modified (GM) nutrition enriched rice that could solve some of India's malnutrition problems.

"Products like salinity- and drought-tolerant rice varieties as well as the vitamin-A enriched Golden Rice have been developed but we are not getting the green signal to go ahead with field-testing," said Swapan K. Datta of the Manila-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Fears about food safety of GM agriculture products continue to be a major hurdle to solutions for problems like pests, salinity and drought, he contended.

"The different kinds of rice being suggested for field testing are Golden Rice (named after its colour), pest resistant Bt rice, iron enriched rice and varieties of salinity tolerant and drought resistant rice," Datta told IANS.

He said permission for field-testing Golden Rice, which has a high level of vitamin A, has been sought in India, the US and the Philippines.

"While the US has granted permission, it is still awaited in India and the Philippines," the plant biotechnologist said.

If the government gives its clearance, IRRI is hopeful that India would be able to provide farmers with Golden Rice seeds in three to five years after completing the mandatory field trials.

"The product certification for farmers field-testing will depend on how quickly the government gives clearances. At least three years of field-testing is required before releasing any crop for commercial cultivation by farmers," Dutta said.

IRRI is also awaiting clearance for a blight resistant variety of Bt rice for which multi-location field-testing has already been successfully carried out in India, China and the Philippines.

"So far only China has agreed to consider commercial cultivation of the stem borer-resistant Bt rice. It may start commercial cultivation of Bt rice next year [this seems to be a rumour started in America]," the scientist said.

As India looks to double its food grain production to 400 million tonnes by 2020, research is under way to develop transgenic crops by state-owned organisations as well as globally funded organisations like IRRI and the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

ICRISAT has been responsible for releasing 150 varieties of quality crops in India, according to William D. Dar, director general of the Andhra Pradesh centre.

"We are now looking at early maturing and short duration varieties for cultivation in rain-fed areas besides drought tolerant varieties of crops. We also have three transgenic crops now ready for field trials by farmers," said Dar.

He was hopeful that field trials for two varieties of groundnut and of pigeon pea would be undertaken next year.

With India planning a single-window regulatory system for faster clearance for biotechnology projects, whether for food or medical technologies, the scientists stressed the need for a better food safety evaluation system.

"A well-framed food safety evaluation system is required in India so that the concerns of all people are satisfied and gene material can be used safely and freely," Dutta said.

Dar felt a single window regulatory system would "speed up the clearing process while ensuring continuous monitoring and evaluation of the GM crops".

-Indo-Asian News Service

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