Heads up for major GM rice PR offensive (2/10/2004)


Heads up for a major pro-GM PR offensive next week centered on an international 3-day symposium in Hyderabad, India, as part of the celebrations to mark the International Year of Rice. The symposium's theme 'RICE - from Green to Gene Revolution'.

One of the stars of the show will be Gurdev Khush, a former Green Revolution plant breeder at the International Rice Research Insitute (IRRI) based in the Philippines. As many as 400 IRRI scientists are expected to take part in the Hyderabad symposium.

The IRRI has been involved in developing GM rice, as well as in trialling Golden Rice, and in the US$90 million programme to "improve" grain with micronutrients, known as HarvestPlus or the Challenge Program on Biofortification.

The IRRI's work on GM rice began as far back as the early 1990s and it has also developed plans and resources for releasing GM rice varieties across much of Asia. Planned areas for such releases already include the Philippines, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and other parts of India, northeast Thailand, and the coastal areas of Bangladesh. (Laying the Molecular Foundations of GM Rice Across Asia)

The IRRI also houses the SEAsiaCenter of ISAAA, the main conduit of industry PR and "technology transfer" to developing countries. The ISAAA enjoys multi-million dollar backing from Bayer, Cargill, Dow, Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta etc.

Although the IRRI's original remit was as a publicly funded research institution, it has long been heavily corporately aligned. Its annual reports from the Green Revolution years, in which it widely distributed rice varieties in Asia which were heavily chemically-dependent, show it to have been the recipient of financial support from a whole array of chemical corporations: Monsanto, Shell Chemical, 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.

Former IRRI scientist, Gurdev Khush - a star speaker at next week's symposium - has long argued that "the roles of IRRI and the private sector should be synergistic." Since leaving the IRRI, Khush has gone on to become part of the "scientific network" of GM bio-pharmaceutical campany Ventria Bioscience, which has been controversially, and largely unsuccessfully, pushing for GM pharma rice trials in the US.

Global meet on rice revolution next week
Our Bureau
The Hindu Business Line
Hyderabad , Sept. 29

'RICE - from Green to Gene Revolution' will be the focal theme of an international symposium to be held in Hyderabad during October 4-6, as part of the celebrations to mark the International Year of Rice.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), in association with the Directorate of Rice Research (DRR), Hyderabad, and the Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), Cuttack, are jointly organising the meet at the Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University, Hyderabad.

About 400 scientists (including international scientists) from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines, are expected to take part.

The Director-General of ICAR, Dr S. Mangala Rai, and well known rice scientist, Dr G.S. Khush will be the important speakers, according to Dr B. Misra, Director of DRR.

The UN has dedicated the year 2004 to rice, which is the staple food for more than half of the world population. In Asia, more than 2,000 million people depend on it and in Africa, it is the fastest growing source of food.

According to DRR, the green revolution of the 1960's was ushered in through the introduction of high yielding varieties of rice and wheat. The second revolution is expected to come from breakthroughs in rice biotechnology and the understanding of the rice genome.

The three-day international symposium will address issues such as whether rice can ensure food and nutritional security in low-income food-deficit countries and if developments in biotechnology can translate into useable technologies to meet the future challenges of rice demands.

The meeting will also have exclusive sessions on whether biotechnology can lead to a gene revolution for rice through discussions on transgenics, functional genomics, molecular breeding, bio-safety and intellectual property rights issues.

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