More GM promotion in Asia from IRRI (24/1/2005)

What's striking about both the stories below, of trial releases of GM crops in Asia, is that the initiative is driven in each case by Rice Research Institutes.

In the Philippines, it's the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) who are taking the lead in trying to introduce Bt cotton. In Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute is working on a local variety of Golden Rice, a GM rice which contains small amounts of pre-cursor vitamin A.

Both institutes are part of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) which has offices in 11 different countries quite apart from its research headquarters in the Philippines.

IRRI describes itself as an 'autonomous, nonprofit institution' but its annual reports show grants from corporations like Monsanto, Union Carbide, Bayer, Cyanamid, Hoechst, OccidentalChemical, Ciba Geigy (later part of Novartis Seeds which is now part of Syngenta), Upjohn and Chevron Chemical, amongst others.

While IRRI's promotion of a chemically-intensive agriculture and now GMOs has proven lucrative for the industry, dependency on expensive intensive inputs has meant increasing numbers of small farmers going into debt and leaving the land. Unemployment, hunger, and malnutrition can be the consequence, quite apart from pesticide poisonings.

In 2001 IRRI launched its controversial Golden Rice project with IRRI's Director-General saying IRRI expected to play a major role in 'its eventual introduction to the world's millions of poor rice farmers and consumers.'

In 2003, Gerard Barry, a leading Monsanto executive was appointed Coordinator of the IRRI's Golden Rice Network. Barry's task was 'to facilitate' its 'development and deployment' in Asian countries. Barry is expected take entire control of the Golden Rice project.

IRRI's Golden Rice project is just the latest staging post on its decade-long journey of GM crop promotion:

*1990 - Beginning of production of GM rice at IRRI
*1990 - First GM rice training course at IRRI
*1993 - Initiation of the Asian Rice Biotechnology Network (ARBN)
*1996 - IRRI's tenth GM rice training course
*1996 - Genetic engineering of popular Asian cultivars under ARBN begun

IRRI is utilising these resources not just to develop GM varieties but to release GM crops right across Asia.

For much more on IIRI and its agenda, see the GM Watch profile:

1.RP to test biotech cotton for first time
2.Bangladesh 'endorses' GM rice

1.RP to test biotech cotton for first time
by Melody M. Aguiba
Manila bulletin (Philippines), 20 Jan 2005

The Philippines is testing for the first time this year the genetically modified (GM) Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton in a hope to revive a vanishing cotton industry and hopefully save $86 million in yearly cotton imports. Alice Ilaga, Department of Agriculture (DA) biotechnology program director, said in a statement that the Cotton Development Authority (CODA) signed Wednesday a memorandum of agreement with the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) for the Bt cotton testing.

"The agreement between Philrice and CODA marks the start of our local testing and evaluation of the Chinese transgenic cotton hybrids," she said. Under the MOA signed by CODA Administrator Eugenio Orpia Jr. and Philrice Director Leocadio Sebastian, Philrice will provide its biotechnology facilities in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija. It will also be tested in CODA's research station in Ilocos Norte and all over Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The Philippines imports some 60,000 to 75,000 metric tons of cotton lint yearly which represents the sizable 95 percent of the country's requirement. The Philippines, with the testing, will be following the direction of China (planting 3.7 million hectares, 66 percent of total area) and India (500,000 hectares, six percent of total area) which are the world's largest grower of Bt cotton. "The country will benefit from homegrown Bt cotton and save an estimated $86 million in import yearly if Bt cotton proves safe (and bollworm resistant).

Farmers can increase their income, and textile millers will have a local source for good-quality fiber," said Ilaga.

2.Bangladesh 'endorses' GM rice
BBC online, 18 Jan 2005

The Bangladesh Agriculture Ministry says it hopes to release a type of genetically modified rice to farmers if on-going research is successful.

Authorities claim the new rice may help feed Bangladesh's growing population as well as tackle certain common ailments associated with malnutrition. The Agriculture Minister says the government does not object to GM technology, which may prove beneficial. Research into the crop is being carried out at the Rice Research Institute.

Dense population

Bangladesh's population now stands at nearly 150 million, making it the most densely populated in the world. But agriculture experts say the country is losing 80,000 hectares of land to industrialisation and urbanisation each year. Bangladesh has already produced a hybrid rice and
signed agreements with Vietnam and China to share information of this particular rice technology. But officials say the country will now look at genetically modified rice to boost production.

The chief of the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Dr Mahidul Haque, said a locally developed rice variety known as BRRI 29 has been transformed into a genetically modified rice. He said beta carotene - which the body develops into Vitamin A - had been taken from daffodils and added to the rice. This made it useful in fighting conditions such as poor sight and blindness.

Environmentalists and health experts have already warned the government against introducing any GM rice and food in Bangladesh without testing. They fear that any GM food without proper testing could create severe health problems in a poor country like Bangladesh.

The Agriculture Minister, MK Anwar, acknowledged GM foods are controversial worldwide, but his government will not take any stand against the technology. "We'll introduce GM rice in Bangladesh after proper testing and going through the national and international rules and regulations," he told the BBC. Officials expect the research on GM rice to be completed shortly, but no time-frame has been given.


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