Bangladesh's biodiversity versus Golden Rice (28/7/2006)

Another excellent article from this Bangladeshi daily paper.

Biodiversity: agriculture minister versus BRRI
Editorial: New Age, July 28, 2006

The agriculture minister, MK Anwar, lamented on Wednesday the fact that barely 200 varieties of the local rice were still cultivated by the farmers although there used to be over 10,000 varieties in the past. He strongly advocated the conservation of genetic resources and biological diversity. To that end he said the government would soon enact two laws: a plant varieties act and a biodiversity & community knowledge act.

According to another report in this newspaper published on Thursday, the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute intends to introduce golden rice, a genetically modified version of the BR29, by 2010. The BR29 is extremely popular for its high yield and its ‘golden’ version will be supposedly fortified with 17 times the amount of vitamin A found in high-yielding varieties. According to the officials concerned the process is on and is currently being cultivated at laboratory level.

Given the worldwide debate over genetically modified organisms, especially about their effects on the human body and environment, the rice research institute's move is rather alarming. Laboratory tests on rats have found that genetically modified food result in allergic reactions, high white blood cell count, production of immature red cells, changed structure and cell functioning of the pancreas, liver and testes besides high death rates.

There are also a host of examples of genetically modified crops with erratic yields all over the world, destroying the livelihoods of numerous farmers and leading many of them to commit suicide.

This technology has also given birth to terminator seeds that yield crops only once and have to be bought every year.

Advocates of food sovereignty point out that genetic technology destroys biodiversity and has enormous adverse affects on food sovereignty.

The two laws that the agriculture minister had referred to, conform to the norms of food sovereignty and have been drafted in accordance with the Convention on Biological Diversity, which also upholds the notion of food sovereignty.

It should be noted that the two laws in question had been drafted in 1998 and have so far received little attention from the government quarters concerned, which would be instrumental in protecting and preserving traditional knowledge and biological diversity of Bangladesh.

But the rice research institute’s move, obviously with the agricultural ministry's approval, contradicts the agriculture minister's advocacy for the conservation of genetic resources and biological diversity. It is also not known whether the rice research institute would conduct tests on live animals or humans to find out the effects of this genetically modified variety that many would consider unnecessary given the abundance of alternate sources of beta carotene in Bangladesh. The government has no concrete regulations regarding hybrid seeds or genetic technology.

Neither are there any laws preventing biopiracy or protecting community knowledge which have become rather valuable sources of information for medical research. Intellectual property rights, which have come to be a topic of intense debate, are entirely handled by the industries ministry without any oversight from any other ministries although it concerns many of them.

MK Anwar's inconsistency conforms to the general attitude of the government towards the implications of genetic technology, food sovereignty and the livelihood of millions of farmers.

We expect that the government formulates policies, laws and regulations to address these issues in consultation with not just government officials, but with the consumers, farmers and other stakeholders.


Back to the Archive