Thursday, April 3, 2008

Throwing Transgenics To The Third World

Transgenic rice or Golden rice, the new miracle variety, will initially feed the poor populations that inhabit the planet and stave of famine, hunger and malnutrition. But, in the medium term, it will solve these same problems by reducing the consuming populations with deaths due to cancer and severe malnutrition caused by famine.

The rice variety is being hyped as useful in treating a number of disorders such as growth deficiency in children, insulin resistant diabetes, osteoporosis, and AIDS, because of its capability to produce a type of protein, human insulin growth factor (hIGF). Another variety is modified with the presence of Beta carotene that will produce Vitamin A which will prevent blindness due to vitamin deficient diets. Both varieties are being promoted with yields promised at 35% above those of other rice crops. However, these miracle plants are laboratory produced solutions in the absence of an ecological approach, organic contexts, and cultural traditions; by an engineering mindset geared towards an input -output orientation of a mass production mentality.

The protein hIGF is a synthetic form of human gene altered in DNA sequence, where the protein activity was tested using an assay that promotes the growth of brain cancer cells. The protein in the rice will thus induce the growth of brain cancer among consumers. The other variety that is manipulated with beta carotene is a single nutrient approach toward a nutrition related public health problem. This is neither feasible nor desirable.The different kinds of fruits and vegetables in traditional diets people consume provide a better uptake of beta carotene. Besides, beta carotene is fat and oil soluble, and the poor have no capacity to buy food rich in these elements. The beta carotene in the rice variety will therefore pass undigested and the poor will have only the starch, which will put their already precarious health situation in greater jeopardy.

For thousands of years, local land raised rice varieties in Asia have evolved that satisfy the need for sustainability and diversity based on local soil and climate conditions. Harvested rice is wrapped in husk that preserves the endosperm for long periods of storage. Once milled, the brown embryo covering the seed contains the beta carotene and other micro nutrients needed by the human body. Unfortunately, the cultural tradition of brown rice is that it is inelegant and of lower quality, fit only for the very poor. Rice that's polished white is the preferred choice even if it is stripped of all nutritious elements. In this context, promoting the benefits of traditional diverse diets in conjunction with brown rice is a much better option than the one dimensional solution of Golden rice.

It is unrealistic to think that the introduction of a manipulated plant will produce carotene on demand. Changing one element of the complex balance in a ecological setting within an organism changes everything, which can affect a plant's vitality. Carotene is produced throughout the rice plant except the endosperm or seed. What impact will there be if an element is forced upon the plant which it has consistently avoided for thousands of years? What is produced? What is not produced? What are the changed balances among substances normally produced? Would not the excess characteristic implanted in the seed affect in some way the nourishment and growth of the germinating plant? Organisms are not machines that can be altered in a precise and pre-determined method.

Field tests conducted have proven that transgenic rice spreads the transgenes and contaminates conventional rice crops. Once established, the transgenes are difficult, if not impossible to eliminate. This development may wipe out local rice varieties, leaving only mutated transgenic rice for cultivation. A similar scenario transpired during the 60's and 70's Green Revolution. High yielding varieties were introduced for self sufficiency that were heavily dependent on herbicides and pesticides, chemicals that ruined the soil's nutrients and destroyed the bio-diversity of the land farmers tilled. Farmers who were left with debts, no seeds of local variety to plant, no new crops planted because of the chemicals employed; had to sell their lands, and were consequently displaced and penniless.

This transgenic rice is touted as stronger against drought and pests and will not generate herbicide resistant pests. But it has been proven that local varieties in different parts of Asia are more pest and drought resistant than these laboratory counterparts, given their respective ecological settings. The point is, it is an experimental product that may not be suited for the different ecological conditions in various parts of Asia, even within a single country. Therefore, it will be subjected to modifications. Would these modifications, say by cross germination with local varieties, produce the claimed results. This is highly unlikely. That there will be changes is definite, as to what kind of change it will be is unknown. Is this a risk they are willing to take for the billions of people that will be affected?

Moving forward with transgenic rice despite research studies that debunk its claims and details the dangers inherent therein is a murderous initiative. It is a mindless political ploy that seeks to ease a current crisis which will generate a major calamity in the future for someone else to solve. It is a decision akin to Adolph Hitler's "final solution", where the problem of famine, hunger, and malnutrition will be solved by eliminating the poor that burdens the state. This is "War on Poverty" that will feed the poor one full meal before they are unceremoniously exterminated. What will they feed the world next, Soylent Green?


Sources: Independent Science Panel, Rice With Human Genes: Pharming in California
The Weston A Price Foundation, Golden Genes and World Hunger
Institute of Science in Society,Cancer Promoting Transgenic Rice
Grain, BB Rice, IRRI's First Transgenic Field Test


The Fitness Diva said...

Man needs to stop effing around with DNA, period, IMO. Of plants, of animals, of anything. It's just not his right. This is a perfect example of why.
I can understand manipulating the genetic strains of viruses and such to create cures for various diseases, but LEAVE THE FOOD ALONE.
And a strain of rice that promotes brain cancer in those consuming it just shouldn't EVER be on the grocery list. It should never have passed muster enough to make it outside the lab in the first place. This is crazy and scary.
What the heck?

Anonymous said...

It's not as though there aren't some good traditional rice varieties available already - Korean black rice for example has 5 times as much iron as white varieties. And the Africa Rice Centre has produced thousands of varieties by crossing, naturally, African rice with Asian rice.

They should put their energies into exploring the existing biodiversity.

jc smith said...

Hi Durano, Indeed, a lot of these high breed varieties, specially the genetically modified ones, are generaly bad. However, the so called miracle rice in the Philippines that is coming out with record yields was developed by a local businessman who was taught by a legendary agriculturist from mainland China. He was taught to crossbreed local varieties for the same reasons you mentioned and after a few years, came out with good seedlings.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Fitness Diva,

The problem with these laboratory manipulations is that these are done in secret. Secondly, the field tests are also not open to the public. No transparency whatsoever. Green Peace had to do extra clandestine work to determine where some of these field test sites are.

In an article about 2 days ago, transgenic rice products were discovered being sold in a grocery in the US. These were confiscated. The "accidental" delivery was removed from shelves. No transgenic rice has been approved for sale or human consumption. Yet this one is packaged and ready for market distribution.

Was it a mistaken delivery? Where should it have been delivered? Was it properly labeled? If no transgenic rice has been approved for consumption, why is there an entity selling it in neat packages? If this was an accident, how did it happen? The news has no follow up. It just disappeared. This is scary.
Be careful of what you eat. :-)--Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Anonymous,

I agree with you about cross breeding. This is different from genetically modifying a plant which has inherent dangers.

Whatever breeds are developed must be tested with the soil and climate conditions of the locality where it will be planted. This is an important factor to consider, the ecological equation. The promise of yield and nutrients in test will not work in the same way in different parts of Asia or Africa.

But the existing bio-diversity, I agree, must be explored, rather than developing super varieties which can do more harm than good. :-)--Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi JC,

For our sake, I hope you're right, I hope it works, and I hope he is given genuine support by the government. :-)--Durano, done!