LONDON / MANILA
- March 20 - The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has confirmed to Greenpeace that it does not intend to release genetically engineered (GE), so-called 'Golden Rice' into the environment in the near future and that it is likely to take five years even before field trials could be conducted.
During a visit to the Philippines based institute this week, the
IRRI scientists told Greenpeace that various genetic elements in
the 'Golden Rice' need to be changed or removed, in particular
its gene construct and an antibiotic resistance gene (1-2). The
institute had received the first grains of this GE rice variety for
breeding purposes earlier this year.
The IRRI scientists admitted that many uncertainties related to
the 'Golden Rice' still need to be addressed before this GE
crop could be released outside of a secure containment. These
include environmental risks as well as health and nutritional
The IRRI also confirmed that the currently available 'Golden Rice' only produces very low levels of beta-carotene, and that higher amounts of this provitamin A would be needed. They also agreed with Greenpeace that the best solution to vitamin A deficiency is a diverse diet.
Greenpeace welcomed the fact that the world's leading public
rice research institute is taking a rather cautious approach
towards the so-called 'Golden Rice'. Greenpeace calls on the
IRRI to stop wasting time on the GE rice, and instead to focus
all efforts on developing sustainable solutions to serve public
health needs rather than the interests of the multinational GE
companies. The 'Golden Rice' has been heralded as a quick fix
solution to fight vitamin A deficiency by the GE industry.
"There are cheap and proven solutions and technologies
available to fight against vitamin A deficiency," said Von
Hernandez Greenpeace Southeast Asia campaign director. "The
main problem is lack of political will to see these solutions
through and the inadequacy of resources to enforce them. The
GE industry's propaganda that keeps pushing 'Golden Rice' as
the solution for vitamin A deficiency is irresponsible. It is using
the misery of mothers and children who suffer from this
deficiency for its own commercial gain."
When asked by Greenpeace, IRRI scientists admitted that there
might even be naturally occurring rice varieties that contain beta-
carotene or other vitamin A precursors. However, very few
studies have been conducted so far, on whether such natural pro-
vitamin rich rice varieties exist. The IRRI also told Greenpeace
that the cost of its experiments involving genetic engineering
represent only 3 percent of its total budget. (3)
"Geneconstruct" refers to genetic material or genes incorporated into a genetically modified organism. The IRRI scientists believe that another type of gene construct needs to be used to increase/promote the level of beta-carotene production in the 'Golden Rice'.
(2)Antibiotic resistance genes are used as a marker to check if the genetic engineering process has worked. The 'Golden Rice'currently still contains a hygromycin antibiotic resistance gene.
There is broad agreement that these marker genes should be
phased out because of potential health risks.
(3)The IRRI has recently initiated a project to search for adequate rice varieties with high vitamin A content.
Other issues of mutual interest that were discussed between Greenpeace and the IRRI where patents on genes and plant varieties that seriously hamper international public research as well as biological pest control. Greenpeace also criticised other GE projects conducted by the IRRI, such as genetically engineered Bt-rice.
Greenpeace briefing paper "Vitamin A: Natural Sources vs Golden Rice" and "The false promise of GE rice" along with other 'Golden Rice' information is available on the Greenpeace genetic engineering website.