DAILY BRIEF - TODAY'S HEADLINES FROM BIOTECH FOOD DEBATE
(1) Bioengineered Rice Loses Glow as Vitamin A Source
By Tina Hesman, Saint Louis Post-Dispatch - 4 March 2001
or www.postnet.com search.
Golden Rice is years from market and, as a practical food source for
the poor, may not meet nutritional goals. When Swiss researchers
announced last year that they had engineered rice
grains to combat vitamin A deficiency, world health officials, biotech advocates and others hailed the development as a major advance in solving nutritional problems in the developing world. Many in the biotechnology industry touted the rice - called Golden Rice for its color - as a savior for the beleaguered industry: a symbol of genetic engineering’s promise. But the rice may not be all it’s puffed up to be... Moreover, some critics say that the amount of rice a person would have to eat to get the nutritional benefits promised is more than humanly practical... Now, both sides in the debate over Golden Rice are playing a numbers game, with no clear winner yet. But it’s obvious from another set of numbers who’s losing.
(2) GM Rice—The Great Yellow Hype
or, www.nytimes.com (search: rice).
by Michael Pollan - The New York Times Magazine, 4 March 2001
Unless I’m missing something, the aim of the biotechnology industry’s audacious new advertising campaign is to impale people like me—well-off first worlders dubious about genetically engineered food—on the horns of a moral dilemma. Have you seen these ads? Over a speedy montage of verdant rice paddies, smiling Asian kids and kindly third-world doctors, a caring voice describes something called golden rice and its promise to “help prevent blindness and infection in millions of children” suffering from vitamin-A deficiency.
This new rice has been engineered, using a daffodil gene, to produce
beta-carotene, a nutrient the body can convert into vitamin A. Watching
the pitch, you can almost feel the moral ground shifting under your feet.
For the unspoken challenge here is that if we don’t get over our queasiness
about eating genetically modified food, kids in the third world will go
blind. It appears that biotechnology, which heretofore had little more
to offer the world than plants that could shake off a shower of herbicide,
has finally found a “killer app” that can silence its critics and win over
working, too: Time magazine put golden rice on its cover, declaring, “This rice could save a million kids a year.” Even Greenpeace has acknowledged that “golden rice is a moral challenge to our position.”
Yet the more one learns about biotechnology’s Great Yellow Hope, the more uncertain seems its promise—and the industry’s command of the moral high ground. Indeed, it remains to be seen whether golden rice will ever offer as much to malnourished children as it does to beleaguered biotech companies.
Its real achievement may be to win an argument rather than solve a
public-health problem. Which means we may be witnessing the advent of the
world’s first purely rhetorical technology. If that sounds harsh, consider
this: an 11-year-old would have to eat 15 pounds of cooked golden rice
a day—quite a bowlful—to satisfy his minimum daily requirement of vitamin
A. Even if that were
possible (or if scientists boosted beta-carotene levels), it probably wouldn’t do a malnourished child much good, since the body can only convert beta-carotene into vitamin A when fat and protein are present in the diet. Fat and protein in the diet are, of course, precisely what a malnourished child lacks. Further, there’s no guarantee people will eat yellowish rice. Brown rice, after all, is already rich in nutrients, yet most Asians prefer white rice, which is not.
Rice has long had a complicated set of meanings in Asian culture. Confucius,
for example, extolled the pure whiteness of rice as the ideal backdrop
for green vegetables. That works fine so long as you’ve still got the vegetables.
But once rice became a monoculture cash crop, it crowded the
green vegetables out of people’s fields and out of their diet. Proponents of golden rice acknowledge that persuading people to eat it may require an educational campaign. This begs a rather obvious question. Why not simply a campaign to persuade them to eat brown rice? Or how about teaching people how to grow green vegetables on the margins of their rice fields, and maybe
even give them the seeds to do so? Or what about handing out vitamin-A supplements to children so severely malnourished their bodies can’t metabolize beta-carotene?
(3) Stability of GM Rice—“Questionable ‘Stability’ at JIC”
Sunday, 4 March 2001, ISIS Release.
Scientists at the UK John Innes Centre attacked ISIS for quoting their annual report indicating that transgenic plants are unstable and that the CaMV 35S promoter should be phased out . They claim they have evidence that transgenic rice lines are stable. Mae-Wan Ho shows how their claim is not borne out by their own evidence. Scientists at JIC assure us that the CaMV 35S promoter is safe on grounds that people have been eating cabbages infected with the virus all the time.
(4) FrankenBucks—Taking the Gene Food Fight to Marketplace
by Ronnie Cummins, BioDemocracy News, Organic Consumers Ass’n www.organicconsumers.org.
David & Goliath—Downsizing the Gene Giants and the Globalizers.
Despite recent propaganda by Monsanto and threats of trade sanctions by the Bush administration in Washington, the proponents of genetic engineering (GE) and agricultural globalization find themselves on the defensive. In recent issues of BioDemocracy News, which are posted at
www.organicconsumers.org we report that: Evidence mounts of GE food hazards to human health and the environment; Global acreage devoted to GE crops is decreasing; Export markets for (US, Canada, and Argentina) GE-tainted soybeans, canola, and corn are shutting down; GE potatoes
and tomatoes have been, for all practical purposes, pulled off the market. Lawsuits and shrinking profits have forced the giant pharmaceutical and chemical companies to spin off their agbiotech
divisions. And, most important of all, public pressure and well-organized corporate campaigns have forced many of the world1s largest food corporations, supermarkets, fast-food chains, and animal feed companies to remove gene-altered ingredients from their brand-name products. Mass resistance to Frankenfoods, first made evident in Europe in 1996-98, has now become a global phenomenon. Consumer rejection of GE foods, in turn, is fueled by a growing distrust of government bureaucrats and industry scientists, and an ever-escalating concern over food safety antibiotic resistance, pesticide residues, salmonella, e-coli, campylobachter, listeria, and hormone disruptors such as dioxin. And of course this crisis in public confidence has made organic farming
the fastest growing and most profitable component of world agriculture today. Even Fortune magazine, the mouthpiece of Wall Street, admitted in its Feb. 17 issue that agricultural biotechnology is teetering on the brink of disaster.
(4) Creating New Weeds. Safety of Transgenic Plants.
American Scientist, March-April 2001.
The release of organisms with novel phenotypes bears similarities to
the introduction of non-native
species. Many well-documented examples reveal non-native plants, including kudzu and purple loosestrife, becoming aggressive weeds with devastating environmental and economic consequences. Sometimes, introduced plants invade successfully because no insect herbivores
attack them. Consequently, insect-resistant transgenic plants might be more likely to become invasive weeds than would the parental variety.
(5) StarLink—Testing, Crop Rotation, Agriculture Meetings (Indiana)
(Evansville IND Courier & Press, 5 March 2001)
Companies are testing seed corn for StarLink contamination, and contaminated
seed found is
being destroyed by the seed companies, according to American Seed Trade Association. To get clean seed, farmers need to make sure the seed they buy is certified StarLink-free. To keep the crop clean, the National Corn Growers Association recommends that growers who planted StarLink hybrids last year make an extra effort to control any volunteer StarLink corn in 2001. Fred Yoder, farmer and chairman of NCGA Biotech Working Group, said rotation was the best answer. “In an ideal situation for 2001,” he said, “you’d rotate ground planted to StarLink last year into soybeans, oats or some crop that will allow you to find and destroy volunteer corn.” If rotation isn’t your choice, NCGA suggests growing an herbicide-tolerant hybrid that lets you control volunteer StarLink.
(6) Canadian Biotech Committee Launches Consultations, Public Workshops
on Ethics, Regulation, Governance of GM Food
http://www.individual.com/servlet/BuildIssue ((Also See: www.cbac-cccb.ca
or order docs via CBAC’s toll-free public information line: 1-866-748-2222.)) 5 March 2001
OTTAWA, March 2 /CNW/ via NewsEdge Corporation
The Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee (CBAC) today launched a process to consult stakeholders, experts and the public on the regulation of genetically modified (GM) Food.
CBAC is inviting a wide cross section of stakeholders and public interest groups to five workshops across Canada in early April, to discuss the issues and options associated with the regulation of GM Food. To assist in this task, a consultation document was released today, which focuses on the three main themes of good governance and the regulation of GM food, information and choice, and social and ethical considerations. Results of each workshop will be summarized quickly and made available to the public on the CBAC Web site. CBAC welcomes all input on this consultation document until Friday, April 20, 2001 via its toll free line, its interactive Web site or by written comment which can be sent to CBAC at 235 Queen Street, Ottawa, K1A 0H5. “Discussions about biotechnology issues are important today in order to be ready for developments in the future,” said Dr. Arnold Naimark, Chair of the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee. “We have mapped out a consultation process that allows us to gather expert and stakeholder input, while also engaging Canadians who want to be informed and consulted about the implications of biotechnological innovation and its impact on their lives”. CBAC will release a progress report by early summer, which will form the basis of further dialogue with Canadians in the fall. Dr. Naimark noted that this process will allow CBAC to fulfill its mandate to facilitate a national dialogue on biotechnology and to take into account the views of experts and the public in the formulation of its ongoing advice to the Government of Canada. =======================================
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