ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

6 December 2002


"There is no information as yet on consistency of the level of betacarotene production in Golden rice... many questions are yet to be answered and we have miles to go before Golden Rice can be claimed to help eradicate the problem of vitamin A deficiency in the country."

1.India: Can golden rice eradicate vitamin A deficiency?
2.Zimbabwe: Be Cautious When Dealing With GMOs - Researcher
3.Zambia: GMOs a health hazard - report
4.Pakistan: First petition to restrict GE food imports filed
5.India: Trade in GM crops big challenge under WTO


1.Can golden rice eradicate vitamin A deficiency?

By Ramesh V. Bhat and S.Vasanthi
The Hindu , Thursday, December 5, 2002

HYDERABAD -- Various kinds of transgenic rice are being developed for a range of characteristics.

These are developed to be used both as food as well as for industrial purposes. Among these, nutritional enrichment has been receiving considerable attention especially in India.

Among all the transgenic crops, transgenic rice is claimed to provide maximum benefit to the consumer while other crops provide benefit mostly to the producer.

Nutritional Genomics has been applied to rice for the development of Golden rice, iron enhanced rice and rice with enhanced proteins and amino acid. The proponents of Golden rice claim that its consumption provides the required vitamin A dose to prevent nutritional blindness in populations where xerophthalmia is endemic.

Although the initial experiments with Golden rice appear to indicate potential for alleviating vitamin A malnutrition, there is a need to examine in depth several factors before accepting this technology as an intervention strategy.

The total dietary exposure and exposure to the modified nutrient among various age groups, especially the vulnerable segment of the population need to be considered.

An adult would have to eat 3.7 kg (equivalent to about 9 kg of cooked rice) to obtain the total daily requirement of vitamin A. The projected serving size of 300 gm is claimed to provide only 8 per cent of the daily requirement. On the other hand, the developers of the transgenic crop dispute the calculation and suggest that only 0.75-1.5 kg rice would have to be consumed to meet the recommended daily allowance (RDA) and rice can provide 20-40 per cent of the RDA from a 300 g serving. Since rice is a staple food in large parts of the country and vitamin A deficiency is still a problem of public health significance, specially among children, it is essential to look into the Indian scenario.

The surveys of the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau indicate that the average cereal intake is 106 gm per day among 1-3 year old children. As per the ICMR Expert Committee, RDA for age groups 1-3 years of retinol equivalents in India is 400 microgram per day while for betacarotene it is1600 microgram per day.

The current dietary intake of betacarotene among these children is estimated to be 788 microgram per day. Golden rice would provide an additional intake of betacarotene of 186 microgram per day. Thus, while from the current diet 49 per cent of RDA of betacarotene is met and from golden rice an additional 12 per cent, the total from both sources would be 61 per cent.

However, Dr.Peter Beyer of the University of Freiberg, Germany, who along with Dr.Ingo Potrykus is the developer of the Golden rice, claimed that "whatever quantity they eat would be sufficient to keep blindness and other problems at bay" (The Hindu, 7 Nov, 2002). Based on the above data, obviously such a claim appears to be not correct.

Another important fact that has to be considered in this context is the bioavailability of betacarotene in the Indian context. The bioavailability of betacarotene is low compared to vitamin A and it depends on various dietary factors like level of protein and fat in the diet, protein and fat stores and cooking and processing methods.

Protein Energy Malnutrition and intestinal infections and infestations affect the absorption of vitamin A among children. Moreover, an intake of at least 5gm fat is necessary for betacarotene absorption. The consumption of fat among the needy communities is woefully inadequate.

An evaluation of bioavailability of betacarotene from Golden rice requires to be urgently assessed before any conclusions about the actual potential of Golden rice to meet its requirements are drawn.

There is no information as yet on consistency of the level of betacarotene production in Golden rice, particularly with respect to the nutrient amounts as claimed, when it is grown in different environmental conditions, in different locations under different levels of fertilizer application and management. What is more important is the acceptability of yellow Golden rice that requires further investigation.

Thus, many questions are yet to be answered and we have miles to go before Golden rice can be claimed to help eradicate the problem of vitamin A deficiency in the country.

National Institute of Nutrition


2.Be Cautious When Dealing With GMOs: Researcher

The Herald (Harare)
December 4, 2002

Leonard Makombe

THERE is need to be cautious when dealing with biotechnology because there are some environmental, economic and political repercussions which are not evident at the moment, a researcher with the Institute of Development Studies has said.

Dr Medicine Masiiwa of IDS, a University of Zimbabwe related institute, said the companies in the forefront of promoting biotechnology were interested parties who are set to gain from the growing of genetically modified crops.

Biotechnology is an advanced and revolutionary technology that separates and manipulates genes of animals or plants to retain a certain trait such as rapid growth or disease or pest tolerance.

There has been growing concern over the use of the resultant crops and animals for human consumption.

"The current technologies are adequate for food security for each and everyone but there is this revolutionary technology that is interfering in the natural process.

"There is more haste than caution and we need to see who are the drivers of biotechnology because some of the proponents of the technology like Monsanto are interested parties," he said.

Monsanto is one of the major proponents for the use of GMOs and it is a leader in the manufacturing and distribution of seeds and chemical related to biotechnology.

Dr Masiiwa added that there was a move, globally by some large companies to enter into strategic mergers or take-overs of smaller ones, which has resulted in a significant percentage of seed trade being controlled by very few companies.

The major companies controlling seed trade are encouraging on developing countries to use genetically modified crops.

"While these companies are encouraging farmers to use the crops, we need to know that there are some risks which come with the use of GMOs.

"They would leave the farmers with very little choice on what to grow as no research would be carried out on other crops besides the GMOs," he said.

He added that a lot of money had been poured into the development of GMOs and the participating companies were expecting to benefit.

There was also the danger of having farmers having to pay royalties to use certain types of crops in the long run.

Dr Masiiwa said the current seed shortage in the country had to be looked at in a global context.

"Farmers were encouraged to use hybrid seeds and with time these have become quite expensive and not many farmers can now afford to buy them.

"There is also a shortage of seeds for some reasons and the same can happen with genetically modified crops if we are not careful," he added.

The current seed shortage has seen farmers in other parts of the countries opting to use open pollinated seeds which are less expensive.

He said while biotechnology had its own merits, it was not the panacea to the food problems in many parts of the world.

There is a paradoxical situation where there is continued food shortages across the globe despite the rapid developments in biotechnology.

The debate on the adoption of GMOs gained momentum following the drought that hit the Southern African region last season. There are fears that the local farmers would lose a number of markets if they adopted the technology on commercial basis.

The use of GMOs on commercial basis was only introduced six years ago. While some of the western countries have adopted the technology, the European Union, where some of the markets are, does not promote the use of GMOs.


3. GMOs a health hazard-report

The Times of Zambia

GENETICALLY modified organisms (GMOs) can cause resistance to anti-biotics and compromise immunity in people with poor health status, a report by Zambian scientists has said.

The report also says GM maize can have a negative effect on local organic varieties and that all the Western countries visited by the scientists confirmed that GMOs were a health hazard.

'The team can confirm that health-related concerns in the consumption of GM foods could be harmful in the following areas: new food toxins, new allergens and anti-biotic resistance,' it said.

full text:


4. First petition to restrict GE food imports filed in Pakistan

Date Posted: 12/5/2002

ISLAMABAD - Inter Press Service via NewsEdge Corporation : In the first ever case of the sort in Pakistan's legal history, food rights groups have sought a court order to stay the import and sale of genetically engineered (GE) food in the country -- soybeans from the United States.

In a petition before the Lahore High Court, the highest court in the Punjab province, the rights groups -- the Islamabad-based the Network for Consumer Protection and the Sungi Development Foundation -- maintain that the imported soybeans may have hazardous affects on human health and the environment.

Most soybean in the country is consumed in the form of poultry feed, purchased by the manufacturing industries -- indirectly making the product part of people's diet.

Food rights groups are pleading with the court to impose a moratorium on the import and sale of all GE seeds and foods, until the government formally establishes a regulatory framework to independently ascertain the safety aspects of such products.

Although a signatory to the Bio-safety Protocol, Pakistan has not yet finalized its bio-safety guidelines, which are in a draft form shuttling from one department to another for consultations.

These guidelines will put in place legal requirements with regards to the safety, transport and handling of locally developed and imported genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Currently, there is no law in the country that bans the import of GE products, though the country's 1961 Food Act requires exporters to label their products with a list of the ingredients.

However, legal experts maintain that the requirement cannot be stretched to include the labelling of GE foods, as genetic modification of a product ingredient does not necessarily create a new ingredient requiring labelling.

"To deal with this new range of food products, the country, on the one hand, requires a regulatory framework with regard to their safety aspects, and on the other, a law binding exporters to declare whether their products are genetically engineered," said intellectual property rights lawyer Hafiz Abdul Aziz.

"This would enable people to exercise their consumer rights to choose between GE food and naturally produced ones," said Aziz, who teaches at the Islamabad-based International Islamic University.

The two food rights groups petitioned the court after the state- run Trading Corp of Pakistan (TCP) placed an advertisement on Nov. 11 to auction 6,000 metric tonnes of soybean oil.

Although the court -- which took up the petition on the same day as the auction on Nov. 19 -- did not stay the auction, it admitted the petition for hearing on the grounds that the matter concerns public health and safety, and issued notices to the government to respond. The court set a hearing date for Dec. 12.

The lawyers of the food rights groups say the premise of the petition remains the same despite the court's decision, as more such consignments of soybean oil and meal are to be imported and sold in the country.

"This case is in fact an assertion of demand by people's groups for laws and regulations that could ensure that people are safe from hazardous food products in his day of technological advancement," said Nadir Altaf, one of the lawyers representing the two food rights groups in court.

Pakistan is importing the soybean as part of a $467 million refund that Islamabad paid in advance to the United States in the late eighties for the purchase of 28 F-16 fighter aircraft.

The aircraft deal did not materialize after Washington slapped economic and military sanctions against Pakistan in the early nineties for secretly manufacturing nuclear weapons.

While successive Pakistani governments since then had been fighting the case for refund with the American authorities, it was only in 1998 that the United States agreed to pay back $327 million in cash, while the rest was to be returned in "undefined" goods and benefits.

Against part of the remaining payment, the United States provided wheat in September 1999 when Pakistan was facing shortages of the staple, leaving $80 million outstanding.

It was the military government that decided to procure soybean oil and meal to adjust the remaining amount. The two governments struck the agreement in September 2000, under which Washington agreed to provide 245,000 tonnes of soybean meal and 30,000 tonnes of soybean oil to Islamabad.

The first consignment of the 12,500 tonnes of oil was delivered last year, but the post-Sept. 11, 2001 events kept the arrival of the shipment and its subsequent auction by the TCP at a relatively low profile.

In November 2001 after Pakistan gave overwhelming support to the United states in its 'war against terrorism', Washington decided to give $30 million to Islamabad in soybean under Section 416(b) of the United States Agricultural Act of 1949, and an agreement was signed accordingly.

American officials in Pakistan say this section empowers their government to run a "Food for Progress" program, under which developing countries are provided with surplus commodities as donations.

The amount to be collected through sales under the program "will be used to fund rural development and poverty alleviation programs", said a spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce.

However, officials of the ministry say that the agreement between the two only mentions the product and not how it was produced. Food rights groups, quoting statistics by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, say that by June 2002, 75 percent of all soybean planted in the United States was of a biotechnological variety.

Altaf, one of the lawyers for the rights groups, said: "It is for the government to prove the soybean coming to Pakistan is not genetically engineered."



5.Trade in genetically modified crops big challenge under WTO

The Economic Times, India
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 04, 2002 05:57:17 PM

NEW DELHI: With agricultural markets being among the most distorted, evolving policies regarding trade in genetically modified crops within the WTO framework is a major challenge for the developing countries, SP Gupta, member, Planning Commission, said on Wednesday.

"There has been a proliferation of environmental and health related requirements relating to agricultural products. The evolving policies regarding trade in GMOs within WTO framework is a major challenge for developing countries," he said addressing a regional conference on globalisation and agriculture here.

Stating that promised market access to developing countries had proved elusive, Gupta said, "Developed countries should demonstrate their commitment to the multilateral trading system by delivering what was already promised rather than keeping on asking for further concessions from the poorer countries."

OECD countries had in 2001 subsidised their agricultural sector to the tune of $311 billion accounting for 31 per cent of the gross value of agricultural output, he said, adding the support among QUAD countries (US, Canada, EU and Japan) was similarly considerably higher in 2001 than in 1997.

Agriculture and fishery exports of south Asian countries have been facing serious problems as the flexibility provided under the Sanitary and Phytosanitary and Technical Barriers of the trade agreement of the WTO has been exploited to impose higher norms justified on very minute risk assessments, he said.

"The agricultural trade liberalisation as agreed under the Uruguay round has been determined by the developed countries through dirty tariffication," Gupta said, adding, negotiations at the WTO were expected to be tough on account of the impact of the agricultural sector on employment.

"The EU is keen to sustain its employment in agriculture while in India the growth in employment in the agricultural sector has been close to nil in the last few years," he said.

Speaking on the occasion, Ashok Gulati from the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said it was important for developing countries including India to put their own house in order.

"While the distortions by the OECD countries in agriculture are large, developing countries also need to put their own house in order. Merely blaming the developed countries will not yield results," he said, adding, there was a need for the south Asian countries to align themselves and exchange information.

He said the IFPRI had initiated a study on the trade negotiations and the distortions in trade in 30 developing countries of which India was a major player. "The study will explore the possibility of setting up a third front at the WTO negotiations."

Saman Kelegama of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka emphasised that the lifting of quantitative restrictions and binding of tariffs at lower levels under the WTO agreements had led to severe erosion of the production base in agriculture in Sri Lanka.

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