GE rice

Report - December 2007

The Genetic Engineering of the World’s Leading Staple Crop

"Rice is the world's most consumed staple food grain, with half the world's people depending on it. It is harvested on about 146 million hectares, representing 10 per cent of global arable land. The yield is reported as 535 million tons per year and 91 per cent is produced by Asian farmers, especially in China and India (55 per cent of the total)."
Rice is not just a daily source of calories - it is intrinsically linked to Asian lifestyles and heritage. Present indigenous and local varieties are the product of centuries of breeding and selection by farmers to produce rice suitable to their environment and needs.

Article - February 2005

Daoreung Pheudphon explains why GM crops are a threat to farmers and won’t feed the world

Summary of points:

  • History of rice farming and the introduction of modern technologies.
  • Impact of the green revolution and its agro-chemicals on traditional farming, bio-diversity and culture
  • What farmers are doing to revert to sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty
  • Farmers fear to loose their rights to save and improve their own seed
  • Farmers export chemically produced crops but avoid eating it themselves
  • Message to Europe and UK – GM crops won’t solve the hunger problem. Farmers do not want GM seeds.
Briefing - October 2003

‘Golden Rice’ first caught the headlines in 2000. Genetically engineered with 3 genes from daffodils and bacteria, this GM rice has been designed to produce pro-vitamin A. Claimed by GM proponents and biotech industry as the answer to vitamin A deficiency (VAD), others see it as a diversion from relatively low-cost, but effective, initiatives, which can help people to achieve a better diet almost immediately. Furthermore, the experience of Southern farmers is that intensive rice production with the use of high chemical inputs ended their integrated farming systems. Such systems included other food sources such as fish, snails, water fowl and green leafy vegetables to provide a wide range of essential nutrients including (pro)vitamin A. ‘Golden Rice’ has still not been tested for environmental or food safety nor assessed for socio-economic impacts.

Introduction

From the Green Revolution ...

Rice is the world's leading staple food crop depended upon by half of the world’s people. Over centuries, Asian farmers bred and selected hundreds of thousands of local varieties, land races and cultivars that are adapted to specific environments and farming systems. Among others, this lead to varieties with tolerance to drought, flooding, salt, pests and diseases, as well as to different characteristics and flavours, textures, nutritional values and cooking qualities.
However the Green Revolution brought major change. Research funded by industrialized countries and companies focused solely on the rice plant to improve grain yields, and ignored other factors of the integrated farming systems in which rice is grown such as paddy aquaculture. By focussing on grain yields only the yield of the whole plant (including straw) and the overall yield from the system of land-use such as fish and other animals in the waters, edible weeds or increased soil fertilitywere left beyond consideration. .
Emphasis was given to ‘seed improvement’ leading to the development of varieties responsive to and dependent on high chemical inputs for increased yields. This approach required monoculture production systems with little room versatile planting and support systems. This approach also led to high levels of pests, necessitating increased use of pesticides, which further impacts ecological balances and support systems.

... to Golden Rice

Today's GE rice research still persists in pursuing the same goals, threatening farmers and food security as the Thai farmer Daoreung Pheudphon explains in an interview with EcoNexus.
The best-known GE rice is probably the so-called Golden Rice, rice that has been modified to contain pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene). After more then a decade of initial research resulted in a crop that yielded very small levels of pro-vitamin A, alterations were made to the GE design. Some improvements have been announced and the web of patents surrounding its development have been somewhat reduced. The creation of the GE rice with increased pro-vitamin A levels was first announced in January 2000 in an article in Science. Yet a decade later there is still wide criticism of the GE approach to Vitamin A deficiency when so many alternatives are readily available. Health concerns regarding appropriate (minimum and maximum) amounts as well as concerns about the role of patents in agricultural research are also still valid.

April 2011