GE Rice

The Genetic Engineering of the World’s Leading Staple Crop

(24 pages)
December, 2007

by Ricarda A. Steinbrecher

for Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific

"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. With the advent of science and modern technology in agriculture, the arrival of uniform seeds, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, the rich diversity of rice varieties has decreased drastically. Whilst the Green Revolution opened a profitable market to chemical corporations, seeds remained largely in either the farmer's or the public's hands. With about three billion people consuming rice, profits promise to be high for any company or corporation that can acquire proprietary rights over the rice seed. Genetic engineering is an important tool towards this end as it enables companies to claim ownership over the 'new seeds' they have 'invented' giving them a legal basis to control its sale and use. The two traits used for this purpose are the same as used in corn, soya or cotton, namely herbicide tolerance and pest resistance, the latter through internal pesticide production. (i.e. through genetically engineering the plant to produce its own pesticide). Both these traits go hand in hand with large scale monoculture production, and are a further step - the so-called Gene Revolution - from the previous Green Revolution. Whilst many varieties vanished from the farmers' fields during and after the Green Revolution - many of them lost for good - the Gene Revolution will lead to a yet further decline of farmers' varieties and farmers' control over their own seeds.