Millions Spent, No One Served: Who Is to Blame for the Failure of GMO Golden Rice?
The recent Nobel laureates’ letter accusing Greenpeace of a “crime against humanity” for opposing genetically modified (GMO) golden rice reveals a deep division not only between civil societies and some science circles but also within the science community – a division in the visions for our common future and which path to take for our joint development. A division we see growing and escalating. A strong indication of this division is that among the Nobel laureate signatories, there seems to be hardly anybody with a solid scientific track record in agriculture, food production, development, or the socio-ecological and political causes of poverty and hunger. Others with notable competence – at least in the economic and social domains of development, poverty, and hunger – are not among the signatories. Signs of escalation also include the emotional, accusing language in the letter and the ample use of scientifically unsubstantiated claims. What is missing in the letter and among the supporters and developers of GMOs is the recognition and scientific analysis of some tough facts.
Fact no. 1: Still no functioning vitamin A rice despite unlimited resources
No functioning vitamin A rice has been produced in over 20 years of research. This is despite full support at every level: financial, institutional, political, and corporate. By ‘functioning’, we mean farmer’s rice varieties that reliably and stably express sufficient amounts of beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A, the precursor of Vitamin A) over many generations of seed saving. These seeds must continuously express beta-carotene at a level that has been documented to be efficiently convertible to Vitamin A in mammals and, most importantly, can (statistically) significantly relieve the symptoms of Vitamin A deficiency in hungry people. None of this is scientifically trivial but that’s what has been promised.
The first golden rice, GR1, was unsuccessful and is long gone. Golden rice 2 (GR2) is a patented pro-vitamin A GM rice developed from scratch by the multinational biotech firm Syngenta and still in the field trial stage at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) at least one decade after it’s creation.
The vast majority of scientists in the world will never see such comprehensively generous support for their research – yet they still deliver, and must deliver if they ever want to renew funding for their research. This is more than can be said for the golden rice project.
Fact no. 2: Lack of recognition of real reasons for failure to deliver
A quick evidence check is sufficient to reveal the simple reason why golden rice is not in farmer’s fields: it is still not ready because it is not performing agronomically. Furthermore, it is far from being medically documented to relieve symptoms of Vitamin A deficiency. Neither Greenpeace nor the destruction of a test plot in the Philippines by local activists can be held responsible for this lack of scientific achievement.
Fact no. 3: Questionable conceptual underpinning
Leaving aside its scientific aspects, the very concept of golden rice – and all other similar conceptual approaches as solutions to malnourishment – remain doomed from the start as similar approaches have failed repeatedly. The problem lies in the underlying reductionist (disembedded) approach. Combating hunger and malnutrition one vitamin and mineral at a time is a failed ideology, no matter which vitamin or mineral one starts with and which kind of delivery system one chooses. Malnourished people do not suffer from single-vitamin-deficiencies added up. They suffer from hunger, as in ‘lack of food’. This is compounded by poverty and a myriad of contributing factors working simultaneously together. That means they lack regular access to real foods containing the necessary variety of ALL essential nutrients, which, in conjunction, make up a healthy diet.
These contributing factors differ according to culture, place and time. There exists a huge amount of research and analyses to read for anybody who cares about the real causes of hunger and the real solutions (we list some old and new references at the end – or just check out the United Nations World Food Program website. For the golden rice project, we recommend for starters, the recent analysis by Stone and Glover who locate its failure in its ‘disembeddedness’ and ‘placelessness’.
Consequently, hunger and malnutrition with its complex, ‘place-based’ causes cannot be battled by a uniform, de-contextualized and placeless one-vitamin-at-a-time approach which is what GMO golden rice has to offer.
This reductionistic approach to hunger is matched by similar reductionism in the genetic engineering world where organisms are viewed as the sum of their genes and proteins. Genes are added one at a time as blueprint construction instructions for lego-like products and many more projects of this kind are underway, e.g. vitamin A banana and cassava, or iron-fortified cassava, or whatever lies within their technical reach. Stone and Glover describe this as “a preoccupation with the molecular scale” that “favors a form of reductionist thinking that conceives of traits of interest as being governed primarily by genetics rather than through interactions with the environment or management” (Stone and Glover 2016).
Supplying vitamin A or any other nutrient in isolation only works for a transitional period of time, curing a symptom at best, while work progresses on the underlying place-based causes of hunger – lack of access to food, money, education and secure living conditions. Under those circumstances, as in parts of the Philippines, cheap vitamin A pills do the job much better, in a more targeted, controlled, and effective way than any patented GM crop could ever do.
Fact no. 4: A missing roll-out plan
But even if the golden rice researchers do eventually manage to get some GM pro-Vitamin A rice varieties to perform agronomically, there seems to be no roll-out plan to ensure that it gets to those who need it. Those reasons have nothing to do with regulations and everything to do with logistics, institutions and finances.
Will the golden rice developers truck their harvest into the urban slums and remote rural areas of Asia or Africa, or at least the Philippines, every day? Will they bring with them also the fat that malnourished people need to eat along with the rice to ensure they absorb the beta-carotene and convert it to vitamin A? And if they can do that, why aren’t they bringing existing foods into those areas already? Why wait until a patented GM food is ready for delivery? There is no shortage of vitamin-rich foods on this planet and beta-carotene is one of the commonest molecules in nature.
Frequently, vitamin A-rich food exists in abundance and rots in storage or under trees not that far away from the places where people suffer from malnutrition. An alternative already in the field is, for example, a non-GMO orange sweet potato, a root crop compatible with improved crop rotations whose developers have been awarded the 2016 World Food Prize. Without a massive and expensive roll-out plan, golden rice will not even leave the field station of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which is overseeing the golden rice project.
If their plan is to cross the pro-vitamin A trait into the rice varieties that farmers grow in hunger-stricken areas, they face an uphill logistic, financial, scientific and institutional battle. How will they get the transgenic trait reliably expressed in all of these varieties at the necessary concentrations over many generations of rice plantings and seed recycling? Who will pay for this epic endeavour?
If they decide instead to only put the pro-vitamin A trait into a handful of, say, IRRI rice varieties (which we believe is the most likely plan – if there is a plan in the first place), many will fail because they will not perform in different local conditions and they typically require fertilizers and pesticides. If the plan is to switch farmers to growing a handful of patented biofortified varieties all over Asia and Africa, how will this be implemented? Who will deliver the seeds and accompanying chemicals to farmers – year after year, everywhere where it’s needed, for free? And is this a sustainable solution?
And what will happen to the thousands of existing ecologically and culturally well adapted varieties? The genetic diversity of crops and animals is our life-support system.
Furthermore, have they asked the rice producers and consumers of Asia and Africa if they want many of their rice varieties to be yellow forever – even in times when the food shortages and nutrition deficiencies are over?
Unresolved patent and ownership issues
According to the website www.goldenrice.org., a resource-poor farmer will be allowed to grow golden rice without license fees as long as his/her income is less than $10,000 per year. But, in practice, who decides which farmers are eligible? Who decides which income limit is appropriate in what country or region, and who enforces it on what authority and criteria? What about those farmers whose incomes exceed $10,000 per year? Who will decide when to collect fees, from whom, and for how long? How will the finances be arranged between Syngenta, which owns GR2, the seed multipliers and distributors, and the government? And if all this can be settled with Syngenta – how about the next-in-line patented, biofortified GM crops? In case of dispute, will there be free access to lawyers for the resource-poor farmers?
In their weekly column Schaffer and Ray (2016) reported about a meeting with an employee of the US State Department and discussing the benefits of GM crops for farmers and consumers in the Global South and whether or not farmers would have to pay a technology fee and purchase, for example, the golden rice seed each year. The State Department representative stated that the companies that own the patents would be willing to make the golden rice (or virus-resistant cassava) available at no cost provided that the countries adopted US patent regimes to protect other GM crops. From a policy perspective, such a ‘humanitarian’ license agreement would thereby present a highly profitable transaction, a means to ‘encourage’ developing countries that often do not even have patent laws of their own to accept the US patent regime and so ensure the profits of US companies and patent holders in perpetuity. In corporate agriculture it seems, nothing is really for free.
These are just a few of the tough questions that have never been addressed or even acknowledged by promoters of golden rice or any other such projects. Shooting genes into nuclei and getting a few varieties to express a transgene is the easy part – although even that has proved elusive so far for GR2.
Fact 5: Colonial mindset
Blaming Greenpeace for the failure of not only golden rice but other patented products of genetic engineering has been an irrational (or maybe calculated) obsession of some proponents and developers since the discussion began decades ago. Yet, it also reveals more subtle issues. Farmers and indigenous people are outraged when gene technology proponents accuse them of being instructed or manipulated by big Western NGOs like Greenpeace. They say that promoters of golden rice and other techno-solutions offered by developed countries rarely ask for or listen to their views and, thereby, reveal their lack of respect and comprehension.
This attitude towards peasant farmers and indigenous peoples is typical of the still prevailing colonial, Western mindset – hidden or open. It assumes that the peasant farmers are ignorant people without the relevant knowledge entitling them to make informed decisions based on their own values and visions for their future. Sadly, the letter signed by Nobel laureates appears to be a continuation of this way of thinking. It reveals an attitude of supremacy over, and disrespect for, traditional and indigenous knowledge and peoples who want to have a say in their lives and communities and which path to take to ‘development’.
Take-home message: Hungry (and poor) people deserve better. And Nobel laureates can do better!
Dr Angelika Hilbeck is Chair, European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER). She is a researcher and lecturer on biosafety and agroecology at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ) who has worked closely with farmers and civil societies in many developing countries for more than two decades, including the Philippines, the country targeted for the rollout of GM golden rice. She is a member of the Board of Directors of ‘Bread for All’. She was a lead author of the International Assessment of Agricultural Sciences, Knowledge and Technology for Development (IAASTD)
Dr. Hans R Herren, Agronomist/Entomologist (ETHZ) who worked in agricultural research and development for 27 years in Africa. Member of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, President and Founder Biovision Foundation for Ecological Development www.biovision.ch, president and CEO www.Millennium-Institute.org.
Laureate: Sustainability Prize, Germany 2016, Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize 2013; One World Award 2010; World Food Prize 1995; Kilby Award 1995; Brandenberger Prize 2002; Tyler Prize 2003.
Foreign Associate of the US Academy of Sciences 1999; Member of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) 2005
Co-Chair International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), Member CGIAR Science Council (2005-2010)
 “On 13 August 2013, after farmers had got nowhere in their arguments with the Philippine government, they uprooted an experimental field of Golden Rice in Pili, Camarines Sur, where trials were taking place. By taking this action, they sent a clear signal that they would not tolerate the advance of GMOs. However, the Filipino farmers were outraged when the media, accusing them of ‘vandalism’, made it appear that the uprooting had been orchestrated by international NGOs which had supposedly made use of the farmers to uproot the rice. Farmers explained that it was their decision to turn to civil disobedience to defend rice, a crop that is central to their diet, their livelihood and their culture. While the funders and supporters of Golden Rice carry on with their goal of commercialising the crop in the Philippines, Indonesia and Bangladesh in the near future, Filipino farmers continue to mobilise and protest, vowing that they will go on opposing the advance of GMOs.”
No comments yet.
or go to
From the Archives
By James F. Tracy | Global Research | January 31, 2014
… Among the most vociferous agitators for the IPCC’s climate change orthodoxy are the foundation-funded, tax-exempt, progressive-left media that sit alongside the bevy of similarly tax-exempt, foundation-funded environmental organizations that together uphold and publicize the theory of CO2-based anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change (ACC). Self-professed as “independent,” “investigative,” even “educational,” the so-called “alternative media” turn a blind eye to seriously scrutinizing the highly questionable IPCC’s “scientific” review of the climatological literature and its implications for the array of ambitious programs and policies stealthily introduced throughout the industrialized world, many of which are seldom subject to popular plebiscite. Think “smart grid” and “smart growth.”
Logical questions from such apparently independent organs might include, “How does the IPCC produce its findings?” and “Who benefits?” Instead, there is an almost knee-jerk response on behalf of progressive-left editors and readerships to trust and support the UN group’s purportedly objective and meticulous review of the peer-reviewed climatological literature. … Read full article
Aletho News Original Content
By Aletho News | January 9, 2012
This article will examine some of the connections between the US and UK National Security apparatus and the appearance of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory beginning after the accident at Three Mile Island. … continue
Also by Aletho News:
March 8, 2011
February 25, 2010
February 7, 2010
December 26, 2009
December 4, 2009
May 9, 2009
Visits Since December 2009
- 2,812,683 hits
Follow Aletho News on TwitterMy Tweets
Brian Concannon on German Government ‘Has a… traducteur on US Public Discourse Slipping F… Anthony Clifton on CIA Tries to ‘Edit the P… Anthony Clifton on US Public Discourse Slipping F… Michael\\ on Climate Science: Is it Current… Brian Harry, Austral… on Will TPP End Up Dead Without t… roberthstiver on Trump’s Foreign Policy: An Unw… Unpogo on Karl Rove’s Prophecy Brian Harry, Austral… on US drone strikes in Yemen, abs… lolathecur on Trump has Opportunity to End O… Richard Gonzalez on Trump has Opportunity to End O… Greg Bacon on CIA Tries to ‘Edit the P… Brian Harry, Austral… on CIA Documents Confirm Yom Kipp… Bill MItchell on Kerry won’t apologize for Hiro… Dave Colonel on Economist can’t handle the fac…
- German Government ‘Has a Problem With Critically-Minded Citizens’ January 24, 2017
- US Public Discourse Slipping Further from Reality January 23, 2017
- Ukraine Leader’s Remarks on Minsk Pact Contradictory – Lavrov January 23, 2017
- The Last Days of Obama: Napoleonic Maneuvers at the Security Council January 23, 2017
- Theresa May must explain Trident malfunction ‘cover up,’ say opponents January 23, 2017
- Karl Rove’s Prophecy January 23, 2017
- Will TPP End Up Dead Without the US? January 23, 2017
- Trump’s Foreign Policy: An Unwise Inconsistency? January 23, 2017
- #StopCETA: Thousands protest EU-Canada trade deal in demos across Europe January 22, 2017
- Some 1,000 People Participated in Anti-NATO Protest in Northeastern Italy January 22, 2017
- Belgrade Breathes Easier As Trump’s Win Marks End to Clinton-Era Interventionism January 22, 2017
- US drone strikes in Yemen, absolutely atrocious: Analyst January 22, 2017
- Trump has Opportunity to End Obama/Clinton Weapons Sales to Anti-Woman Tyrants January 22, 2017
- Mainstream British Press Propaganda Ramps Up Dangerous War Rhetoric January 22, 2017
- Nuclear cover-up: Failure of Trident ballistic missile test near US coast – report January 22, 2017
- France’s Self-Inflicted Refugee Crisis January 22, 2017
- CIA Tries to ‘Edit the Past’ With Release of Declassified Documents on Internet January 21, 2017
- Economist can’t handle the facts (about RT) January 21, 2017
- Secret Government – The Constitution In Crisis (1987) January 24, 2017
- Now Donald is president: an open discussion January 22, 2017
- Pannell Beaters… January 20, 2017
- This week the issue is not Trump. It is ourselves. January 19, 2017
Looking for something?
Categories"Hope and Change" Aletho News Book Review Civil Liberties Corruption Deception Economics Environmentalism Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism False Flag Terrorism Full Spectrum Dominance Illegal Occupation Islamophobia Mainstream Media, Warmongering Militarism Nuclear Power Science and Pseudo-Science Solidarity and Activism Subjugation - Torture Supremacism, Social Darwinism Timeless or most popular Video War Crimes Wars for Israel
Tags9/11 Afghanistan Africa AIPAC al-Qaeda Argentina BBC Benjamin Netanyahu Brazil Canada Central Intelligence Agency China CIA Colombia Cuba Da’esh Donald Trump Egypt EU European Union FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation France Gaza Germany Hamas Hebron Hezbollah Hillary Clinton Honduras Human rights India International Atomic Energy Agency International Solidarity Movement Iran Iraq Iraq War ISIL ISIS Israel Israeli settlement Japan Jerusalem John Kerry Latin America Lebanon Libya Mexico Middle East Military National Security Agency NATO New York Times NSA Obama Pakistan Palestine Police Press TV Qatar Russia Sanctions against Iran Saudi Arabia Syria Turkey UK Ukraine United Nations United States USA Venezuela Washington Post West Bank Yemen Zionism
Contact:atheonews (at) gmail.com
This site is provided as a research and reference tool. Although we make every reasonable effort to ensure that the information and data provided at this site are useful, accurate, and current, we cannot guarantee that the information and data provided here will be error-free. By using this site, you assume all responsibility for and risk arising from your use of and reliance upon the contents of this site.
This site and the information available through it do not, and are not intended to constitute legal advice. Should you require legal advice, you should consult your own attorney.
Nothing within this site or linked to by this site constitutes investment advice or medical advice.
Materials accessible from or added to this site by third parties, such as comments posted, are strictly the responsibility of the third party who added such materials or made them accessible and we neither endorse nor undertake to control, monitor, edit or assume responsibility for any such third-party material.
The posting of stories, commentaries, reports, documents and links (embedded or otherwise) on this site does not in any way, shape or form, implied or otherwise, necessarily express or suggest endorsement or support of any of such posted material or parts therein.
The word "alleged" is deemed to occur before the word "fraud." Since the rule of law still applies. To peasants, at least.
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more info go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
This is information for anyone that wishes to challenge our “fair use” of copyrighted material.
If you are a legal copyright holder or a designated agent for such and you believe that content residing on or accessible through our website infringes a copyright and falls outside the boundaries of “Fair Use”, please send a notice of infringement by contacting email@example.com.
We will respond and take necessary action immediately.
If notice is given of an alleged copyright violation we will act expeditiously to remove or disable access to the material(s) in question.
All 3rd party material posted on this website is copyright the respective owners / authors. Aletho News makes no claim of copyright on such material.
Site infoAletho News
Blog at WordPress.com.