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Golden Rice Myths by Dr. Michael Hansen

For Related Articles and More Information, Please Visit OCA's Genetic Engineering Page, Millions Against Monsanto Page and our Dangers of Golden Rice Page.

There has been a lot of misinformation and just plain propaganda about Golden Rice (GR) put out recently. It is stunning that so many are talking about this topic without even a basic understanding of the real issues. Bottom line, there are clear unanswered questions on basic efficacy and safety of GR.

Here are some of the basic issues. First, both GR 1 and GR 2 (released in 2005) are Japonica rices. For those that don't know, there are basically two subspecies of Oryza sativa - the sticky, short-grained Japonica, and the non-sticky long-grained Indica. It's the Indica varieties that are grown submerged in paddies, while the Japonica is a dryland rice. The bottom line is that in the areas where people are starving/have Vit A deficiency - India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Philippines - the vast majority of the population eats Indica rices, not Japonica. As pointed out in the 2008 article in Science, "there's a long way to go. . . Both the original Golden Rice, now called GR1, and GR2 were created with Japonica cultivars that are the scientist's favorites but fare poorly in Asian fields. Researchers are now backcrossing seven GR1 and GR2 lines with the long-grained, nonsticky Indica varieties popular among Asia's farmers" (see: http://fbae.org/2009/FBAE/website/news_tough-lessons-from-golden-rice.html).

The reason that GR1 and GR2 are Japonica, is that it was more difficult to successfully engineer Indica varieties. IRRI knows this and so was trying to cross the GR2 with local, popular Indica varieties. IRRI had even stated that they would start field testing GR 8 Indica varieties in 2008 in Philippines, India, and Bangladesh. I was in Bangladesh in summer of 2009 and talked to the IRRI scientists there and they had not even seen a GR Indica variety. They told me they were promised seeds for a while, but still had seen nothing.

In the Philippines, the testing of a GR Indica variety began in October 2010; I believe it is a cross between GR2 and IR-64 (a popular Indica variety). At a 2011 hearing of in the Philippines Parliament, I testified and challenged the head of PhilRice GR project to present any data on the β-carotene levels in the GR Indica varieties, but the only data were from GR2. Also, Dr. Gerard Barry, head of IIRI's Golden Rice Project leader, who came to IRRI in 2003 after having worked for Monsanto for 20 years (1983-2003), was in the room but didn't say much.

I was in Bangladesh August 2012 and visited BARI (Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute). They did have GR2 Indica plants but they were in the greenhouse and no field trials had started. I was also in Vietnam around the same time and they too had GR2 Indica plants in the lab, but no field test.

So, there are no data on the B-carotene levels in GR Indica varieties, which is what the poor in South Asia actually eat.      


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