India trials GM rice… good for them

Around two billon people depend on rice for the bulk of their energy, so when floods washed away 133,000 tonnes of Bangladeshi rice many went hungry. But there is hope in the form of a new genetically modified rice, Swarna Submergence 1, which can survive the floods that regularly devastate that country and help ensure it remains one of the world’s poorest.

There may, of course, be downsides to GM rice that have yet to be discovered so the world is right to be cautious. Greenpeace is heavily promoting a contamination incident it reckons cost $1.2 billion in the hope of dissuading India from trialing GM rice. That incident shouldn’t have happened, but there’s no evidence of any harm to the environment. Reading between the lines, that $1.2 billion is the price the industry pays for Greenpeace, and others, successful branding of GM as ‘Frankenstein Food’ to ensure consumers in developed nations can be expected to reject it.

If nobody trials the rice, we’ll never know if it’s safe. But protestors won’t let trials go ahead in developed countries where nobody goes hungry and almost everyone has access to a 24 hour supermarket selling rice for a tiny proportion of their income.

A GM food tested in the UK would need to satisfy seven scientific committees and four government departments before it could into production. If I were a Bangladeshi rice farmer (and two third of that country’s population are in that line of work) I’d be looking to my government to cut through some of that red tape without a thought for Dr Frankenstein… let’s hope the Indians do things properly and develop foods that can safely feed the world.

2 thoughts on “India trials GM rice… good for them

  1. Hi Stephen
    you have it all wrong! Field trials of genetically engineered rice in India are controlled and run by Monsanto (and their partner Mahyco). No results will ever be made public except what regulators require. If you look at what regulators require – it’s not very much. Here in Australia they don’t require feeding studies. They can rely exclusively on data provided by the company…take a look at this recommendation from the Australian authorities to allow import of Bayer’s rice…You won’t find much peer reviewed science in here.

    A last note – there are approximately 140,000 varieties of rice developed by farmers over thousands of years…Commercial cultivation uses less than a dozen…Many of those rice varieties contain traits that are extremely valuable – elevated vitamin A, indundation resistance, drought resistance, pest resistance – and it is finding those traits and breeding them into plants through non-gm biotechnology that is far more promising than gm – which is neither precise nor predictable. By the way, there may well be environmental damage in the US as a result of contamination – but no one, certainly not US regulators, is looking. cheers
    Jeremy

  2. The page Jeremy links to offers two reports from Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ, the statutory regulator for those countries) on herbicide tolerant rice to be grown in the USA by Bayer.

    The first initial assessment report seeks to clarify the regulatory position. It is an assessment of Bayer’s proposal, inevitably based on information supplied by them. But public submissions were invited and inform the second report.

    The initial assessment simply concludes that the Australia New Zealand Food Code would need to be amended before the rice could be imported and recommends that a pre-market safety assessment take place.

    The second is a draft assessment report, upon which public submissions are invited. Here we learn that FSANZ, not Bayer as Jeremy claims, has conducted a ‘comprehensive safety assessment’ and found no cause for concern. It also details feeding studies that Jeremy claims do not take place.

    There is a summary of objections received in response to the initial assessment report. Objectors called for unspecified safety checks. FSANZ claims it has subsequently delivered a ‘comprehensive safety assessment’ and the public has an opportunity to respond to that claim.

    More tellingly, objectors argue GM rice has been rejected by the market. But this rejection is the result of scaremongering campaigns like those mounted by Greenpeace, rather than any science.

    So there is nothing about the reports Jeremy links to that supports his position and much to undermine it.

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