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Biotech Rice Can Benefit Developing World

TUSKEGEE, AL February 13, 2001 -- The co-developer of a new variety of rice, created to address severe Vitamin A deficiency in developing countries, came forward this week to refute claims by anti-technology activists that the product is useless. Swiss scientist Ingo Potrykus responded to erroneous and misleading claims by environmental organizations -- most recently including Greenpeace -- that have tried to discredit Golden Rice and the motives of its developers.

Golden Rice was created by Potrykus and German scientist Peter Beyer in a publicly funded research program aimed at meeting the dire nutritional needs of low-income populations in the developing world. According to the United Nations, at least a million children around the world die every year from severe vitamin A deficiency, and nearly half a million more go blind. "We want to provide rice that has enough provitamin A to have a clear beneficial effect on vitamin-A deficient people" wrote Potrykus in a public statement released this week on (www.agbioworld.org), a web-based forum on biotechnology and sustainable agriculture.

Activists have claimed that Golden Rice does not include enough provitamin-A to be beneficial. But, as Potrykus notes, their calculations are based on "luxurious recommendations, representing a 'nice to have'-supply." Nutrition experts consulted for the project agree that "the amounts required for the prevention of those severe symptoms of vitamin A deficiency are significantly lower than given by RDA-values." Potrykus added that "Experienced nutritionists tell us that [ours] is a realistic goal, as we are, possibly, already in the 20-40 percent range of the daily allowance."

Skeptics have also claimed that Golden Rice is a fantasy dreamed up by the biotechnology industry to mute criticism. Dr. Potrykus noted, however, that the research was totally funded by public sector and charitable contributions, and was never intended to boost the reputation of biotech corporations. "The Golden Rice project was started in 1990 when nobody thought that it might help improve acceptability of the technology."

Professor C.S. Prakash, director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University and president of the AgBioWorld Foundation, questioned activists' reasons for rejecting Golden Rice. "Critics condemned biotechnology as something that is purely for profit, that is being pursued only in the West, and with no benefits to the consumer. Golden Rice proves them wrong, so they need to discredit it any way they can." Prakash is joined in his support for this and other advanced plant breeding developments by more than 3,000 scientists, including five Nobel Prize winners, who have signed a Declaration in Support of Agricultural Biotechnology.

Scientists, including Potrykus, admit that Golden Rice will not solve the problem of malnutrition by itself. Most also support additional efforts to address the many needs of developing world farmers. Continuing research still needs to be conducted before Golden Rice can be released for widespread cultivation. "We have to be patient for a few years, until this can be verified or falsified," said Potrykus. But "we have good reasons to believe that the approach has a fair chance to be successful."

Contact Dr. Prakash: (work) 334-727-8023; prakash@agbioworld.org, (cell) 334-740-6206

Source: The AgBioWorld Foundation Web site: http://www.agbioworld.org