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Date:

February 9, 2001

Subject:

Potrykus Responds to Greenpeace Criticism of 'Golden Rice'

 

Following is the statement from Prof. Ingo Potrykus
, creator of the 'Golden Rice' in response to
Greenpeace's Internet release "GENETICALLY ENGINEERED 'GOLDEN RICE' IS
FOOL'S GOLD" from 9 February 2001 (see below for that text).

- Prakash

---------
From: Ingo Potrykus

I had the privilege of participating (with delay) in the Greenpeace press
conference at the BioVISION conference at Lyon and my response includes
also my conclusions from that public discussion with Benedict Haerlin
(Genetic Engineering Coordinator, Greenpeace International) and
Bruno Rebelle (Executive Director, Greenpeace France).

I am happy to acknowledge, that Greenpeace is arguing on a rational basis.
I certainly prefer this to the spreading of rumors such as "that people,
eating Golden Rice, will lose their hair and sexual potency".

I also acknowledge, that Greenpeace has identified a weak point in the
strategy of using Golden Rice for reducing vitamin A-deficiency. I am
glad, that even Greenpeace realizes, that this is the only argument left,
because all the other standard arguments are, probably, no longer valid.
We will know for sure of course only, when all the standard biosafety
assessments have been performed. These assessments can, however, only be
done in connection with field release experiments and I am, therefore,
happy, that Greenpeace stated, that they will not interfere with field
release and proper testing, and I understood, that also Greenpeace does
not see any immediate environmental risk, which would justify to prevent
field testing or to destroy test fields of Golden Rice.

I also acknowledge, that Greenpeace accepts a moral responsibility in
context with the Golden Rice strategy, and that its major concern is with
the proper handling and the effectiveness of the approach. And Greenpeace
wants to be assured, that alternative, traditional interventions are not
competed but rather complemented. I confirmed at the above mentioned press
conference (and I repeat it here), that my views are identical to those of
Greenpeace in this respect, and that I share Greenpeace's disgrace about
the heavy PR campaign of some agbiotech companies using results from our
experiments, which were exclusively done within public research
institutions, and using exclusively public funding. I stressed, however,
also, that I am grateful to all those companies, which donated free
licenses of IPR's and TPR's to allow for the humanitarian use of Golden
Rice in developing countries.

Now to the questions (raised in the Internet release), how much rice
people would have to eat, and whether traditional interventions are
effective enough (and the Golden Rice approach, therefore, useless). For
the first question we need far more data, than we have to date. Let me,
therefore, first answer the second question: all statistical data
available demonstrate, that traditional interventions leave us every year
with 500 000 blind children and millions of death caused by vitamin
A-deficiency. This would probably not change too much with an even larger
financial commitment, because many of those, suffering from the deficiency
can not be reached by the interventions. IFPRI, the International Food
Policy Research Institute considers curing of the deficiency by improving
the content in the missing micronutrients of the basic staple foods the
most sustainable approach. Therefore: we need complementation and the
Golden Rice approach is, obviously, the right one, especially because it
is not restricted to rice, but will also be applied to wheat, cassava,
sweet potato, banana, and further basic food security crops. It also
includes already measures against iron deficiency, and hopefully soon,
also against deficiencies in essential amino acids.

How effective is Golden Rice? We will know a correct answer only after
having data from 1) the varieties bred by the plant breeders, 2) from
bioavailability studies, 3) from nutritional studies with vitamin
A-deficient people (the calculations of Greenpeace, using "daily
allowance" values from healthy people and the concentration of provitamin
A in the first experimental prototype, give not more than vague
indications).

The calculations of Greenpeace are based on RDA-values, which, as
nutritionists say, are to some extent luxurious recommendations,
representing a "nice to have"-supply, which also considers the multiple
effects of vitamin A and especially of provitamin A. The latter, besides
being a provitamin, has one additional effect per se, which is to act as a
free radical scavenger, thus preventing typical diseases in developed
countries, such as diseases of the cardio-vascular system and some sorts
of cancer. There is consent, that the amounts required in the prevention
of those severe symptoms of vitamin A deficiency we are facing in
developing countries are significantly lower than given by RDA-values.
However, due to the lack of adequate studies, there are evidently no
reliable data currently available about those doses and this will be
subject of further investigations.

We want to provide rice, which has enough provitamin A, that it has a
clear beneficial effect on vitamin A-deficient people - not 100% of the
"daily allowance". Experienced nutritionalists tell us that this is a
realistic goal with our approach, as we are, possibly, already in the
20-40% range of the daily allowance. (Using the Greenpeace argument for
100% would mean people would have to eat between 5-2.5 times 300 g of
rice, which is 0.75 to 1.5 kg, not 9. Of course, our goal is to have an
effect with 300 g).

Data to answer all these questions can now be produced, because we finally
have solved the IPR/TPR problems which prevented, so far, handing out of
Golden Rice seeds for field experiments. We are, of course, also working
on an increase in provitamin A concentration, and there are several
possibilities we are testing.

We have good reasons to believe, that the approach has a fair chance to be
successful. We have to be patient for a few years, until this can be
verified or falsified. In our collaboration with India all starts with a
careful needs assessment, in which the pros and cons of Golden Rice are
compared and related to all other possible interventions, in numerous
different social and economic environments, and throughout the country.
The decision, whether or not Golden Rice will be developed in India, will
depend upon the outcome of this study. I would consider this a very
responsible exploitation of a promising technology, and I could imagine,
that even Greenpeace should be able to support that.

Scientists are frequently reminded to take over responsibilities for their
work. It is my believe that with the structures and collaborations being
now in place we have done all that is possible to ensure the safe and
cost-free introduction of Golden Rice to the benefit of people who most
urgently need it. In this context I also appreciate very much that
Greenpeace seems to be willing now to take over similar responsibilities
for their actions as well. This has not been evident in the past in the
case of Golden Rice.

------
Prof. Dr. Ingo Potrykus
Im Stigler, 54 CH-4312 Magden, Switzerland

******************************

Statement from Greenpeace

http://www.greenpeace.org

GENETICALLY ENGINEERED 'GOLDEN RICE' IS FOOL'S GOLD 9 February 2001

Manila/Amsterdam: Genetically engineered "Golden Rice" containing
provitamin A will not solve the problem of malnutrition in developing
countries according to Greenpeace. The Genetic Engineering (GE) industry
claims vitamin A rice could save thousands of children from blindness and
millions of malnourished people from vitamin A deficiency (VAD) related
diseases. But a simple calculation based on the product developers' own
figures show an adult would have to eat at least twelve times the normal
intake of 300 grams to get the daily recommended amount of provitamin
A.(1)

Syngenta, one of the world's leading genetic engineering companies and
pesticide producers, which owns many patents on the "Golden Rice", claims
a single month of marketing delay of "Golden Rice" would cause 50.000
children to go blind.(2)

Greenpeace calculations show however, that an adult would have to eat at
least 3.7 kilos of dry weight rice, i.e. around 9 kilos of cooked rice, to
satisfy his/her daily need of vitamin A from "Golden Rice". In other
words, a normal daily intake of 300 gram of rice would, at best, provide
8% percent of the vitamin A needed daily. A breast-feeding woman would
have to eat at least 6.3 kilos in dry weight, converting to nearly 18
kilos of cooked rice per day. (3)

"It is clear from these calculations that the GE industry is making false
promises about "Golden Rice". It is a nonsense to think anyone would or
could eat this much rice, and there is still no proof that it can provide
any significant vitamin benefits anyway," said Greenpeace Campaigner Von
Hernandez in the Philippines, where the first grains of the genetically
engineered rice had been delivered to the International Rice Research
Institute last month for breeding into local rice varieties. "This whole
project is actually based on what can only be characterised as intentional
deception. We recalculated their figures again and again, we just could
not believe serious scientists and companies would do this."

In addition, one of the main sponsors of "Golden Rice", the Rockefeller
Foundation, has told Greenpeace the GE industry has "gone too far" in its
promotion of the product. While upholding its principal support for the
project, Rockefeller Foundation President Gordon Conway, wrote to
Greenpeace: "[*] the public relations uses of Golden Rice have gone too
far. The industry's advertisements and the media in general seem to forget
that it is a research product that needs considerable further development
before it will be available to farmers and consumers."(4).

"The European markets have resoundingly rejected GE products, consumers
worldwide don't want them in their food, and the industry is desperate for
alternative markets. "Golden Rice" has been presented as a quick fix for a
global problem. It isn't, and the cash-driven propaganda about the product
is swamping attempts to enforce existing effective solutions, and carry
out further work on other sustainable, reliable methods to address the
problem," added Hernandez.

Genetically engineered rice does not address the underlying causes of
vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which are mainly poverty and lack of access to
a more diverse diet. For the short-term, measures such as supplementation
(i.e. pills) and food fortification are cheap and effective. Promoting the
use and the access to food naturally rich in provitamin A, such as red
palm oil, will also help addressing the VAD related sufferings. The only
long-term solution is to work on the root causes of poverty and to ensure
access to a diverse and healthy diet. (5)

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:

For more information: Von Hernandez, Greenpeace GE campaigner in the
Philippines, Mob: +63 917 5263050; Isabelle Meister, Genetic Engineering
Campaign, Greenpeace International, Tel: +41-1-4474195; Greenpeace
International Press Office, Sara Holden, Tel: +31-20-5249592

Pictures available from Greenpeace International Photo Desk, Tel: +31 20
55249580.

Notes to Editors United Nations' World Health Organisation/Food and
Agriculture Organisation and the US National Academy of Science
recommendations on daily vitamin A intake.

Dr Adrian C Dubock, of Zeneca Plant Science (now Syngenta): "The levels of
expression of pro-vitamin A that the inventors were aiming at, and have
achieved, are sufficient to provide the minimum level of pro-vitamin A to
prevent the development of irreversible blindness affecting 500.000
children annually, and to significantly alleviate Vitamin A deficiency
affecting 124.000.000 children in 26 countries." "One month delay = 50,000
blind children month." at a conference on "Sustainable Agriculture in the
New Millennium" in Brussels, May 28-31, 2000.

Greenpeace briefing paper "Vitamin A: Natural Sources vs Golden Rice" and
"The false promise of GE rice" and the letter to Greenpeace UK , January
22nd, 2001 are available at: www.greenpeace.org/~geneng/

(5) Nutritionists have pointed out that numerous problems converge to
cause vitamin A deficiency. In a recent letter to the New York Times, Dr.
Marion Nestle noted that "conversion of beta carotene to vitamin A, and
transport in the body to the tissues that use vitamin A, require diets
adequate in fat and protein. People whose diets lack these nutrients or
who have intestinal diarrheal diseases - common in developing countries -
can not obtain Vitamin A from Golden Rice."

end