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February 15, 2001


Ingo Potrykus: Greenpeace and Golden Rice


I am just back from India, where Golden Rice has strong support up to the
Prime Minister. We have prepared the organizational structure for transfer
and things are moving fast now.

Coming back, I realized that I have again to write something in response
to the Greenpeace actions. Here it is:


Golden Rice and the Greenpeace Dilemma
By Ingo Potrykus

My offer to Greenpeace for a dialogue over Golden Rice was honest and a
response to the reaction of Benedikt Haerlin (campaign leader of
Greenpeace International), who accepted a moral obligation in this
discussion. His reaction was the only way out of the problem that
Greenpeace would otherwise have lost credibility in front of the press,
which insisted in a clear answer on this matter. And Benedikt Haerlin was
clever enough to realize this.

I respect his statement and I am looking forward to further discussions
with him. The "hysteric" reactions of other Greenpeace activists to this
step of normalization show that not everybody there realizes that if
Greenpeace is continuing with its unqualified attacks against the
responsible assessment of Golden Rice, Greenpeace will soon have a
credibility problem far more severe than that coming up in context with
the Brent Spar case. At least part of the media have realized that there
is not much substantiation behind the routine arguments as far as Golden
Rice is concerned.

As Greenpeace activists come again and again with the argument that
release into the environment is too dangerous, I invite them to construct
a realistic, concrete case. I have not found, in three years of
discussions with numerous environmentalists, a scenario which could
justify banning the field testing of Golden Rice. As the pathway is
already in rice (and in every green plant), and the difference is only in
its activity in the endosperm, it is very hard to construct any selective
advantage for Golden Rice in any environment, and, therefore, any
environmental hazard. The same holds true for all the other standard
arguments, and I refer to "The Golden Rice Tale", available on the
internet, and published in March in the journal "In-Vitro".

It was very educating to see how selective Greenpeace was when citing from
my statement -- leaving everything out which did not fit into their view,
and emphazising selectively what they could use against me. Where is the
difference to the PR campaigns Greenpeace likes to complain about? The
"information" from Greenpeace was so distorted that I received compaints
that I was ignoring the fact that daily allowance values did not mean much
and that far lower provitamin values could already be expected to have
beneficial effects (the point I was making in my response!).

This shows how Greenpeace has been able to transmit a completely wrong
message by citing me. Here follows a citation from one of the responses to
my "wrong" view:

"As I would assume you know, there is vast difference in the amount of
vitamin A needed to reduce mortality, vs that needed to prevent blindness,
vs that needed to prevent night-blindness and other like symptoms, vs that
which satisfies actual metabolic needs, vs that which is equal to the
recommended allowance, vs that which migt be considered for optimal
intake, vs that which might trigger toxicity symptoms. The vastness of
those quantitative differences is further exaggerated in individuals wose
metabolic need for this essential nutrient has been modified by an
extended period of depriviation. Clearly in individuals whose diet is
almost devoid of vitamin A dietary intake at levels representing only a
small fraction of the "recommended allowance" offers the potential to have
a significant impact on both morbidity and mortality."

When I stated that I acknowleged that Greenpeace had identified a weak
point in our strategy, I referred to the fact that only experimental data
gained from nutrition studies with Golden Rice varieties could clarify how
much provitamin A we would need to offer per gram of rice. This data will
be available only after 1-2 years from now. With this data in hand, the
optimal lines can then be determined for the final breeding adjustment.

I invite Greenpeace activists to specify in which area they see potential
problems so that we can take care of these concerns in the process of the
needs assessment and the extended safety assessments. But I expect
concrete proposals, not blunt statements like "it is too dangerous to
release transgenic plants into the environment". Please take the trouble
to think about the case of Golden Rice.

To those who feel that they must prevent Golden Rice under all
circumstances (for whatever political, ethical, religious reason) I would
like to repeat: Golden Rice will be used to complement traditional
interventions to fight vitamin A-deficiency. We need complementation
because of the 500,000 blind children per year we have on the background
of traditional interventions.

If you plan to destroy test fields to prevent responsible testing and
development of Golden Rice for humanitarian purposes, you will be accused
of contributing to a crime against humanity. Your actions will be
carefully registered and you will, hopefully, have the opportunity to
defend your illegal and immoral actions in front of an international

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