Monday, 18 May 2015

Silence not golden in GM rice debate

Taken from Big Issue in the North magazine. Please buy a copy when you see a seller. 

Genetically-modified rice has a part to play in preventing malnutrition, according to a leading agricultural scientist. 
Charlie Clutterbuck, former adviser to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, said Golden Rice – a form of genetically-modified rice – could help combat vitamin A deficiency in children. 
Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is a major cause of infant mortality in some countries. Worldwide
it is estimated that 200 million children are deficient in vitamin A, which is essential for healthy skin and eyes. Half a million children each year are said to go blind because of a lack of vitamin A. 
Commercially grown 
Rice is the staple food of around 60 per cent of the world’s population. 
Golden Rice is a GM rice variety infused with vitamin A-producing beta-carotene taken from maize. 
The non-profit Allow Golden Rice Society – set up by Patrick Moore, founder of the environmental group Greenpeace – campaigns for approval for the rice to be grown commercially. 
However, GR opponents believe there are more effective ways of solving vitamin A deficiency and last year many, including Greenpeace, called for Golden Rice to be banned by the Philippines government. 
In March, Philippines farmers and anti-GM campaigners protested against Moore’s visit to their country as part of the Allow Golden Rice Now campaign. Moore also visited Bangladesh and India. 
Moore argued that opponents of GM should make an exception for Golden Rice “as millions of lives are at stake”. His supporters add that Golden Rice is not controlled by large multinationals, as is usually the case with other major GM products. But he outraged Philippines campaigners by refusing to debate with them. 
‘Genuine reform’ 
Dr Chito Medina, co-ordinator of MASIPAG – described as “a farmer-led network of people’s organisations, NGOs and scientists” – accused the Allow Golden Rice Society of engaging in a “PR campaign in which they can’t show, like with other GM products, that Golden Rice is safe”. 
He added: “In the proposed debate farmers would have shown that VAD deaths are dropping and Filipinos have a number of natural and local foods that can supply the vitamin. 
“Opposing Golden Rice means we also want support for genuine agrarian reform including just distribution of land among the country’s farmers and tillers.” 
Clutterbuck agreed with Dr Medina that “GR is not the solution – no technical fix ever is and there are other plants rich in vitamin A”. But he added: “Neither should there be a ban on it. 
“There is no evidence of ill-effects from any GM product even though over 300 million acres are now being grown. So for the sake of those children who could benefit enormously then the overall risk assessment on Golden Rice has to be grow it. 

“I would, of course, support demands for agrarian reform but that does not mean Golden Rice should not be grown.” 

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