Gene-altered rice "a disservice to humanity'

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The environmental advocacy group Greenpeace has called for the adoption of "readily available" food security solutions instead of hugely problematic ones like genetically engineered rice.

"Genetically engineered (GE) rice is sometimes proposed as a solution to the impacts of climate change although there is no evidence that GE crops can play a role in increasing food security under a changing climate," Greenpeace said in a message sent to the third International Rice Congress in Hanoi held from November 8 to 12.

"In addition, there are health and environmental concerns associated with GE rice. Contamination of conventional rice supplies is a major problem, even from field trials," it said.

Instead, the group suggested that ways of farming that preserve biodiversity and protect the environment be used to help farmers feed the world's growing population.

"Ecological farming methods - based on good husbandry of natural resources, including maintaining biodiversity at all levels from genetic to landscape, are vital for rice production in a world impacted by climate change. However, they are often overlooked, even though they are readily available," the organization said.

Dr. Janet Cotter, senior scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories, said: "We are trying to call on the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to stop field trial of "˜golden' rice and other GE rice. The Melinda Gates Foundation and other "˜golden' rice investors are here and we want to take this opportunity to call them to stop investment in GE rice due to its harmful impacts," she told Thanh Nien Weekly on the phone.

On Tuesday (November 9), Greenpeace presented a report at the International Rice Congress warning against the harmful impacts of GE rice.

"Releasing GE rice in Asia could irreversibly affect traditional rice varieties and wild ancestors of rice, decreasing our ability to use these valuable genetic resources in the future. It will also impact rice culture," Cotter said.

According to the Greenpeace report, the much-vaunted "golden" rice has been in development for almost 20 years and has still not made any impact on the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency, as is claimed.

"Not only has it failed to have any impact on vitamin A deficiency while using money and resources that could have been given to real solutions, it is also environmentally irresponsible. GE crops have, and will continue to contaminate neighboring crops wherever they are released," the report said.

"After 20 years and millions of dollars, "˜golden' rice remains an illusion. Meanwhile, the world has been tackling vitamin A deficiency using safer and more effective techniques. These techniques are proven to be successful and are readily available," said Dr. Chito Medina of the Philippines-based biodiversity advocate MASIPAG.

""˜Golden' rice is a myth, and worse, it carries with it all the environmental and health risks associated with GE crops. Spending more time and money on "˜golden' rice development is not only environmentally irresponsible but also a disservice to humanity," Medina added.

Immediate action to boost rice supply

The quadrennial International Rice Congress, history's largest international gathering of rice experts, has brought together international leaders in rice science, policymakers, rice traders, and others across the industry's private and public sectors to seek solutions to mounting pressure on global food production, exaggerated by poverty and climate change.

During the congress, experts called for urgent action to reverse inefficient farming methods and boost the world's supply of rice.

"We must take action now, not next week, not next month, not next year, but today," AFP cited Kanayo Nwanze, president of the United Nations' International Fund for Agriculture Development, as saying on Tuesday (November 9).

More than half of the world's population, or more than three billion people, depend on rice as their main food source, including around 640 million Asians living in extreme poverty.

"Projected demands for rice will outstrip supply in the near to medium term unless something is done to reverse current trends," Robert Zeigler of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) told the forum.

He said these trends include "slow productivity growth and inefficient, often unsustainable management of natural resources."

Vietnam is the world's second-biggest exporter of rice, behind Thailand, but Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said the country's food production still faced many challenges, including rapid population growth and frequent natural disasters.

"Ensuring food security is not merely an economic or humanitarian activity," he said. "It actively contributes to national as well as global socio-political stability."

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