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; firstname.lastname@example.org,
Source: The AgBioWorld Foundation Web site: http://www.agbioworld.org