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Greenpeace Visits IRRI

IRRI Press Release
March 23, 2001

Los Baņos, Philippines - The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) was pleased that the international advocacy group Greenpeace took up its invitation for representatives to visit the institute on Monday, 19 March. IRRI welcomes the better understanding subsequently shown by Greenpeace regarding research into Golden Rice.

During the visit, the Greenpeace delegation, which included representatives from Thailand and Europe as well as colleagues from the Southeast Asian Regional Institute for Community Education, also gathered information on how IRRI sets its priorities in biotech research. The group learned more about the extensive work done by the institute in the area of biological pest control-for example, encouraging farmers to protect friendly insects that prey on insect pests-and other measures aimed at reducing pesticide use in rice production.

IRRI Director General Ronald P. Cantrell said he was satisfied that Greenpeace now appears to have a better understanding of the future development of Golden Rice. "As we've said many times, much work remains to be done to develop Golden Rice into the successful new strategy that we feel it can become, to help combat the terrible problem of vitamin-A deficiency in the developing world," Dr. Cantrell explained. "Because of this, it will be at least three to four years before there are any field trials and another two years before it may reach farmers. "IRRI remains committed to the continued safe and sustainable development of Golden Rice, and there will be no change to our plans as a result of the Greenpeace visit," he added.

During the visit, IRRI scientists also explained to the Greenpeace delegation a number of established facts. These included:

* The ultimate release of Golden Rice to farmers will be the responsibility of the national agricultural research programs that are partners with IRRI in its continued development.

* Before the material can be released in any country, a wide range of trials must be conducted to ensure that Golden Rice is environmentally harmless and safe to eat, and to measure how much vitamin A it provides consumers.

*Although, at its present stage of development, Golden Rice produces only low levels of the building blocks of vitamin A, or pro-vitamin A, it may ultimately provide enough to be a great help in alleviating the health problems associated with vitamin-A deficiency (VAD).

*While Golden Rice alone may not eliminate all VAD problems in developing countries, it is an exciting new alternative that deserves further development, bearing in mind that a diverse diet remains the best solution to VAD.

*Golden Rice is only one of IRRI's efforts to develop micronutrient-enriched rice, using a wide range of methods and technologies, including traditional plant breeding.

Dr. Cantrell said he looked forward to continued dialogue with groups such as Greenpeace, especially if it aids the development of new technologies that can improve the lives of poor rice farmers and consumers in safe and sustainable ways.

IRRI, with its headquarters in the Philippines and offices in 11 other countries, is the world's leading international rice research and training center. It is an autonomous, nonprofit institution focused on improving the well-being of present and future generations of rice farmers and consumers, particularly those with low incomes, while preserving natural resources. IRRI is part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an association of public and private donor agencies that funds 16 international research centers.

For more information, visit the Web site of CGIAR (www.cgiar.org) or Future Harvest (www.futureharvest.org). Future Harvest is a nonprofit organization that builds awareness and supports food and environmental research to build a world with less poverty, a healthier human family, well-nourished children, and a better environment. Future Harvest supports research, promotes partnerships, and sponsors projects that bring the results of agricultural research to rural communities, farmers, and families in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

----- For additional information, contact Duncan Macintosh, IRRI, DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila, Philippines; telephone (63-2) 845-0563 or (63-2) 844-3351 to 53; fax: (63-2) 891-1291 or (63-2) 845-0606; email: d.macintosh@cgiar.org; Web (IRRI): http://www.cgiar.org/irri; Web (Library): http://ricelib.irri.cgiar.org; Web (Riceweb): http://www.riceweb.org; Web (Riceworld): http://www.riceworld.org



March 20, 2001

Genetically engineered 'Golden Rice' not to be released into the environment within the next five years, admits International Rice Research Institute

London/Manila, 20th March 2001 - The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has confirmed to Greenpeace that it has no plans to release genetically modified (GM) so-called "Golden Rice" into the environment. Field trials are unlikely to take place within the next five years. IRRI scientists told Greenpeace that various genetic elements in the "Golden Rice" need to be changed or removed, in particular its gene construct and an antibiotic resistance gene (1-2). IRRI received the first grains of the GM rice variety for breeding purposes earlier this year. IRRI scientists also admitted that many uncertainties related to the "Golden Rice" still need to be addressed before this crop could be released. These include environmental risks as well as health and nutritional questions. IRRI also confirmed that the currently available "Golden Rice" only produces very low levels of beta-carotene, the source of vitamin A. They also agreed with Greenpeace that the best solution to vitamin A deficiency is a diverse diet.

Greenpeace welcomes the fact that the world's leading public rice research institute is more honest in its assessment of the benefits of "Golden Rice" than other advocates for the GM industry. "There are cheap and proven solutions and technologies available to fight against vitamin A deficiency," said Von Hernandez, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Campaign Director, "The main problem is lack of political will to see these solutions through and the inadequacy of resources to enforce them. The GM industry's propaganda that keeps pushing 'Golden Rice' as the solution for vitamin A deficiency is irresponsible. It is using the misery of mothers and children who suffer from this deficiency for its own commercial gain." When asked by Greenpeace, IRRI scientists admitted that there might even be naturally occurring rice varieties that contain beta-carotene or other vitamin A precursors. However, very few studies have been conducted so far on whether such natural pro-vitamin rich rice varieties exist.


From: Tom DeGregori <trdegreg@UH.EDU>

Letter to: IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) DAPO Box 7777 Metro Manila, Philippines

To whom it may concern

Please inform me if the following article is correct. If so, I will write to my Senators and Congressman and Congresswomen asking them to move to suspend all further US contributions to IRRI and to move within the World Bank to have them do the same until there is some further clarification from you.

I have long been a supporter of IRRI and the other CGIAR institutions as a former member of the Research Advisory Committee of USAID (serving under a former Director-General of IRRI), as a practising devlopment economist and policy advisor and as an author of numerous books, articles and reviews. I have been extremely strong in arguing the importance of agricultural research and have praised the work of IRRI in more of my writings than I can count. IRRI is one of the many CGIAR institutions to which I have been privileged to visit and one of the most impressive in the good work that it has done.

The IRRI described in the statement below does not even remotely resemble the scientific and humanitarian organization that I had the privilege of visiting. Rather, the article describes an institution that cravenly and shamelessly capitulated to a bunch of ignorant fanatics who would rather have children go blind and half the world's population starve than in any way compromise their irrational totalitarian ideology. Many qualified people that I know honestly believe that Greenpeace and other similar groups are totally cynical and only interested in raising money for their own self-aggrandisement. In any case, capitulation to them by any reputable institution is intolerable and must be opposed.

It is with heavy heart that I advocate such drastic measures (which I doubt will succeed in being implemented) but issues are too important to act in any lesser way. If this letter sound strongly worded, so be it. The implications of capitulation to Greenpeace are far more extreme than any reasonable use of the English (or other languages) can describe. Please say the article is incorrect and if it is, please issue a press release and so state it.

Thomas R. DeGregori Professor of Economics, University of Houston


IRRI's Response to Tom DeGregori:

To: Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D. Professor of Economics, Department of Economics University of Houston, Houston, Texas

Dear Dr. DeGregori,

Thank you for your e-mail letter of March 22, 2001 and for your long-standing support of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which we greatly value and appreciate. Please let me stress right at the start that there has been no change what so ever to IRRI's policies and research agenda in relation to biotechnology or Golden Rice as a result of the Greenpeace visit. If there were, we would certainly not seek to announce any such changes via a Greenpeace press release.

I would like now to address point-by-point some of the comments made in the Greenpeace document.

1. We did indicate that it would take a minimum of three years before we may be able to transfer the pro-vitamin A trait into indica-type rice and it would be ready for field-testing. Thus, it would probably be an additional two years before it would be available to farmers. However, because of the nature of such research we have made no "commitment" to Greenpeace or anyone else in relation to these schedules.

2. The statement that IRRI is not planning to release Golden Rice is a simple misinterpretation of the information that was given. Since the mid-1980s, IRRI has not released any rice varieties; this is the responsibility of our partners in the national programs. We provide the national programs with varieties and they name them and submit them to the relevant local procedures for release. We think the concept of Golden Rice has great value and will eventually be released in some form - otherwise we would not be investing the resources we have on such a project. Statements made by Greenpeace suggest we may be doing Golden Rice research with no intention of it ever reaching the farmer or consumer. This is totally inaccurate.

3. The statement made about uncertainties is also accurate. We do not know what levels of beta-carotene will be present when this trait is transferred to indica varieties. A wide range of availability and biosafety trials must be conducted before the material can be released in any country. These procedures are well defined in the Philippines.

4. We also stated that the Golden Rice lines we now have produce beta-carotene at levels of between 1.6-2.0 micrograms per gram in the rice grain. However, we are optimistic that these levels can be raised as a result of further research.

5. We also stated that Golden Rice would not resolve all the VAD problems in developing countries and that a diverse diet remains the best way to eliminate this problem.

6. Finally, we explained that Golden Rice is only one of the efforts to develop micronutrient enriched rice using a variety of different methods and technologies (including traditional plant breeding).

As I am sure you are aware, IRRI has no control over information released by Greenpeace and we realized this would part of the challenge of inviting them to visit. However, regardless of personal opinions, Greenpeace leads international opposition to biotech research and Golden Rice, especially in Asia. Therefore, we think it important to at least engage them in dialogue and so hopefully avoid the scenario of IRRI developing technologies that are ultimately rejected by the very societies they are meant for because we ignored the concerns of some groups. Having said that, please let me stress in conclusion that, ultimately, IRRI aims to please only one group, the poor rice farmers and consumers for which we have worked for the past 40 years.

If you have any additional questions, please don't hesitate to contact me again or the Head of IRRI's Public Awareness Program Mr. Duncan Macintosh. I would be especially grateful that before disseminating your opinions on IRRI's activities again that you at least allow us the opportunity to comment and respond to your concerns first.

Yours Sincerely,



From: Klaus Ammann <klaus.ammann@ips.unibe.ch>
Subject: Debate 200'10323 a: IRRI - Response to Greenpeace statements about the Golden Rice, letter to Thomas DeGregori and IRRI statement

Dear Friends,

As already assumed earlier by Ingo Potrykus and Thomas DeGregory, Greenpeace has given a distorted view about statements and facts in their report about a meeting with IRRI concerning the Golden Rice.

Again: There should be some regulation for major NGO's, no censureship, but these protest corporates should be held responsible for their products just as this is the case for the biotech industry.

Thanks to IRRI for the swift reaction, wonder whether these statements can be seen on the Greenpeace webpage over the weekend?