New report undermines Vatican meeting
2.extract: GM Nutritionally Enhanced and Altered Crops
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "It is the poor who need support, not the GM industry."
1.New report undermines Vatican meeting
GM Freeze, 14 May 2009
On the eve of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences' "Study Week" on genetically modified food ("Transgenic Plants for Food Security", 15-19 May 2009), a new report from GM Freeze shows why GM won't, and can't, deliver on its promises.
The report, GM Nutritionally Enhanced and Altered Crops , exposes the myth that new research will provide GM crops to feed the world. "First generation" GM crops are aimed at farmers by inserting genes for herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, which were said by GM companies to be a way to cut inputs and labour (now disputed as superweeds and chemical resistance emerge as major problems in GM areas). Consumers in the UK and around the world rejected GM food, so it is mainly used in animal feed and, more recently, in biofuels, neither of which are obvious or labelled at the point of sale , so consumers find it harder to avoid.
The biotech industry now hopes to boost their market with "nutritionally enhanced" GM crops, which it claims will alleviate malnutrition and improve health. Yet after over a decade of such promises, no nutritionally enhanced crops are commercially available, while better approaches to health and nutrition are cheaper and ready to use.
The "study week" being held at the Vatican appears to be at odds not only with mainstream scientific opinion (the 4-year study IAASTD by 400 scientists found that GM crops do not alleviate hunger, calling for broader, more inclusive agricultural research), but also with the wider Catholic church and even the Pope.
Among the critical reactions from Catholic organisations, an open letter on 27 April from CIDSE, the alliance of Catholic development agencies, to the organisers of the "study week" criticised the lack of diversity of analysis and opinion represented, the objective of the week ("to free the technology from the unhealthy constraints of 'extreme precautionary regulation'"), and expressed concern that, "the comprehensive documentation about the negative impact on the livelihood of rural poor by GE seeds is not reflected in the program."
CIDSE added, "We regret that the Pontifical Academy of Science gives open preference to these [GM] protagonists and excludes at the same time important stakeholders including the voice of the Catholic Church in Africa." This was a reference to the Pope Benedict XVI's 19 March Instrumentum Laboris of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops attacking the "invasion" of multinational corporations that "back those in power, irrespective of human rights and democratic principles, so as to guarantee economic benefits through the exploitation of natural resources.”
The document adds:
"The seeding campaign of proponents of Genetically Modified Food, which purports to give assurances for food safety, should not overlook the true problems of agriculture in Africa: the lack of cultivatable land, water, energy, access to credit, agricultural training, local markets, road infrastructures, etc. This campaign runs the risk of ruining small landholders, abolishing traditional methods of seeding and making farmers dependent on the production companies of OGM." 
Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:
"It is clear that GM is not going to feed the world, something the Pope and the Church in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere have already acknowledged. This 'study week' is confused at best it isn't what is needed or wanted by those fighting hunger on the ground, yet heavy on vested interests. The Vatican will need to examine any recommendations that come out of this isolated meeting carefully before taking them up. It is the poor who need support, not the GM industry."
Calls to Pete Riley 0845 217 8992 or 07903 341065
1. See http://www.gmfreeze.org/uploads/GMF_nutrient_brief_final.pdf
2. Although under EU Regulation 1830/2003 animal feed must be labelled if any ingredient is more than 0.9% GM, the dairy products, meat and eggs produced by the animals it feed do not require a GM label. Bioethanol or biodiesel produced from GM crops do not have to be labelled as such.
3. See www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article5939789.ece and www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2009/march/documents/hf_ben-xvi _spe_20090319_pubbl-instrlabor_en.html and GM Watch
2.Extract from the report:
GM Nutritionally Enhanced and Altered Crops
GM and vitamin A deficiency
Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is a major health problem in SE Asia and Africa. WHO estimate that it causes 250-500,000 children to become blind every year, with half dying within 12 months of becoming blindvi.
"Golden Rice" has been the biotech industry's proposed solution to VAD since 2000. Golden Rice was genetically modified to produce beta carotene (used by the body to make Vitamin A) using a gene from the daffodil in the first instance, and later on a gene from maize. The latter modification using maize genes increased the amount of beta carotene produced by the rice after the daffodil version was heavily criticized because of the large amounts of rice required to be consumed to achieve the recommended intake of beta carotene.
However, even the researchers who developed the maize modified version of the Golden Rice concede that more research is required on the uptake of beta carotene from the rice to demonstrate that it is an effective solution:
“Definitive statements on the benefits of Golden Rice for the alleviation of Vitamin A deficiency cannot be made. The vitamin A delivered and the impact on the body depends on several unquantified factors, including β-carotene uptake and conversion to vitamin A, as well as the amount of rice consumed by the individual. These factors are under rigorous investigation at present but for the time being only estimates are available vii.”
Other commentators have emphasised what we don’t know about Golden Rice:
"Until today, no research has been published indicating the nutritional benefit of this new rice whether alone or integrated in meals or consumed for a short or long time. What we also do not
know is whether this much touted transgenic biofortified rice approach is superior to other conventional strategies for preventing and overcoming vitamin A deficiencyviii."
Doubts about the effectiveness of Golden Rice in supplying the required level of vitamin A to undernourished people come from the lack of information on:
*The bioavailability and bioconversion of beta carotenes in Golden Rice (especially in sick people).
*The rate of decay of beta carotene in stored rice.
*The rate of decay of beta carotene during cooking.
*The cultural acceptability of “golden” rice in societies where yellow rice is new and only white rice is normally available.
*Safety of the rice following genetic modification (ie does it contain new allergens and toxins and have nutritional changes occurred?).
According to a recent review of progress towards the marketing of Golden Rice ix no data covering these concerns is yet available despite nearly a decade of research.
Another significant concern is to ensure that people who do not have a deficiency of vitamin A do not receive too much from consuming Golden Rice because:
"While in general the body absorbs retinoids and vitamin A very efficiently, it lacks the mechanisms to destroy excessive loads. Thus, the possibility of toxicity exists unless intake is carefully regulated. Revision of earlier estimates of daily human requirements of vitamin A has been suggested; the suggestion is that estimates ought to be revised downwards. Concerns exist about the teratogenicity of vitamin A x."
What's the solution?
The solution is to provide a balanced diet with sufficient vitamins, minerals, proteins and carbohydrates. This can be achieved by:
*Promoting breast feeding.
*Increasing availability of orange, yellow or dark green vegetables through local gardens and allotments.
*Introducing meat, eggs or dairy products to the diet.
*Improving sanitation and clean water supplies to reduce diarrhoea and increase the up take of beta carotene.
*Vitamin A supplementation.
Even proponents of Golden Rice concede that diet diversification is the best solution:
"Dietary diversification is generally considered the most desirable and sustainable solution in the
long run, because it improves overall dietary quality instead of addressing single micronutrient deficiencies only xi."
Diet diversification can start now and is known to be safe, neither of which can be said for Golden Rice, which has recently been hit by new controversy when it was discovered that children had been used in feeding trialsxii.