Foreign group roots for 'golden rice' in India

Scientists in India seek 'freedom to operate' GM crop

Foreign group roots for 'golden rice' in India

A new group, backed by moneyed foundations from the US and Europe, has lobbied for the regulatory approval of genetically-modified “Golden Rice”.

Encouraged by the pro-biotechnology image of the NDA government, the lobby group, headed by green activist Patrick Moore, has advocated the quick regulatory approval of Golden Rice.

Indian crop scientists have been seeking “freedom to operate” and commercialise the Vitamin A-rich rice, which was genetically engineered 15 years ago by two European professors Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer.

The two scientists had inserted the genes for beta-Carotene, a chemical naturally present in carrots, into the DNA of normal rice. The product was a yellow-coloured rice enriched with Vitamin A.

The technology is now held by multinational agro-company Syngenta and United Nations-backed International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Manila.

Indian scientists associated with the Golden Rice project maintain that unless promoters of the rice provide “freedom to operate”, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) would not be able to breed and release its own of this yellow-coloured rice that could be a rich source of Vitamin A.

The developers of the rice, IRRI and Syngenta, had mutually agreed that the company would not charge any royalty if rice lines are transferred to poor and developing nations. 

Syngenta and IRRI initially left it to individual countries to decide which rice varieties they would pick to create their own versions of Golden Rice.

But a few years later, the company began dictating terms by specifying the background rice-line. It also offered to carry out bio-safety studies on behalf of the nations willing to adopt golden rice.

“We have not got the freedom to operate neither from IRRI nor Syngenta on golden rice, which would be helpful in fighting malnutrition,” Visva Bharati University pro vice-chancellor Swapan Datta, who is closely associated with golden rice development, told Deccan Herald.

Datta, a former deputy director general of ICAR who was in-charge of crop sciences, said the Indian Agriculture Research Institute, Delhi, Directorate of Rice Research in Hyderabad and Tamil Nadu Agriculture University had developed their own versions of golden rice, which were all rejected by the IRRI. Patrick Moore believes that golden rice could end the Vitamin A deficiency and thereby malnutrition deaths. Greenpeace, however, has spoken against the introduction of the genetically-modified rice.

“Greenpeace was obviously wrong about many things; golden rice is one of them,” said Patrick Moore.

The yellow-coloured rice funding support from Bill Gates, the Rockefeller Foundation and the US Agency for International Development.

Suman Sahai, founder of NGO Gene Campaign, commented on the development: “Since golden rice was not getting much traction, Moore and his group are targeting the government.”

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