Golden Rice, IRRI and Greenpeace

Santa Barbara, CA

I pity the poor ag researchers and their institutions if they fail to follow the "party line" as shown by this exchange that I just received from one of my listservs.

On 23 Mar 2001, at 14:06, AgBioView wrote:

[AgBioView is a major industry on-line promoter of gmos -- Marsh]

From: Tom DeGregori

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 [intn'l ag res. - M] 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 [vit. A deficiency - M] 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,


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