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GM rice does not solve poverty or hunger

GM rice does not solve poverty or hunger

By John Hepburn

Recently celebrated World Food Day is a good time to reflect on where our food comes from: the abundance that some enjoy and the lack of access for so many others. It is time to reflect on the history of food and its future.

Recently celebrated World Food Day is a good time to reflect on where our food comes from: the abundance that some enjoy and the lack of access for so many others. It is time to reflect on the history of food and its future.

The importance of food to our survival and its leading role in our economy mean that it is a highly politicized issue. Throughout history, civilizations have experienced boom and bust in their ability to feed their respective populations. Today an estimated 840 million people are severely malnourished, while in other countries obesity is reaching epidemic proportions. With a steadily increasing world population, agri-food policies can be expected to overheat considerably in the coming decades.


The most important food crop in the world is rice. It is the staple diet of some 3 billion people around the world, and for many cultures, rice is life. It not only plays a central role in culture; culture also plays a central role in rice production. Over thousands of years, subsistence farmers have developed tens of thousands of different varieties of rice, laboriously adapting them to local cultural and environmental conditions. And it is this diversity that forms the basis of our food security.

This year's World Food Day, dedicated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to “Agriculture and the dialogue of cultures”; commemorates the contribution of different cultures to world agriculture and aims to highlight, with this theme, the intersection of cultural and agrarian diversities.

However, many of the thousands of rice varieties that existed 50 years ago have disappeared, they were replaced by the monoculture practices of the green revolution.

And the sustainability and diversity of rice cultivation now faces a new threat in the form of genetic modification (GM).

The two varieties of GM rice to be marketed are known as Bt and BB. Bt rice is genetically engineered to exude a pesticide known as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), while BB rice is resistant to bacteriological pests. Both carry the environmental risks inherent in this technology, just as there is also a well-founded suspicion that Bt rice, in particular, is harmful to health.


The fact that China was the first country to give the green light to GM rice has been widely publicized. However, a recent change in the State Commission for the Agricultural Biosafety of Genetically Modified Crops indicates that China is taking a more cautious approach to the approval of GM crops. The structure of the new commission reduces the influence of researchers of GM crops and this makes it more likely that decisions to commercialize these crops are based on ecological and food criteria. The Chinese government is well aware that if it approves GM rice, it would enter uncharted territory and would be the first country to allow its basic food source to be genetically manipulated.

GM rice is being promoted on the basis of something that bears little or no relation to the current characteristics of GM varieties, and whose commercial launch is being pushed so aggressively. The need to solve world hunger and overcome famines is grossly used as emotional blackmail to encourage acceptance of products that are totally unnecessary and unwanted.

To solve the problem of hunger, it is not enough to produce food alone, it must be distributed to the hungry people. People do not die of desire because not enough food is produced, but because they are poor and do not have access to it. As a striking example, in 2001, the Indian Government was sued for allowing grain to rot in Government granaries while there were countless starvation deaths across the country. Many countries in Europe pay farmers not to grow food, while in other countries production is routinely destroyed by marketing failures. Meanwhile, millions of people are starving.

When it comes to production, there is hardly any evidence to show that GM crops will increase production in any case. The opposite is probably closer to reality. Experience from the more widespread GM crop shows that despite the announcement of increased yields, this soybean yields 5% less than conventional soybeans.

The GM rice varieties that are being developed are also not supported by any credible allegation of increased production.

Instead of targeting the true causes of malnutrition and hunger, much of our research funds are spent inventing new varieties, high-tech remedies, to strengthen and extend an agri-food system primarily designed to profit from the business of production. agricultural rather than feeding people.

On World Food Day 2005, the absurd myth that genetically engineered rice has something to do with ending hunger should finally be buried in the dustbin of history.

* John Hepburn is a member of Greenpeace International - Original title: GM Rice No Solution To Poverty And Starvation
Source: Znet Daily Commentaries; Saturday November 19, 2005 - Published at http://www.zmag.org
Translated by Genoveva Santiago and revised by Maite Padilla


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