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"Seeking a technological food fix for world hunger may be... the most commercially malevolent wild goose chase of the new century."

Dr Richard Horton, editor of the British medical journal, The Lancet

terraced rice paddies

"Genetic engineering biotechnology is an unprecedented intimate alliance between bad science and big business, which will spell the end of humanity as we know it, and of the world at large."

from Genetic Engineering - Dream or Nightmare?
by Dr. Mae Wan Ho, a British scientist


Famine As Commerce

By Devinder Sharma

"Food is power. We use it to change behavior. Some may call that bribery. We do not apologize"
- Catherine Bertini, Executive Director of the World Food Program.

Some years back, a keynote speaker at the International Famine Centre at Cork, Ireland, detailed how maize was loaded on ships bound for Britain at the height of the great Irish potato famine that killed some 1.5 million people more than 150 years ago. He paused and then lamented: "I wonder what kind of people lived at that time who were not even remotely offended at the sight of millions dying of hunger in the same village where the ships were being loaded."

A hundred years later, the same class of people were largely responsible for the great Bengal Famine in 1943, in which an estimated 1.5 million to 3 million people perished. As Nobel laureate Amartya Sen explains in his now well-known theory of entitlements, the Bengal famine was not the result of a drastic slump in food production but because the colonial masters had diverted food for other commercial purposes. And if you are wondering whether the same evil class of the elite decision-makers has perished with the collapse of the erstwhile colonies, hold your breadth. In the last 60 years or so, following the great human tragedy of the Bengal famine, food aid was conveniently used as a political weapon. But what is arguably one of the most blatantly anti-humanitarian act, seen as morally repugnant, is the decision of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to offer US $50 million in food aid to famine-stricken Zimbabwe provided that it is used to purchase genetically modified maize. Food aid therefore is no longer an instrument of foreign policy. It has now become a major commercial activity, even if it means exploiting the famine victims and starving millions.

That is the official line at the USAID about the corn it has offered to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi, where an estimated 13 million people face severe hunger and possibly live under the spectre of an impending famine after two years of drought and floods.

For the genetically modified food industry, reeling under a growing rejection of its untested and harmful food products, there is money in hunger, starvation and death. Spearheaded by USAID, the industry has made it abundantly clear that it has only genetically modified maize to offer and was not willing to segregate. The WFP, which over the past few decades has for all practical purposes become an extension of USAID, was quick to put its rubber stamp. It had earlier helped the United States to reduce its grain surpluses by taking the genetically modified food for a mid-day meal programme for school children in Africa.

President Mugabe may not be able to hold for long. He had earlier told Zimbabwe’s Parliament on July 23: " We fight the present drought with our eyes clearly set on the future of the agricultural sector, which is the mainstay of our economy. We dare not endanger its future through misplaced decisions based on acts of either desperation or expediency." But then, the biotechnology industry is using all its financial power to break down the African resistance. Once the GM food is accepted as humanitarian aid, it will be politically difficult for the African governments to oppose the corporate take-over of Africa’s agricultural economy. For the industry, Africa provides a huge market.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa too has said that his people would rather die than eat toxic food. While Malawi says it has no choice but to accept GM maize, newspaper reports cite Mozambique, from where Malawi's food aid has to pass through, asking the WFP to cover it with plastic sheeting to avoid spillage while in transit.

Malawi incidentally is faced with famine after it was forced to sell maize to earn dollars for debt servicing. Explains Ann Pettifor of the New Economics Foundation: Just three months before the food crisis hit, Malawi was encouraged by the World Bank "to keep foreign exchange instead of storing grain" Why? Because foreign exchange is needed to repay debts. Creditors will not accept debt repayments in Malawian Kwachas. Or indeed in bags of maize. Only "greenbacks" or other hard currencies will do.

One of Malawi's key commercial creditors needed to have their debt repaid, according to Malawi's president, who in a BBC interview said the government "had been forced (to sell maize) in order to repay commercial loans taken out to buy surplus maize in previous years". President Muluzi said the IMF and the World Bank "insisted that, since Malawi had a surplus and the (government's) National Food Reserve Agency had this huge loan, they had to sell the maize to repay the commercial banks." So Malawi duly sold 28,000 tonnes of maize to Kenya. Under pressure from her creditors, led by the World Bank and the IMF, Malawi exchanged maize --her people's staple diet -- for dollars.

And now, it is getting another loan to purchase genetically modified from the United States. Sure the USAID has been working overtime to create a market for its genetically modified food industry !

The debate on biotech food however goes still further. After all, it is the commercial interest of America’s sunrise industry. The biotechnology industry has always been quick to use agricultural economists and Nobel laureates as effective ‘loudspeakers’ to promote the unhealthy food on gullible populations. One of its most distinguished spokesperson, Dr Per Pinstrup-Andersen, former director general of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, said that Zimbabwe was using the food to play politics. Referring to President Mugabe’s recent land-reform policies, he added: "I think it is irresponsible . Unless they know they can get enough food from elsewhere that is not genetically modified."

And how much quantity of grain is required to tide over the food crisis in central and southern Africa? A million tonne, is all that the WFP estimates. Surprising that the WFP as well as Pinstrup-Andersen are not aware of any other source of getting non-GM foodgrains for millions of hungry Africans. Ironically, the country which is laden with overflowing grain silos and an unmanageable grain reserves is the one to have come to the rescue of a famine-stricken Ireland in the nineteenth century. The first shipload of grain that came for the starving Irish was from India. And more recently, India had provided food on ‘humanitarian’ basis to the war-torn Iraqis’. And soon after Bin Laden and his associates were forced out, India had stepped in to fight immediate hunger in Afghanistan early this year. Earlier too, India had come to the rescue of Ethiopia at the height of the Ethiopian famine in the mid-1980s.

With 65 million tonnes foodgrains stockpiled in the open, and that too of non genetically modified grain, WFP will do well to purchase instead from India. With the grain from the reserves priced at Rs 4 to Rs 5 a kg (less than 10 American cents a kilo), the WFP will not find cheaper food available anywhere. But this will not happen, in other words will not be allowed to happen. After all, the impending famine in Africa opens up a new market to sustain the multi-billion dollar US biotechnology industry. What happens in the bargain to the resulting crisis in human health and misery, and environment contamination from GMOs is none of the concern of the American grain merchants. In fact, it never was.

At the height of the 1974 famine in the newly born Bangladesh, the US had withheld 2.2 million tonnes of food aid to ‘ensure that it abandoned plans to try Pakistani war criminals’. And a year later, when Bangladesh was faced with severe monsoons and imminent floods, the then US Ambassador to Bangladesh made it abundantly clear that the US probably could not commit food aid because of Bangladesh’s policy of exporting jute to Cuba. And by the time Bangladesh succumbed to the American pressure, and stopped jute exports to Cuba, the food aid in transit was ‘too late for famine victims’.

Food was then a political weapon. Food aid has now in addition become a commercial enterprise. Famine or no famine, the Shylocks of the grain trade must have their ‘pound of flesh’.

Devinder Sharma is the author of  In the Famine Trap.


U.N. Dead Wrong About Engineered Crops

By Anuradha Mittal -
July 13, 2001

Comments about genetically engineered (GE) crops expressed in the just-released "Human Development Report 2001", the flagship publication of the United Nation Development Program (UNDP), and in accompanying press statements, reveal a shocking degree of Northern arrogance in tone and content.

The authors of the report urge rich countries to put aside their fears of genetically engineered (GE) food and help developing nations unlock the potential of biotechnology. UNDP head Mark Malloch Brown, praised the report, saying that it has moved in a new direction by challenging some cherished opinions about what the Third World needs. Yet as a citizen of India I ask, who nominated Mark Malloch Brown, in his New York office, to speak for the needs of poor countries and to say what we need?

The UNDP report accuses opponents of genetically-modified food of ignoring the food needs of the Third World. it goes on to say that the movement is driven by conservationists in rich countries, and claims that the current debate mostly ignores the concerns and needs of the developing world. Western consumers who do not face food shortages or nutritional deficiencies, or work in the fields are more likely to focus on food safety and the loss of biodiversity, but farming communities in developing countries emphasize potentially higher yields and greater nutritional value" of these crops, the authors say.

Obviously the UNDP and Mark Malloch Brown have done only part of their homework. While they have read up on the genetic engineering debate in the U.S. and Europe, they have ignored the even louder debate going on in the Third World. In my country, for example, the debate pits mostly U.S.-trained technocrats, seduced by technological fixes, against farmer organizations and consumers who overwhelmingly say no to genetically engineered crops. Surely it is worth noting when the people who are to use the modified seeds, and those who are to eat the modified food, want nothing to do with them?

This UNDP report further fails to acknowledge that despite overproduction, even a country like the United States faces massive problems of hunger with over 36 millions Americans food insecure and ignores the lives of millions of farm workers in the fields of this country, while converting all Americans into consumers of unlabelled modified foods.

The report rehashes the old myth of feeding the hungry through miracle technology, the mantra that has been chanted forever, whether it was to push pesticides or genetic engineering. The famous green revolution of Northern technology sent to the South may have increased food production, at the cost of poisoning our earth, air and water. But it failed to alleviate hunger. Of 800 million hungry people in the world today, an estimated 250-300 million live in India alone. Its not that India does not produce enough food to meet the need of its hungry, it's the policies that work against the working poor -- slashing of social safety nets, for example, at the behest of Northern agencies like the IMF, that are the root cause of today's hunger.

Over 60 million tons of excess food grain-unsold -- because the hungry are too poor to buy it -- rotted in India last year, while farmers in desperation burnt the crops they could not sell, and resorted to selling their body parts like kidneys or committing suicide, to end the cycle of poverty. A higher, genetically engineered crop yield would have done nothing for them. And if the poor in India cannot buy two meals a day, how will they purchase nutritionally rich crops such as rice engineered to contain Vitamin A? No technological fix can help change the situation. Only political commitment can.

The report compares efforts to ban GM foods with the banning of the pesticide DDT, which was dangerous to humans but was effective in killing the mosquitoes which spread malaria. The choice presented to the Third World then was the choice of death from DDT or malaria. Its appalling that even today the development debate in the North can only offer the Third World the option of dying from hunger, or from loss of livelihoods or unsafe foods.

The North ignored the cries from the South at the time of the DDT debate, that if our national health budgets were not slashed, perhaps we could deal with malaria differently. Malaria, like hunger, is a disease of poverty. When economic conditions improve, it disappears, just as it did in the U.S. and Italy. Why is the focus never on the root causes of the problem, but always on the symptom. Once again, UNDP has decided to focus on the symptom of hunger and not the root cause of poverty.

Yes, a debate that affects communities in the Third World should not be driven solely by conservationists in the rich countries. It should also not be driven by corporate apologists like Mr. Brown. It would do UNDP good to learn that the anti-GE debate is also driven by civil society in the Third World, which is concerned about corporate concentration in our food system, loss of livelihoods as corporations gain control of our biodiversity and seeds, and that several of our countries, including Sri Lanka, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico, and China, among others, have taken national action and imposed a moratorium on some or all GE crops. If UNDP indeed cares about the Third World, it would do much better by respecting the sovereign will of our nations.

Anuradha Mittal, a native of India, is co-director of Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy Institute for Food and Development Policy


The UNDP Exploits the Poor and Hungry to Push Genetic Engineering

by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP)

(July 26, 2001 – CropChoice opinion) -- The Human Development Report 2001, "Making Technologies Work For Human Development," commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), reads like a PR dossier full of pro-corporate technology propaganda, gift wrapped in the guise of helping the developing world 'harness the tremendous potential' of information technology and biotechnology.

The Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) objects to the exploitation by the UNDP of the image of the poor and hungry as a public relations strategy to push biotechnology and the use of genetically engineered (GE) crops.

"Genetic engineering is unsafe, environmentally unfriendly, of no benefit socio-economically to small-marginalised farmers and it will not feed the world", asserts Sarojeni V. Rengam, PAN AP Executive Director.

People in developing countries don't want genetic engineering

The UNDP report ignores the concern and opposition to genetic engineering by farmers, agricultural workers, consumers groups, and concerned fisherfolk, scientists, and indigenous people's in both developing and developed counties.

Kilusang Magbubukid Ng Pilipinas (KMP), the Peasant Movement of the Philippines, with a membership of 800,000 landless peasants, small farmers, agricultural workers, fisherfolk, rural youth and peasant women, have been actively protesting the development of GE rice by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and are against the field-testing of other GE crops in the country.

Some 800 farmers and other anti-GE advocates from all over Indonesia rallied on the International Day of Farmer's Struggles Against GMOs on April 17, 2001, in front of Monsanto and the Ministry of Agriculture in Jakarta. The farmers called for the destruction of Indonesia's first GMO field trial of Monsanto's Bt cotton and other GE products in the country, no further releases of Bt cotton seeds by the government, and the eviction of Monsanto from the country.

Thousands of farmers and other anti-GE advocates participated in the Long March for Biodiversity, principally against GE rice, which travelled across Thailand for 11 days during September 2000. Farmers in the Thung Kula Ronghai area, well known for the cultivation of jasmine rice, said they were very worried that the introduction of GE crops into the country would have a serious impact on the poor rural majority.

In 1998 Monsanto and the State Government of Karnataka, India, carried out experiments in farmer's fields of GE crops without the knowledge of the majority of farmers. On November 28 thousands of farmers occupied three fields and burnt the illegal crops. This action marked the beginning of a campaign of civil disobedience called Operation 'Cremate Monsanto' in Karnataka and other Indian States.

How can the UNDP not listen to the voices of farmers, agricultural workers and fisherfolks in the developing world?

The UNDP report also conveniently ignores actions taken against genetic engineering by some developing world governments. This includes governments in Asia that have developed or are developing regulations to stop the importation of GE seeds and foods across their borders. Others have taken positions on labelling, traceability and producer liability.

The recent ban against the importation of GE food by the Sri Lankan government has been described as one of the toughest restrictions against GE food in the world.

What happened to the right to safe food?

The UNDP report asserts that undernourished poor people can not afford to indulge in the unrealistic notion of health concerns - people need food no matter what the cost!

Everyone has a right to safe food whether they are from developing or developed countries. The UNDP has no right to push an unproven and unsafe technology on the developing world.

Dr. Arpad Pusztai, one of the world's foremost expert's on nutritional studies with 12 scientific books and close to 300 primary peer-reviewed scientific papers published, says there has been little scientific study into the health risks associated with GE foods. He argues the safety testing of GE foods is inadequate to assess potential harm, that GE foods can carry unpredictable toxins and that they may increase the risk of allergenic reactions.

A worst case scenario of what can possibly go wrong with GE food has already been indicated in the US and Europe in 1999 when a batch of the amino-acid food supplement L-typtophan manufactured using GE microbes entered the market. It killed 37 people and permanently crippled some 1,500 others with a new nervous system disorder-eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS).

Moreover, the UNDP report perpetuates the myth that technological fixes such as genetic engineering will alleviate poverty and feed the world. Unfortunately, the solution to world hunger is not so simple.

In many developing countries there is in fact an over supply of food, which is not readily accessible to the poor - they simply can't afford it. In a country like India, that fully embraced the 'miracle' of Green Revolution farming, some 320 million people go hungry when 60 million tonnes of grain lie idle in grain stockpiles.

The problem of poverty and hunger is not technological in nature, but is rooted in basic socio-economic and political realities, including inadequate food distribution, the lack of resources to grow food, the lack of farmers rights and land rights, and political will.

Genetically Engineered crops offer no benefits to farmers

Contradictory to the UNDP report that farmers may need to use less chemical inputs, the reality is that the use of herbicide tolerant and insect resistant crops will create more dependence on expensive chemicals and will increase the chemical poisoning of our bodies, food and the environment.

In 1996, nearly half of about two million acres of Bt cotton planted in the United States became heavily infested. Farmers were advised to salvage the crop with emergency spraying. A legal firm representing 17 of the farmers claimed Monsanto misrepresented the product.

Biotechnology expert Dr. Charles Benbrook (of the US Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Centre), in a recent report on Roundup Ready soybeans, not only reaffirms previous studies that weeds are growing resistant to Roundup, but that farmers are using considerably more herbicide than farmers cultivating non-GE varieties. Benbrook's study also found that Roundup Ready soybeans produce less of a yield (5-10 per cent) than conventional soybeans.

In the article "Transgenic Insecticidal Corn: Beyond Insecticidal Toxicity to Ecological Complexity," published in the May 2001 edition of the journal BioScience, it is reported that several studies show that the use of Bt corn in the United States has not significantly reduced insecticide use or increased yields.

In India a study by the New Delhi based Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) estimates that farmers' expenses would increase by as much as nine times if they switched from traditional seeds to GE cotton seeds. Bt cotton is currently under field trial in India. An application by Mahyco/ Monsanto for the commercialisation of it's Bt cotton was recently rejected by the Indian government based on insufficient data as to the agronomic advantage of the commercialisation of the Bt cotton and insufficient environmental safety and socio-economic studies.

In Indonesia Monagro/ Monsanto's Bt cotton field trials failed to out-perform the indigenous variety in all but one of nine districts in South Sulawesi. The Bt cotton also succumbed to drought and pest infestations. Indonesian farmers have protested against the Bt cotton and the NGO Coalition for Biosafety and Food Safety representing 72 NGOs has taken legal action against a government decree allowing the limited release of the Bt cotton seed in South Sulawesi.

While herbicide tolerant and insect resistant crops exacerbate the continuation of the pesticide-treadmill, the genetic engineering industry is also working on the development of GE seeds that render crops sterile ('terminator technology') and/ or control their growth and development via chemicals ('traitor technology'). Sterile, chemically dependent crops trap farmers into an expensive seed and chemical package with no alternatives. Sterile seeds will deny farmers the right to save seeds for replanting - crucial for the food security of communities. Approximately 1.4 billion farmers rely on saved seeds.

Another GE product enthusiastically promoted in the UNDP report, as helping to alleviate malnutrition, is 'golden rice.' The development of this is far off in the future with many doubts as to if it really offers any significant solutions to nutritional problems. Many believe this is simply another PR strategy by a morally bankrupt genetic engineering industry.

The reality is that the genetic engineering industry has funnelled the vast majority of its investment into the development and commercialisation of a limited range of products, which are of little relevance to the needs of the world's poor and hungry. One hundred per cent of the area planted to GE crops in 2000 were dominated by herbicide tolerant (73 percent) and insect resistant crops (22 per cent) or the two traits combined into the one crop (5 per cent).

"Instead of looking to as yet unproven as well as non-existent biotechnology breakthroughs, the UNDP should be looking into the many proven examples of ecological agriculture in developing countries based on pro-people technologies that work for resource poor communities and not against them," maintains Rengam.

It is all too evident that genetic engineering and GE foods and crops serve the short-term capital interests of a multi-billion dollar industry at the expense of our health and the environment. Corporations basically have only a financial motive in developing genetic engineering - to create a new round of capital accumulation. It is deeply disturbing that the UNDP has become a conduit for this motive. The needs and wants of the poor and hungry have been ignored yet again.


Genetically Engineered Vitamin A Rice:
A Blind Approach To Blindness Prevention

by Dr.Vandana Shiva
Feb 14, 2000

Genetically engineered Vitamin A rice has been proclaimed as a miracle cure for blindness: "a break-through in efforts to improve the health of billions of poor people, most of them in Asia".

More than one hundred million dollars have been spent over 10 years to produce a transgenic rice at the Institute of Plant Sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. The Zurich research team headed by Ingo Potrykens and Xudong Ye introduced three genes taken from a daffodil and a bacterium into a rice strain to produce a yellow rice with high levels of beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A within the body.

The rice is being promoted as a cure for blindness since Vitamin A deficiency causes vision impairment and can lead to blindness. According to the UN, more than 2 million children are at risk due to Vitamin A deficiency.

The work in Zurich was funded by grants from the Rockefeller Foundation the agency which had launched the chemical agriculture in Asia through the Green Revolution which led to erosion of biodiversity and erosion of diverse sources of nutrition for the poor. In addition, the Swiss Government and the European Community has also supported the research.

It will however take millions more dollars and another decade of development work at the International Rice Research Institute to produce Vitamin A rice varieties that can be grown in farmers fields.

Is the "golden" rice a miracle that is the only means for preventing blindness for Asia or will it introduce new ecological problems like the Green Revolution did and create new health hazards like other genetically engineered foods?

The genetic engineering of Vitamin A rice deepens the genetic reductionism of the Green Revolution. Instead of millions of farmers breeding and growing thousands of crop varieties to adapt to diverse ecosystems and diverse food systems, the Green Revolution reduced agriculture to a few varieties of a few crops - mainly rice, wheat and maize - bred in one centralized research center. The Green Revolution led to massive genetic erosion in farmers fields and knowledge, erosion among farming communities, besides leading to large scale environmental pollution due to use of toxic agrichemicals and wasteful use of water.

Genetically engineered rice as part of the second Green Revolution is repeating the mistakes of the Green Revolution while adding new hazards in terms of ecological and health risks.

The "selling" of Vitamin A rice as a miracle cure for blindness is based on blindness to alternatives for removing vitamin A deficiency and blindness to the unknown risks of producing Vitamin A through genetic engineering.

Eclipsing alternatives

The first deficiency of genetic engineering rice to produce Vitamin A is the eclipsing of alternative sources of vitamin A. Pinstripe Anderson, Head of the International Rice Research Institute, has said that Vitamin A rice is necessary for the poor in Asia, because "we cannot reach very many of the malnourished in the world with pills." However, there are many alternatives to pills for Vitamin A supply. Vitamin A is provided by liver, egg yolk, chicken, meat, milk, butter. Beta-carotenem, the vitamin A precursor, is provided by dark green leafy vegetables, spinach, carrot, pumpkin, mango and drumstick.

Women farmers in Bengal use more than 100 plants for green leafy vegetables.

The lower cost, accessible and safer alternative to genetically engineered rice is to increase biodiversity in agriculture. Further, since those who suffer from vitamin A deficiency suffer from malnutrition generally, increasing the food security and nutritional security of the poor through increasing the diversity of crops and diversity of diets of poor people who suffer the highest rates of deficiency is the reliable means for overcoming nutritional deficiencies.

Sources of Vitamin A in the form of green leafy vegetables are being destroyed by the Green Revolution and genetic engineering which promote the use of herbicides in agriculture. The spread of herbicide resistant crops will further aggravate this biodiversity erosion with major consequences for increase in nutritional deficiency. For example, bathua a very popular leafy vegetable in North India has been pushed to extinction in Green Revolution areas where intensive herbicide use is a part of the chemical package.

Environmental costs of vitamin A rice

Vitamin A from native greens and fruits is produced without irrigation and wastage of scarce water resources. Introducing Vitamin A in rice implies a shift from water conserving alternatives for Vitamin A to water an intensive system of production since so called high yielding rice varieties are highly water demanding. Vitamin A rice will therefore lead to mining of ground water or intensive irrigation from large dams with all the associated environmental problems of water-logging and salinization.

Further, as in the case of other genetically engineered crops, rice with Vitamin A will have impact on the food web. The ecological impact on soil organisms and other organisms dependent on rice in the food chain should be part of the biosafety analysis of genetically engineered rice before it is released for production. Research has already shown that indigenous rice varieties support far more species than Green Revolution varieties. How will genetically engineered rice impact biodiversity and the potential for disease and pest vulnerability?

Health risks of vitamin A Rice

Since rice is a staple eaten in large quantities in Asian societies, vitamin A rice could lead to excessive intake of vitamin A especially among those who do not suffer from vitamin A deficiency. Excess vitamin A can lead to hypervitaminosis A or vitamin A toxicity. Such toxicity is known to occur due to over ingestion of vitamin A rich food.

Natural sources of vitamin A are consumed seasonally and in small quantities as greens, relishes, fruits and hence do not carry the risks of vitamin A toxicity. Rice eating regions have been found to be associated with higher malnutrition than wheat eating regions, especially after the Green Revolution which destroyed fish and plant biodiversity necessary for a balanced diet. These regions also have higher prevalence of water borne diseases like diarrhea, amoebiasis hepatitis A and E, dysentery, and vector borne diseases like malaria, which unlike in earlier years when it was a less hazardous form of malaria caused by plasmodium vivax is increasingly becoming falciparum malaria. These health problems are known to involve damage to the liver. The additional risks of vitamin A toxicity under these conditions of vulnerable health situation of the poor in Asia needs to be assessed with care before a large scale push is given to genetically engineered rice.

Further, the globalization of agriculture is leading to an increase in malnutrition in the Third World, as the most fertile ecosystems are diverted to luxury export crops, and as domestic markets are destroyed due to dumping of subsidized agricultural commodities. In India, per capita consumption of cereals has declined by 12% in rural areas over the past two decades. The shift from policies based on the "right to food" to free trade policies will push millions into hunger and poverty.

Genetically engineered rice is part of a package of globalized agriculture which is creating malnutrition. It cannot solve the problems of nutritional deficiency but it can introduce new risks of food safety.

One thing is clear. Promoting it as a tool against blindness while ignoring safer, cheaper, available alternatives provided by our rich agrobiodiversity is nothing short of a blind approach to blindness control.

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