Bart: just for future reference, Dr. Shiva is a woman.
I am not a nutritionist, nor have I ever been to India.
> You indicate:
> I have never worked in Asia, but have worked with about 7,000 hectares
> (17,000 acres) of rice in the US, and to a much lesser extent in Latin
> America. Dr. Shiva addresses this issue here as if rice will be grown
> to replace native vegetables, yet elsewhere he bemoans the loss of
> traditional rice cultivars to the new yellow rice.
No. She makes the point that in order to grow "green revolution" rice, of which
golden rice would be just the latest variant, one needs to use a range of inputs,
including herbicides, which have the side-effect of knocking out the other species
she referenced - which are alternate, inexpensive (and non-proprietary!) sources of
domestic Vit A. She stated: "Women farmers in Bengal use more than 100 plants for
green leafy vegetables." and further, "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." I claim no
expertise on this, but as Dr. Shiva is an Indian scientist whose entire career has
been based on knowledge of these issues - I will defer to her expertise until
In general, the phenomenon of displacing both the people and the traditional crops
they've grown from land so that it can support high-yielding cultivars of coarse
grains is a global phenomenon. Absent specific knowledge of her country, I can
only attest to the reality of her point from what I've seen in Central and South
America. Indeed, the farmers I worked with most recently in the rainforest in
Nicaragua had been pushed off their land in the flat, arable western half of the
country - so it could be farmed intensively, complete with center pivots and all
the fixings, largely for export. They were trying to farm, using their old
methods, out in a wholly new environment on la frontera, in the eastern
rainforest. What would become of their traditional, native "crop" plants, used
for so many different purposes?
You are correct in noting that the loss of genetic diversity in rice cultivars -
caused by the linearity of green revolution mentality she bemoans - is ongoing and
preceeded GE. Fair enough. But that fundamental mistake cannot be used to justify
continuing the same mistake, as I'm sure you would agree.
> Part of the problem is that people are simply not eating the vegetable sources of
> vitamin A. I have encountered this as a common phenomenon in much of Latin
> America and the Caribbean.
I did not get the impression from her posting that people in India are
intentionally not eating the sources of Vit A formerly available to them, but
rather, that the sources were literally no longer available. Perhaps your
experience in the Carribbean is not generalizable to hers in India?
> The logic is that yellow rice will replace white rice, is it not?
I wouldn't presume to know the intended use of golden rice, if, in fact, it ever
makes its way into commerce. Having taught Tropical Crop Ecology for several
years, however, as well as my own experience abroad, I do know that people grow
many cultivars of rice (or potatoes, or whatever) for many purposes. Very often,
the parameters they select for in their diverse cultivars are outside the frame of
reference of breeding programs, including flavor/taste, aroma, value for making
beer, cooking time, feasibility for hoeing (e.g. how high bean pods and leaves are
borne relative to the ground), very early maturity (e.g. a "hunger-breaker" crop)
etc. This is well known now by at least some breeders, thanks to the work of
Ashley and colleagues in the Hill Farm Research group at CIAT, but sure wasn't
known when the first high-yielding green revolution rice - IR 8 - was released with
such fanfare at IRRI. The people who were expected to grow it, gratefully,
considered it as "pig feed" because it tasted so awful.
So, if golden rice is ever going to actually be of benefit towards the blindness
issue, it will have to possess not simply the Vit A trait but a range of other
attributes so that people will actually eat it, let alone the yield, disease,
insect, etc. resistance that conventional breeding and GE breeding focuses so
heavily upon.. Golden will not "replace white", but rather, some fraction of the
> And while there are people who may try to grow it as upland rice, I would assume
> that the majority of
> growers will already be producing paddy rice, and already using substantial
> volumes of water. The change in water use from the introduction of yellow rice is
> likely to be minor, but the change in
> nutrient intake of people eating the rice is likely to be significant.
I believe her point was why go through the process of growing golden rice
(specifically to alleviate Vit A deficiency) - which relies on the whole suite of
inputs, including water - when other sources will do - without the inputs,
including water? And of course, one must also acknowledge that the growers of the
golden rice will not necessarily be - and indeed, are very likely not be - the
people who are Vit A deficient. The bottom end of society is landless, and will
have to buy the rice in order to eat it.
To illustrate why this is important, I will diverge briefly into a related example
from Bangladesh. I once attended a student Pugwash conference, and had the great
pleasure of listening to Roger Revelle and a student discuss their work on energy
use efficiency in a Bangladeshi village. The focus was the switch from floating or
paddy rice (low yielding, in part due to very long stems, extending to stay above
flood waters) to green revolution rice (short-statured, controlled water levels,
due to a dam, and very much higher yielding). One would think, at least on the
surface, that this would be a great and welcome innovation. But his study showed
that the bottom third of the society was actually worse off than before, because
traditionally, they had had the right to go into the fields after grain harvest and
collect the straw, which they used as fuel to cook their rice. But now, the volume
of straw was so small, that they had to sell some of their precious rice (they were
paid in rice) to buy fuel to cook the remaining rice.
I do not know enough about golden rice or the current paradigm to comment on other,
analogous issues, but the fact that the poor are often landless and will have to
buy (not grow) the grain, puts a further distance between the intended benefit and
the actual beneficiaries.
> >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.
> This statement is as wrong as it can get. Beta-carotene is *not*
> vitamin A, and can not cause hypervitaminosis A.
I do not know anything about this - perhaps others can comment further on the
connection, if any, between beta carotene and Vit A. Ann.
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