Open Letter to Helen Keller International
Ms. Nancy Haselow
Vice-President and Regional Director, Asia-Pacific
Helen Keller International
Asia-Pacific Regional Office
P.O. Box 168
Kingdom of Cambodia
Fax: + 855-23-210852
Dear Ms. Haselow
We are civil society organizations which have worked for years on the assertion and advancement of food sovereignty mainly of the most marginalized sectors of society namely, peasants, rural women, indigenous people, fisherfolk and pastoralists.1 Our work on the ground has shown that small farm biodiversity-based ecological agriculture can provide whole communities with adequate food, nutrition and livelihoods. We are sure you will agree that nutrition is about having a varied and wholesome diet.
We have held Helen Keller International (HKI) in high esteem in past years for the good work it has done for instance, through your home-garden programme. In light of that, we would like to express our dismay about your aligning with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to develop genetically engineered/modified (GE/GM) 'Golden Rice' in what is at best a highly questionable and potentially dangerous attempt by IRRI to address Vitamin A deficiency (VAD). We are deeply concerned about the very people you purport to serve being treated as guinea pigs in a scientifically unsafe and socially inappropriate experiment to promote such a GE crop.
The chemical-intensive monoculture form of agriculture promoted through the Green Revolution spearheaded by IRRI has to a large extent destroyed the biodiversity in small farms and rural communities across Asia, and has in fact done much to aggravate VAD in Asia. Yet disappointingly IRRI sees the answer to the micronutrient malnutrition situation it helped create in promoting a risky and unproven technology in the likes of Golden Rice. Golden Rice attempts to treat the symptom while neglecting the underlying causes of micronutrient deficiency which are mainly poverty and the loss of diversity in the food being grown, produced and consumed.
You must be aware of that all GE crops carry with them substantial risks to health and the environment including potentially dangerous unintended and unexpected effects. It is ironic that Golden Rice itself came about as an unexpected effect of the genetic engineering process!
HKI should be well aware of alarming trial results. Trials with rats and mice on GE potato have shown results such as abnormal organ development and potentially precancerous cell growth in the digestive tract (Ewen & Pusztai 1999) while rats fed with GE tomato demonstrated bleeding in the gut (Smith 2007). Meanwhile, there have been reports of cows becoming sick and dying after eating GE corn (Strodthoff & Then 2003). Reports on tests with GE soya are equally disturbing: liver cell problems in mice (Malatesta et al. 2002); significant differences in enzyme levels in the kidneys, hearts and livers of rabbits (Tudisco et al. 2006); and higher mortality rate of rat offspring (Ermakova 2006). In humans, soya allergies in the UK jumped from 10% to 15% of a sample group soon after GE soya was introduced in the country and a GE food supplement was linked to the death of some 100 people and illness in 5,000-10,000 (Smith 2007). Cotton workers handling GE cotton in India have also reported allergic reactions to handling it (Gupta et al. 2005). Besides the many threats of Golden Rice as a GE rice, one peculiar to it is the potential danger of the toxic effects of retinoids. Is HKI aware of this risk?
GE crops have also been shown to alter or disrupt plant-microorganism interaction (Castaldini et al. 2005); and have been linked to the death of beneficial insects or their larvae (Hilbeck et al. 1998). Another critical inherent threat of GE crops is that of contamination of local crop varieties as evidenced by the Liberty Link Rice scandal of 2006/2007. When Golden Rice contaminates local traditional and farmer-bred rice varieties (as it invariably will when it is grown), many of which contain precious nutritional properties, and if it harms plants and animals, it will actually destroy the very biodiversity that is necessary to address malnutrition!
GE food is simply not proven safe, not by a long shot. IRRI and HKI should exercise the precautionary principle on the issue of the genetic engineering of rice, the staple food of half the world's population, rather than embracing an obviously risky technology. We attach our papers on GE Rice, Golden Rice and Liberty Link Rice for your reference.
Understanding the complex causes of VAD is fundamental to formulating sound rather than techno-solutions to the problem of malnutrition in general and VAD in particular. The complex nature of nutritional deficiencies, especially among the poorer sectors of society, implies that no single nutrient, including Vitamin A, incorporated into food can be effective in addressing the problem. So instead of the 'bio-fortification' that IRRI is embarking upon, what really needs to be fortified are small farm agricultural systems and their diverse cropping patterns that guarantee wholesome, nutritious and safe food for the people. For example, small communities in Bangladesh (which you cite as one the target VAD countries) and most of the countries in Asia have a treasure house of knowledge about their local greens, uncultivated foods and fish types that thrive in chemical-free rice farms.
Note that even the United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition (UNSCN 2010), has in its message to UNFCCC negotiators in December 2010, expressly stated that "climate-resilient agriculture should be nutrition-friendly and health-promoting, as part of a broader nutrition-sensitive agricultural development framework". It also lays stress on that fact that "agricultural policies must go beyond staples and increase the availability and affordability of a diverse range of nutritious food (vegetables, fruits, animal and dairy products, small fish, under-utilized nutrient-rich indigenous foods, etc.). Agricultural policies should be pro-poor by enhancing and sustaining people's ability to procure and use the amount and variety of food required to be active and healthy. Policies must also be gender-sensitive: the majority of small-scale farmers are women, who are balancing their childcare responsibilities and farming every day....Agricultural investment in sustainable, climate-resilient, gender-sensitive and nutrition-sensitive development can contribute to reducing under-nutrition among children under five years of age. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development report (IAASTD) recommended to reverse top-down transfers of technology and replace them with bottom-up, participatory, farmer-oriented innovations".
Such a vision of food and farming is also endorsed by all of us on the ground. Such a model has no room for potentially hazardous and untested technologies such as GE in agriculture. We are neither for the genetic engineering of food nor the monopolisation of the rice seed. So we do trust you will give this issue the seriousness it warrants and we urge HKI to withdraw from any initiative to further develop and promote Golden Rice (and any other GE rice) in collaboration with IRRI or otherwise with immediate effect.
If you are indeed committed as you say to "ensuring that all women and children who need micronutrients to survive and thrive, including vitamin A, get it in adequate amount", then we invite you instead to support the kind of agriculture that makes real nutrition possible through natural and sustainable means. We are ready to work with you on such sustainable alternatives which promote biodiversity-based ecological agriculture, gender justice, and food sovereignty.
Your aligning with IRRI on GE 'Golden Rice' - an unnatural product and an unscientific and destructive approach to nutrition - is a grave mistake not just for the future of HKI and its reputation, but more so for the potentially millions in Asia who will suffer its adverse effects for generations to come.
The signatories below
Castaldini M, Turrini A, Sbrana C, Benedetti A, Marchionni M, Mocali S, Fabiani A, Landi S, Santomassimo F, Pietrangeli B, et al. 2005. Impact of Bt corn on rhizospheric and on beneficial mycorrhizal symbiosis and soil eubacterial communities iosis in experimental microcosms. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 71, 6719-6729.
Ermakova I. 2006. Genetically modified soy leads to the decrease of weight and high mortality of rat pups of the first generation. Preliminary studies. Ecosinform 1, 4-9.
Ewen SWB, and Pusztai A. 1999. Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine. Lancet 354, 1353-1354
Hilbeck A., Baumgartner M., Fried P.M., and Bigler F. 1998. Effects of transgenic Bacillus thuringiensis corn-fed prey on mortality and development time of immature Chrysoperla carnea (Neuroptera : Chrysopidae). Environmental Entomology 27, 480-487.
Malatesta M., Caporaloni C., Gavaudan S., et al. 2002. Ultrastructural Morphometrical and Immunocytochemical Analyses of Hepatocyte Nuclei from Mice Fed on Genetically Modified Soybean. Cell Structure and Function Vol. 27, No. 4, 173-18.
Gupta, A. et al. (2005). Impact of Bt cotton on farmers' health (in Barwani and Dhar District of Madhya Pradesh) Investigation Report Oct. - Dec. http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6265
Smith, J.M. 2007. Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods. Yes! Books. Fairfield, USA.
Strodthoff, H. & Then, C. Dec 2003. Is GM maize responsible for deaths of cows in Hesse? Greenpeace e.V. 22745. Hamburg, Germany.
Tudisco et al. 2006. Genetically Modified Soya Bean in Rabbit Feeding: Detection of DNA FraGEents and Evaluation of Metabolic Effects by Enzymatic Analysis. Animal Science 82, 193-199.
United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition (UNSCN) 2010. Climate change & nutrition security - Message to the UNFCCC negotiators UNSCN Policy Brief prepared for the 16th United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP16), Cancun, 29 November - 10 December 2010
- Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific, Malaysia
- Sarawak Dayak Iban Association, Malaysia
- Partners of Community Organisations (PACOS), Malaysia
- Southeast Asian Council for Food Security & Fair Trade (SEACON), Malaysia
- Tenaganita, Malaysia
- IBFAN-ICDC Penang, Malaysia
- Third World Network (TWN), Malaysia
- SRI Mas, Malaysia
- Health Action International Asia Pacific (HAIAP), Malaysia
- ERA Consumer, Malaysia
- All Nepal Peasants' Federation, Nepal
- Rural Reconstruction Nepal (RRN)
- Water and Energy Users' Federation-Nepal (WAFED), Nepal
- AMIHAN, National Federation of Peasant Women, Philippines
- Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Philippines
- Resistance and Solidarity Against Agrochemical TNCs (RESIST), Philippines
- Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE), Philippines
- Cordillera People's Alliance, Philippines
- GABRIELA, Philippines
- Tanggol Magsasaka (Peasant's Network for Land, Justice & Human Rights), Philippines
- Dagsaw Panay and Guimaras Indigenous Peoples Network, Inc., Philippines
- Asian Peasant Coalition (APC), Philippines
- People's Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) secretariat, Philippines
- Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG/ Farmer-Scientist Partnership for Development), Philippines
- Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (SIBAT/ Wellspring of Science and Technology), Philippines
- Rita Baua, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan, New Patriotic Alliance), Philippines
- Innabuyog (Regional Alliance of Women in the Cordillera, Northern Luzon), Philippines
- Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace, Philippines
- Families of the Disappeared for Justice (Desaparecidos), Philippines
- Families United for Justice (Hustisya), Philippines
- Consumers Union of Japan
- NO! GMO Campaign, Japan
- Food Action 21, Japan
- Foundation of Reclaiming Rural Agriculture and Food sovereignty Action (RRAFA), Thailand
- THANAL, India
- Coalition for a GM-Free, India
- Save our Rice Campaign, India
- Beej Bachao Andolan, India
- Samudayik Chetna Kendra, India
- Living Farms, India
- Tamil Nadu Organic Farmers Federation, India
- KUDUMBAM LEISA Network, India
- Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), India
- Andhra Pradesh Vyarusaya Vruthidarula Union (APVVU/A Federation of Agricultural Workers, Marginal Farmers, Fisher Folks and Forest Workers), India
- National Center for Labour, India
- AP Fisher People's Union, India
- Marginal Farmers Development Council (MFDC), India
- Sahanivasa, India
- NISARGA, India
- National Land Alliance, India
- National Alliance of People's Movement (NAPM), India
- Organic Farming Association of India - Orissa Unit, India
- Operations Research Group, India
- Association for Rural Planning & Action (ARPAN), India
- GM Free Bihar Movement, India
- Green Foundation, India
- Save Farmers Campaign (SFC) Network of Wayanad, India
- IBFAN Asia/BPNI BP, India
- Sahaja Samrudha - Organic farmers association of Karnataka, India
- Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samithi (PMVS), India
- LEAF Initiative, India
- GM free Maharashtra, India
- Save Farmers Campaign Network, Wayanad, India
- Sunray Harvesters, India
- The Environment Collaborative, India
- Khoj-Society for People's Education, Pakistan
- Lok Sanjh Foundation, Pakistan
- Consumers Korea, South Korea
- Center for Sustainable Rural Development (SRD), Vietnam
- Gita Pertiwi, Indonesia
- Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), Cambodia
- Sustainable Agriculture and Environment Development Association (SAEDA), Lao PDR
- Sikkha Sastha Unnayon Karzakram (SHISUK/Education, Health and Development Program), Bangladesh
- Voice, Bangladesh
- Right to Food Movement, Bangladesh
- Bangladesh Krishok Federation
- Bangladesh Kishani Sabha
- Bangladesh Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (BARCIK), Bangladesh
- Integrated Social Development Effort (ISDE), Bangladesh
- Humanitywatch, Bangladesh
- Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labour Federation (BAFLF)
- Human Development Organization (HDO), Sri Lanka
- Vikalpani National Women's Federation, Sri Lanka
- Savisthri, Sri Lanka
- Future In Our Hands Development Fund (FIOH Fund), Sri Lanka
- Centre for Human Rights and Development, Mongolia
- Mongolian People's Coalition for Food Sovereignty
- Pesticide Eco-Alternatives Center Yunnan (PEAC), China
- Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa, New Zealand
- Naturland e.V., Germany
- Gen-ethisches Netzwerk (Gen-ethical Network), Germany
- GMWatch, UK
- Association Romande des Magasins du Monde, Switzerland
- PINAY-Filipino Women's Organization in Quebec, Canada
- Alianza por una Mejor Calidad de Vida ( RAP-Chile), Chile
- Institute For Responsible Technology, Fairfield, Iowa, U.S.A
- Farmworker Association of Florida, USA
- Planetary Health, Inc./Amberwaves, USA
- The Second Chance Fd., USA
- Say No To GMOs!, USA
- BAYAN USA
- Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), USA
- International Women's Alliance (IWA)
- Dr.V.T.Sundaramurthy, Entomologist, Formerly Project Coordinator & Head, AICCIP (Cotton-ICAR),Central Institute for Cotton Research, RS, Coimbatore, India
- Suma Josson , Film Maker, India
- Prof.M.K.Prasad, Former Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Calicut, India
- Shalini Bhutani, Activist Writer, India
- Professor Anwar Fazal, Director, Right Livelihood College, Malaysia
- Santhi Sarma, India
- Sudeshna Sengupta, India
1 Some concerned individuals have also signed on.
Please join us in signing on to this letter to stop the development of Golden Rice.
Although the letter has just been sent to Helen Keller International with over 100 signatories, other organisations are welcomed to sign on until the end of November 2011. Just signify your agreement to be cited as a signatory and give us your organization’s name and country – please email firstname.lastname@example.org by 30 November 2011. Your organisation's name will be added to the list in the letter on our website.
Let us unite to stop the promotion of genetically engineered crops and food in our world.
SAVE OUR RICE!