Golden Rice and Hazards of GMOs

ISIS Lecture 29/04/09

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Lecture at Workshop on Hazards of GMOs, Food and Democracy,
5th European Conference on GMO-Free Regions, 25 April 2009, Cultural and Conference Centre Lucerne (KKL), Switzerland

Thank you for inviting me here. I am Director of the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS). Our mission is to provide accessible and critical scientific information to the public and policy makers on a wide range of topics, genetic engineering, climate change, renewable energies, sustainable agriculture, and so on, in a bid to reclaim science for the public good, which is very important as corporations are increasingly monopolising not just seeds and food but scientific knowledge [1] (Corporate Monopoly of Science SiS 42). The ‘public’ includes also scientists trying to understand work done in other disciplines, which is not easy. We are fortunate to have scientists, Peter Saunders and myself, and Joe Cummins, who are polymaths to varying degrees. The ISIS website contains many useful resources, and we publish a colourful, beautifully illustrated quarterly magazine, Science in Society.

I first spoke out against GMOs in 1994, when the Third World Network (TWN) ( asked me to advice on genetic engineering. It was a desperate situation when almost everyone who knew anything about genetic engineering was involved in exploiting it commercially, and safety was simply not an issue. Worse yet, scientists who spoke up for it were vilified and victimised. I want to pay special tribute to Arpad Pusztai, who is in hospital recovering from a stroke. It was Arpad who really alerted the public to the potential hazards of GMOs by telling them the truth about his experiments.

Very soon after working with TWN, I realised that the lack of independent, reliable, and accessible scientific information was much larger than just genetic engineering. That was why my husband Peter Saunders and I co-founded ISIS in 1999. Reliable and independent scientific information is crucial for democracy, not just for food, but right across the board for health, energy, and decisions on science policies that affect our everyday life and that of our children and grandchildren.

The return of Golden Rice

I want to use Golden Rice as the jump off point to talk about the hazards of GMOs, because Golden Rice is presented as the flagship product of the industry, the beneficent, ethical and acceptable face of GMOs; its hazards, therefore, are all the more insidious and dangerous.

Golden Rice was created 10 years ago as a public relations exercise for the biotech industry that was failing to convince people to accept GMOs. Ingo Potrykus appeared on the cover of Time magazine (7 August 2000), with the headline: “This Rice could save a million kids a year” (from blindness due to vitamin A deficiency). The rice was genetically engineered to produce pro-vitamin A or b- carotene. The ploy was thoroughly exposed in our ISIS report [2] (see The 'Golden Rice', An Exercise in How Not to Do Science, ISIS Report), by Greenpeace, and others. But Golden Rice did not go away.

Last year, it staged a come back with a special feature in Science journal [3], “Tough lessons from Golden Rice”. And it transpired that Tufts University in Boston, United States, has been carrying out ‘clinical trials’ of Golden Rice on children. More than 30 senior scientists and academics signed an open letter condemning the work [4] (Scientists Protest Unethical Clinical Trials of GM Golden Rice). The trials were in breach of the Nuremberg Code of Ethics brought in at the end of the Second World War to prevent repetition of experiments conducted by Nazi scientists including many on children.

Read the rest of this article here // and read other articles about GM Rice here //



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