Imagine a World
Without Brown Rice
By Alex Jack
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Rice, wheat, and other
grains are a spiritual manifestation. They have nurtured and sustained humanity
for countless generations. The Upanishads, Bible, Greek mythology, I Ching,
Koran, Shinto scriptures, and writings of Confucius, Lao Tzu, Jefferson,
Thoreau, Gandhi, Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein), and other sages
and prophets extol the benefits of a diet centered on whole grains and other
predominantly vegetable-quality foods.
Soon, genetically engineered (GE) rice and wheat will move invisibly into
the marketplace. Nearly six billion people, virtually the entire planet,
eat one or more of these grains every day, and the biotech industry is determined
to replace natural and organic varieties with new "improved" GE
strains. As 2001 began, the race to release GE grains intensified:
• The USDA approved commercial production of the first two varieties
of rice developed from a "fast-paced biotechnological selection process"
called marker-assist-ed selection. Cadet and Jacinto, designed to improve
the texture of cooked rice, are being developed at the Agricultural Research
Service in Beaumont, Texas. Biotech methods are used to identify genes that
are then enhanced through conventional breeding.
• In Switzerland, Syngenta, the world’s largest biotech company,
announced that it has completed mapping of the rice genome, the first food
crop to be decoded. The information will allow patenting of individual genes
and the creation of many new artificial varieties.
• In the Philippines, "Golden Rice," a GE rice designed
to boost vitamin A and "feed the hungry," began the first Asian
• Monsanto began the first field trials of GE wheat in North Dakota,
South Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota. The nation’s largest biotech
company announced that commercial production of GE Roundup Ready Rice and
Roundup Ready Wheat would begin in 2003.
dozen varieties of artificial rice, wheat, and barley are in development
in the U.S., Japan, China, Italy, and France. Until now, the biotech industry
has focused on designing GE crops that are used primarily to feed livestock.
About 50% of America’s soybeans, 35% of its corn, and 40% of its
cotton are GE.
The Risks of GE Rice
Like other GE foods, the long-term effects of altered grains on human
health and the environment have not been tested. Since no labeling is
required, consumers in the United States have no way of knowing what they
are buying and eating or the potential hazards to their families. Already
there is a growing body of scientific and medical evidence on the dangers
and hazards of GE foods, including rice. Documented in Imagine a World
Without Monarch Butterflies and Saving Organic Rice, these include:
• Reduced nutrition
• Increased vitamin A toxicity
• Increased toxins, allergens, and disease
• Increased dependence on white rice
• Increased water pollution
• Threat to Monarch butterflies and other wildlife
• Use of increased pesticides and chemicals
• Emergence of new disease-resistant pests
• Emergence of new disease-resistant weeds
• Emergence of new viral diseases
• Loss of biodiversity
• Threat to sustainable agriculture
• Unforeseen health and environmental effects in the future
Like other altered crops, GE rice may release engineered pollen, seed,
pesticides, toxins, bacteria, viruses, or other GE organisms (GEOs) into
the environment that can crossbreed with or contaminate ordinary crops.
To date, thousands of acres of organic crops have been contaminated by
GE corn, rapeseed, and other crops.
Following the StarLink corn disaster last year, Aventis has recalled 430
million bushels of contaminated corn that entered the human food system.
More than 28,000 truckloads, 15,000 rail cars, and 285 barges of corn
tested positive for the potentially allergenic GE variety.
Early this year 10%
to 50% of the corn in Iowa and some areas tested positive for GEOs, though
less than 1% had been planted. "Our investigations thus far from
the 2000 harvest lead us to believe that virtually all of the seed corn
in the U.S. is contaminated with at least a trace of GE material,"
warns David Gould, a member of the certification committee of the California
Certified Organic Farmers. "Even the organic lots are showing traces
of biotech varieties.
the Wall Street Journal tested 20 natural foods labeled "non-GE"
or "GE-free" and reported that 16, or 80%, contained gene-altered
material. In almost all cases, the manufacturers regularly tested their
products for GEOs and the positive results were attributed to cross-pollination
or contamination during storage, handling, or shipping.
As a result of genetic
contamination, organic corn in the United States is now in jeopardy. Organic
corn oil has disappeared from natural foods shelves entirely over the
last couple of years. Gerber, the large baby food company, pledged to
use only GE-free ingredients in its products and in December was forced
to switch to rice in its dry mixed baby cereal because they could not
longer guarantee the purity of corn.
North of the border,
meanwhile, a Canadian judge dealt a severe blow to the organic movement
this spring when it ruled that a Saskatchewan farmer must pay Monsanto
thousands of dollars for violating the company’s patent on GE rapeseed
that blew onto his land from neighboring farms. Monsanto’s "gene
patrol" took seed samples from third generation farmer Percy Schmeiser
without his permission and sued him for violating their patent rights.
Beyond the Alice-in-Wonderland
legal decision–the 70-year-old Schmeiser faces $85,000 in fines–organic
canola farming is rapidly declining. Contamination is so widespread in
Canada that organic farmers reportedly can no longer afford to grow the
The same scenario will undoubtedly play out with GE rice and wheat when
they are released. In California, Greenpeace issued an environmental report,
California at the Crossroads, last summer that warned: "If current
trends in the genetic engineering of California’s major export crops
continue, the state’s producers could be facing gathering storm
clouds in their export markets and the potential collapse of its organic
food industry." In addition to rice, the report warned that all organic
fruits and vegetables in California’s Central Valley would be at
risk. In stark terms, the report concluded, "California is at a crossroads.
It can choose genetic engineering or it can choose organic agriculture.
Both cannot coexist in the state.
"In the face
of such threats, farmers across North America have rallied to oppose GE
crops. In North Dakota, the State House of Representatives passed a bill
imposing a moratorium on GE wheat. However, after Monsanto lobbied intensively
against it and threatened to withdraw all financial support for agricultural
research in the state, the Senate killed the bill. Similar legislation
has been introduced in 18 states, including Indiana where the House passed
a bill defending the farmers’ right to save seed. In Canada, the
National Farmers Union has called for a national moratorium on producing,
importing, and distributing GE food.
to the Threat
As these initiatives
show, across the continent, an enlightened citizenry is awakening to the
GE threat and taking steps to preserve natural seeds and crops. Along
with the spread of mad cow disease, foot and mouth disease, and the continuing
flood of pesticides and chemicals (as documented by Bill Moyers’
investigative report), food quality has emerged as the central issue of
the new century.
The time has come to unite and preserve brown rice, whole wheat, and other
essential foods–the foundation of human culture and civilization–before
it is too late.
Alex Jack, the president of Amberwaves, teaches health care and East
West philosophy at the Kushi Institute. His books include The Cancer-Prevention
Diet (with Michio Kushi) The Mozart Effect (with Don Campbell), and Imagine
a World Without Monarch Butterflies.
Reprinted from Amberwaves, Box 487, Becket, MA 01223, www.amberwaves.org
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