Human genes in rice spark new GM row

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food chain Genetically modified organism Gm

Genetically modified rice containing human genes has received
preliminary approval in the US, sparking new concerns and fears on
both sides of the Atlantic.

California-based Ventria Bioscience has received approval from the US Department of Agriculture to cultivate over 3,000 acres of the rice in Kansas. The issue of GM approval within the EU is one of the most contentious in agriculture. The recent announcement that US authorities had traced amounts of unapproved genetically modified (GM) food in samples of rice prompted the EU to clamp down on all imports from the US. The immediacy of this action illustrated the stringent controls the EU has in place to guard against unauthorised products entering the food chain, and also reflected consumer fears over the technology. The new rice is genetically engineered to produce lactiva and lysomin - two proteins found naturally in breast milk, and reported to have significant potential against diarrhoea. Indeed, a clinical trial using the rice has been published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition​, and reports that 140 children suffering from diarrhoea and admitted to the hospital recovered significantly quicker and were less likely to relapse after taking an electrolyte solution containing lactiva and lysomin than children in the placebo group. "Diarrhoeal illnesses are a major reason for children seeing their physician and a major cause of emergency room visits,"​ said Robert Wittler, from Kansas University School of Medicine at Wichita. "This is an important study as decreasing the duration of diarrhoea lessens the likelihood of children becoming significantly dehydrated and allows children to return to day-care and school quicker and their parents who work outside the home can return to work sooner."​ Despite the potential benefits of against childhood diarrhoea - the second leading killer of under-fives globally - the news has been described as "very disturbing"​ by GeneWatch UK, according to the Daily Mail. Researcher Becky Price is quoted: "There are huge, huge health risks and people should rightly be concerned about this." ​ Moreover, Friends of the Earth, campaigners against GM that have been propagating the line that GM foods should be banned from the food chain because they posed a potential risk to health, have also been putting their viewpoint across. Campaigner Clare Oxborrow told the Daily Mail: "Using food crops and fields as glorified drug factories is a very worrying development. "If these pharmaceutical crops end up on consumers' plates, the consequences for our health could be devastating. "The biotech industry has already failed to prevent experimental GM rice contaminating the food chain. "The Government must urge the U.S. to ban the production of drugs in food crops. It must also introduce tough measures to prevent illegal GM crops contaminating our food and ensure that biotech companies are liable for any damage their products cause."​ Source: Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition​ February 2007, Volume 44, Number 2, Pages 258-264 "Efficacy of rice-based oral rehydration solution containing recombinant human lactoferrin and lysozyme in Peruvian children with acute diarrhea" ​Authors: N. Zavaleta, D. Figueroa, J. Rivera, J. Sanchez, S. Alfaro, B. Lonnerdal

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