Thursday, July 31, 2014
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Une opportunité dorée

SÃO PAULO – Après 12 ans de reports liés à l’opposition des adversaires des organismes génétiquement modifiés (OGM), le « riz doré, » caractérisé par sa forte teneur en vitamine A, va enfin pouvoir être cultivé aux Philippines. Aux de cours de ces 12 années, quelque huit millions d’enfants à travers le monde seront décédés en raison d’une carence en vitamine A. Les militants anti-OGM n’en seraient-ils pas en partie responsables ?

Le riz doré illustre de la manière la plus frappante la controverse mondiale sur les OGM, qui voit confronter une technologie à la fois porteuse de risque et d’espoirs considérables à la résistance de campagnes bien-pensantes. Trois milliards de personnes dépendent du riz comme aliment de base, 10% d’entre elles présentant le risque d’une carence en vitamine A qui, d’après l’Organisation mondiale de la santé, provoquerait chaque année la cécité de 250 000 à 500 000 enfants à travers le monde. La moitié de ces enfants décéderait dans l’année. Une étude menée par le journal médical britannique The Lancet affirme que la carence en vitamine A entraînerait chaque année au total la mort de 668 000 enfants de moins de cinq ans.

Pourtant, malgré le coût en vies humaines, les militants anti-OGM – de Greenpeace à Naomi Klein – dénigrent les efforts consistant à promouvoir le riz doré comme un remède aux carences en vitamine A. En Inde, la militante écologiste et conseillère du gouvernement Vandana Shiva a qualifié le riz doré de « canular » davantage « créateur de famine et de malnutrition que de solutions pour y remédier. »

Le New York Times Magazine a prétendu en 2001 qu’il était nécessaire à une personne de « consommer chaque jour près de 7 kg de riz doré » pour bénéficier d’un apport suffisant en vitamine A. Cette exagération apparaît aujourd’hui manifestement erronée. Deux études récentes publiées dans l’American Journal of Clinical Nutritionont démontré que seulement 50 grammes de riz doré pouvaient satisfaire 60% de l’apport journalier recommandé en vitamine A. D’après ces études, le riz doré offrirait même aux enfants un apport en vitamine A supérieur à celui des épinards.

Ses opposants font valoir qu’il existerait de meilleurs moyens de remédier aux carences en vitamine A. Dans sa toute dernière déclaration, Greenpeace a affirmé que le riz doré n’était « ni réclamé, ni nécessaire, » et a plutôt encouragé le recours aux compléments alimentaires et à la vitaminisation, décrits comme présentant une meilleure « rentabilité. »

De toute évidence, la prise de gélules vitaminées ou l’ajout de vitamine A aux aliments de base sont susceptibles de faire la différence. Mais ces propositions ne sauraient constituer une solution durable aux carences en vitamine A. Et bien qu’elles présentent un caractère rentable, un certain nombre d’estimations récemment publiées indiquent que le riz doré le serait bien davantage.

Les programmes d’apport nutritionnel complémentaire permettent en Inde de sauver une vie pour un coût de 4 300 $, le coût des programmes de vitaminisation s’élevant à environ 2 700 $ pour chaque vie préservée. Deux solutions certes intéressantes. Mais l’utilisation du riz doré ne présenterait qu’un coût de 100 $ pour chaque vie sauvée des ravages de la carence en vitamine A.

De même, certains font valoir l’impossibilité d’un recours au riz doré en raison du fait que la plupart des Asiatiques ne consomment pas de riz brun. Or, le riz brun est sensiblement différent en termes de goût, et se gâte rapidement dans les régions à climat chaud. De plus, de nombreux plats asiatiques sont colorés de jaune par le safran, le roucou, l’achiote ou encore le curcuma. Ce sont ces personnes, et non Greenpeace, qui devraient pouvoir décider si elles souhaitent recourir à un riz riche en vitamine A pour leur alimentation et celle de leurs enfants.

Une ironie encore plus prononcée réside dans l’argument critique bien peu constructif qu’avancent aujourd’hui de nombreux activistes. Greenpeace considère le riz doré comme un « fiasco, » dans la mesure où « cet aliment est en phase de développement depuis près de 20 ans, et n’a toujours pas permis d’impacter la prévalence des carences en vitamine A. » Or, comme l’a clairement rétorqué Ingo Potrykus, scientifique à l’origine de la création du riz doré, cet échec s’explique principalement par l’opposition acharnée des partisans anti-OGM – bien souvent de riches occidentaux bien intentionnés et bien peu menacés par le risque quotidien que représentent ailleurs dans le monde les carences en vitamine A.

Une réglementation des produits et des services est évidemment nécessaire à la santé publique des États ; mais cette nécessité doit toujours être mise en balance avec le prix à payer – en l’occurrence, l’absence d’apport supplémentaire en vitamine A à près de huit millions d’enfants ces 12 dernières années.

À titre d’illustration, si les régulations actuelles relatives aux aliments OGM s’appliquaient aux aliments non-OGM, il serait impossible de procéder à la commercialisation des pommes de terre et des tomates (qui sont susceptibles de contenir des glycoalcaloïdes toxiques), du céleri (qui contient des psoralènes cancérigènes), de la rhubarbe et des épinards (acides oxaliques) ou encore du manioc, qui nourrit près d’un demi-milliard de personnes, bien qu’il renferme des alcaloïdes cyanogènes toxiques. De nombreuses denrées alimentaires comme le soja, le blé, le lait, les œufs, les mollusques, les crustacés, les poissons, le sésame, les noix, les arachides et le kiwi seraient également interdits à la vente, dans la mesure où elles sont susceptibles de provoquer des allergies alimentaires.

Il convient par ailleurs de noter l’inexistence de rapports sur les effets des aliments OGM pour la santé humaine. Beaucoup d’opposants ne manquent pas d’invoquer d’autres effets, avançant souvent l’argument, encore aujourd’hui invoqué à répétition par Shiva, selon lequel le maïs transgénique Bt provoquerait la disparition des papillons Monarques. Plusieurs études confirmées ont cependant clairement établi « le caractère négligeable de l’impact du pollen de maïs transgénique Bt issu des hybrides commerciaux actuels sur les populations de papillons Monarques. »

Greenpeace et beaucoup d’autres prétendent que les aliments OGM n’auraient vocation qu’à permettre à des grandes sociétés comme Monsanto d’aboutir à un quasi-monopole. Il s’agirait néanmoins de ne pas mettre la charrue avant les bœufs : la prédominance de ces grandes compagnies est en partie la conséquence de l’activisme anti-OGM, qui rend les procédures d’approbation si longues et si coûteuses que seules les riches sociétés faisant appel aux agriculteurs occidentaux ont la capacité d’en voir le bout.

Enfin, l’argument est souvent avancé selon lequel les cultures OGM ne représenteraient que semences plus coûteuses et moindres revenus pour les agriculteurs. Or, ces agriculteurs ont le choix : plus de cinq millions de cultivateurs de coton en Inde privilégient aujourd’hui le coton OGM, dans la mesure où il engendre des revenus nets plus élevés. Ces semences sont certes plus onéreuses, mais l’augmentation de la production qu’elles représentent compense le surcoût.

Bien évidemment, aucune technologie n’est exempte de défaut, d’où l’utilité d’une surveillance réglementaire. Pour autant, il est toujours bon de conserver une certaine perspective. En 2010, après 25 années de recherche sur les OGM, la Commission européenne n’a-t-elle pas en effet conclu qu’il « n’exist[ait], à ce jour, aucune preuve scientifique associant les OGM à des risques plus élevés pour l’environnement ou pour l’alimentation et la sécurité alimentaire que les végétaux et organismes traditionnels. »

Aujourd’hui enfin, le riz doré arrive aux Philippines, après quoi il devrait gagner le Bangladesh et l’Indonésie. Mais pour huit millions d’enfants, l’attente aura été trop longue.

Fidèle à elle-même, Greenpeace proteste d’ores et déjà, affirmant que les enfants des Philippines seraient les prochains « cobayes du riz doré. » Pour autant, il est possible que les 4,4 millions d’enfants philippins souffrant de carences en vitamine A n’en soient pas si dérangés.

Traduit de l’anglais par Martin Morel.

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  1. CommentedPaul Gregory Ahearn

    This classic debate between GMO, Monsanto issues and improving nutrition of humanity is very nicely presented by Professor Lomborg. The farm industry has been very uneasy to allow Monsanto and others to uniquely control their seed stock; and that body of I.T. law really needs both challenge and amending legislation. However, improved nutrition to over 4 million Fillipino children is slam dunk GOOD --- end the debate, GMO science wins and protect the family/corporate farms both. Without the economic wellness of the farm community; our entire world will suffer. Do NOT bite the hand that feeds you !!! :):):)

  2. CommentedBill Thomas

    Lomborg shilling for the corporations as usual.

    The Golden Rice Hoax. "In order to meet the full needs of 750 micrograms of vitamin A from rice, an adult would have to consume 2 kg 272g of rice per day. This implies that one family member would consume the entire family ration of 10 kg. from the PDS in 4 days to meet vitamin A needs through "Golden rice"." http://online.sfsu.edu/~rone/GEessays/goldenricehoax.html

  3. CommentedInderpreet Singh

    Mr. Lomborg,

    while I appreciate your concern for the millions of lives at risk due to Vitamin A deficiency, I cannot disagree with you more. However, my biggest concern is not that you are advocating for the adoption a GM crop variety. An even bigger concern is that a well-meaning intellectual like yourself who is in a position of "power" and "influence" is so far removed from the reality on the ground and carries a very abstract understanding of the real issues in relation to an extremely complex subject as modifying the genetic code of a naturally existing substance and claiming it to be good for humanity and nature. It's noticeable how one abstract point of view about something complex like GM gets propagated from one intellectual to another without much critical thinking or even attention to the real problems and trends on the ground.

    India, the country that I come from, has been growing food and feeding its people sustainably for over 4000 years in ways that not only sustained but enhanced the natural fertility of soil. Then came along the so called 'Green Revolution' on the pretense that millions are going to die of famine. So we were forced to let go of the "traditional" and "out-dated" ways of farming and adopt "modern" techniques such as intensive irrigation, fertilizer and pesticide inputs. No body bothered to ask the question - "how come a country that has been able to sustainably grow food and feed it's people for over 40 centuries has come to the brink of famines?". 35 years after the Green Revolution started, yes the yields of our grains have increased but levels of hunger at a historical high, levels of poverty amongst the smallholding farmers are at a historical high, and our soil systems have lost the capacity to produce food without the excessive doses of chemical inputs. Who's the winner? The fertilizer and the chemical inputs industry. Thanks in no measure to the resilience of the farming communities that they are realizing this and making efforts to revive the land by shunning chemical inputs and reverting back to their traditional knowledge systems of agriculture and food production.

    And here again, we hear the same argument - we have to introduce this 'Golden Rice' because if we do not, millions will die. The answer is obvious to the question as to what is the primary objective of a private corporation - to maximize profits for its shareholders or to save millions of lives and improve the nutrition and well being of people.

    Mr. Lomborg, you may be surprised to know that India used to grow more than 200'000 (yes, that's is two hundred thousand) varieties of rice before the Green Revolution. All of these varieties were bred by farmers on the fields and developed to suit myriads of local climates and conditions. Not only that, many varieties of rice were bred and developed to have certain medicinal properties. Practically all of these varieties are now replaced by a handful of so called high-yield varieties, and the traditional ones are now sitting either in the seed banks of agricultural universities or of the International Rice Research Institute (many of these varieties were illegally procured by the IRRI from local Indian universities).

    The point is that obviously there is a whole lot more to the GM debate. So, Mr. Lomborg, please make an effort and do some research, travel, visit the Phillipines, visit India, meet with farmers, ask them about the issues they are facing, make an effort to understand the historical context of agriculture and then form your opinion. Please do not just repeat the same mistake that many intellectuals and scholars have become so good at - quoting each other and pushing for a certain agenda just because it's the easier thing to do.

  4. CommentedJeffrey Scofield

    Drawing attention to the near monopoly power of companies like Monsanto is definitely not putting the cart before the horse.  The rise of fertilizer and chemical companies came about with help of the petroleum industry and patent law abuse.  If you follow the money throughout history and through the mergers, you would notice the impetus comes from these companies - most recently using political money to embed corporate lawyers in the legal system. 

    Have a highly regulated GM industry, but there is no acceptable rational behind patenting life. That's the can of worms that Mr. Lomberg intentionally left closed. Greenpeace did not lobby politicians to allow the patenting of life (or for that matter patent monopolies) and Mr. Lomberg's deliberate omission of this key factor contradicts his argument. The fact that the GM industry - which has become synonymous with the fertilizer and pesticide industry - has extended this technology to seed sterilization demonstrates the enormous waste this industry has intentionally engineered.

    Perhaps Bjørn could trace the evolution of the agribusiness industry in detail along with mergers, political spending, judicial appointments, patenting, etc.  How much of that came from Greenpeace? Of all the corporatist lawyers on the Supreme Court, how many were endorsed by Greenpeace? How much lobbying did they do to get those appointments? If the patent laws granted to living organisms didn't exist, how much money would be invested in this technology? Did Greenpeace establish the agribusiness model or set up the subsidies for wealthy corporate farms that are monopolistic, both horizontally and vertically? Little credence can be given to Bjørn's claim that Greenpeace's activities made these companies as collusive/monopolistic as they have become.

    The people of the Philippines have many choices. They can choose more perfect information.  They can choose to reject patent law originating from foreign corporations. They can choose to innovate and invest in their own GM technologies.  They may even seek research from foreign universities. They can choose to diversify their crops for a wide variety of ecological reasons.  They can also choose to invest in alternative methods of nutrition, understanding the costs can be offset by a more diverse and competitive market, void of rent seeking abuses.

  5. CommentedNitin Pandit

    Given the huge potential to tap inefficiencies in the agricultural system, i.e., potential to provide food, and of good practices (http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/feb/16/india-rice-farmers-revolution?CMP=twt_gu), the debate over who to blame for taking sides over GM seems as unnecessary as GM foods themselves.

  6. CommentedLeo Arouet

    In total disagreement. Genetically modified foods have unintended long-term. If you want to fight malnutrition, it can be done, but that depends on rich countries to commit to the cause, but not say that the solution is the genetically modified food. Is this a joke or what? And who benefits from its implementation?

  7. CommentedBhagirath Choudhary

    The most trusted source of data, as correctly referred in Lomborg's article comes from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the Philippines. If you r really interested in peer-reviewed papers and authentic information on golden rice browse IRRI golden rice page : http://www.irri.org/goldenrice/
    I understand Golden rice would be made available in varietal background by respective Govt funded public sector institutes in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and India. Enriching crops with nutritional traits is the most cost effective, timely and desirable way to reach those most vulnerable and malnourished women and children, often left out of various fortification schemes. The big moral question is how long they be denied of this golden opportunity?

      CommentedInderpreet Singh

      Mr. Choudhary, if you are really interested in understanding the work of IRRI, please check out the book 'Oryza Nirvana' - which reviews the birth and evolution of IRRI in the context of rice in the Phillipines and Asia.

  8. CommentedP Jacob

    Mr. Lomborg, once again, writes from myopic thinking. Health is not simply a business of cost effectiveness. I strongly recommend Mr. Lomborg looks deeper into the genetically modified debate before drawing such simplistic conclusions. Rice is a staple daily diet (often the only food) for many cultures. Fortifying natural rice with anything can risk many reactions, allergies and even death. In this instance one should be aware that there is such a thing as Vitamin A overdose... There is a great danger of creating even greater problems by the use of this gene altered rice which may take years to show up in the human body. But then Big Pharma will reap the spoils eh? Restoring nature to a balanced biodiversity instead of taking a gmo colonial approach may serve the world much better Mr. Lomborg.
    VITAMIN A OVERDOSE, VITAMIN A TOXITY, TOO MUCH VITAMIN A http://www.antioxidantsdetective.com/vitamin-a-overdose.html
    VITAMIN A OVERDOSE SYMPTOMS, DIAGNOSIS, TREATMENTS AND CAUSES - Right Diagnosis.com http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/v/vitamin_a_overdose/intro.htm
    SIGNS OF A VITAMIN A OVERDOSE | LIVESTRONG.COM http://www.livestrong.com/article/345535-signs-of-a-vitamin-a-overdose/

      CommentedShawn Richardson

      Considering a serving of golden rice will only provide a small fraction of the daily Vitamin A requirement, Vitamin A toxicity is not really much of a concern.

  9. Commentedmoderate Guy

    "...opposition to GM foods – often by rich, well-meaning Westerners..." No, you cannot absolve them of this because they think they are "well-meaning". These people, and they are present here in the comments section are responsible for the death and crippling of millions of children. That is not "well-meaning" by any yardstick. These people are monsters and evildoers and need to be "outed" as such.

      CommentedShawn Richardson

      Larry, the PDF that you posted makes an outrageous scientific error right in the first "myth". Horizontal gene transfer does happen in nature. It has been known for quite sometime that there is horizontal gene transfer between mosses and ferns. Parasitic plants and their hosts wage a type of genetic warfare. About 25% of the cattle genome comes from viral transfers of DNA from reptiles. You may want to hold off on the condescension until you get the basic science right.

      CommentedLarry Spellman

      "moderate guy": even if you work for Monsanto or Syngenta, those are ridiculous comments. Opposition to GM food is evil? That's laughable. Start here (with peer-reviewed journal articles) to educate yourself:

      http://earthopensource.org/files/pdfs/GMO_Myths_and_Truths/GMO_Myths_and_Truths_1.3.pdf

  10. CommentedVenu Madhav

    I am surprised and shocked at this spin on facts and specially the huge endorsement from Lomborg on this subject.
    There are multiple sources for Vitamin-A, millk, green leafy vegetables, carrots, eggs included; and yet the push with a circuitous approach to make it available sounds utterly ridiculous.

  11. CommentedAvraam Dectis

    "golden rice would cost just $100 for every life saved from vitamin A deficiency."
    -------------------------------------------------------------
    Why would it cost anything at all ?

    Where does the additional cost come from?

  12. CommentedFrank O'Callaghan

    The great issue with GM is that the technology is used for profit and control rather than for the benefit of humanity.

    We need a better GM. Research should be publicly and internationally funded with the results made freely available.

  13. CommentedFaruk Timuroglu

    You choose the question, eventually you answer as you please, in a monolog. Creating beings that aren't capable producing offspring is simply outrageous. Whole world would become depend upon you to survive. If one could acquire the power to control life on earth with vitamin A, vitamin A must be something very dangerous. Next step would be Manipulating human population on earth.

  14. Commentedjimmy rousseau

    Vendana Shiva is completely right, the problem is not a lack of foodstuffs that can be grown containing enough vitamins, the problem is poverty and education. Also so long as poor third world farmers must compete with highly mechanized 1st world farms, there is no future for any of these countries. the first world countries all developed their economies through closed borders, and now dictate to the third world that there must be free trade. these are the problems, not the lack of gmo's

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