GENET archive


DRUGS & PHARMACROPS: Does Africa need a genetically modifiedsolution to diarrhea?

                                 PART I
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  'Hybrid rice can't cure diarrhea'
SOURCE: This Day, Nigeria
AUTHOR: Godwin Haruna
DATE:   20.03.2007

'Hybrid rice can't cure diarrhea'

Attempts at introducing Genetically Modified (GM) rice as a
pharmaceutical crop to treat diarrhea in African children is
unnecessary, demeaning and a calculated move to distract from ongoing
global programmes to save children suffering from the disease, the
Friends of the Earth Africa (FOE Africa), has said.
A new variety of GM rice containing Human genes is set to be approved by
the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for large-scale planting in
Kansas, United States after two other states barred such plantings. The
California-based biotech company, Ventria Bioscience, announced that the
rice which had been engineered to produce recombinant human milk protein
will be used in oral rehydration solutions to treat diarrhea and also as
supplements in yogurt, sports drinks and granola bars.
Friends of the Earth groups in Africa, in a statement issued through
Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria (ERA/FoEN),
condemned the action, stating that barely few months after the illegal
contamination of (GM) rice LL601 in Ghana and Sierra Leone; proponents
of GMO are once again using Africa to propagate their illegal and unsafe

The group added that despite refusal of the US Food and Drug
Administration to approve the recombinant pharmaceutical product as
safe, not only was Ventria going ahead with its massive planting of drug-
containing rice, but 150 infants from age 5 to 33 months have been used
to experiment this technology in Peru, one of Latin American's poorest
According to FoE Africa, parents of the children were not adequately
informed of the experimental nature of the treatment, and at least two
mothers of infants in the clinical trial reported that their infants
suffered serious allergic reactions, causing Peruvian government to
launch an enquiry into the experiment.
"Africa does not need a genetically modified solution for diarrhea. The
solution of diarrhea lies with its cause, not GMO. We are yet to get
over the contamination in West Africa of GM rice as commercial imports
and food aid from the United States and now this, we are becoming
increasing concerned at diverse moves to permeate GMO in this
continent,", said FoE Africa GMO campaigner, Nnimmo Bassey.
The first GM food containing human genes is set to raise many socio
economic, cultural, religious as well as ethical questions besides the
environmental and health concerns, the groups streesed.

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                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Does Africa need a genetically modified solution to diarrhea?
SOURCE: Pambazuka News, South Africa
AUTHOR: Nnimmo Bassey
DATE:   15.03.2007

Does Africa need a genetically modified solution to diarrhea?

Nnimmo Bassey is the Director of Environmental Rights Action (Friends of
the Earth Nigeria)

The introduction of genetically modified rice into Africa is being
justified by presenting it as a solution to diarrhoea, responsible for
2,000,000 deaths per year (mainly children) in the global South. However
there are other very simple means of reducing cases of diarrhoea such as
improved sanitation and cleaner, free water supplies.

On 6 March 2007, it was reported in the media that a new variety of
Genetically Modified (GM) rice containing human genes obtained
preliminary approval from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for
large-scale planting in Kansas. California-based Ventria Bioscience, the
developer of the rice, claims that it can be used to treat diarrhea. A
BBC TV report on 6 March 2007 showed images of African children in a
hospital as an example of some supposed beneficiaries of the new rice.

Friends of the Earth Africa believes that our continent does not need
genetically modified solutions to diarrhea and condemns the use of
African children as a tool to promote the new GM rice produced by
Ventria Bioscience. Diarrhea is an illness that has well-known causes,
and proven, inexpensive solutions. Ventria's GM rice is unproven,
unnecessary, and a distraction from ongoing programmes to save children
suffering from diarrhea on our continent.

Monitoring activities undertaken by Friends of the Earth Africa in 2006
revealed that Africa has been contaminated by illegal GM rice LL601 in
Ghana and Sierra Leone, main African recipients of rice as commercial
imports and food aid from the US.

The dust raised by the revelation of the contamination of the food chain
by an illegal rice variety, LibertyLink Rice601 (LLRice 601), had barely
settled when news arrived of new contamination episodes in other parts
of the world. On the 5 March 2007, the USDA announced that it was
prohibiting the planting of another type of long-grain rice after
confirmation of a new case of contamination. The genetically modified
contaminant detected in a long-grain rice variety known as Clearfield
CL131 was not authorised for commercialisation. Therefore, the U.S.
Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
(APHIS) decided to prevent its planting and distribution.

Just a few days before this latest contamination episode, it was
reported that the USDA had given preliminary approval to a large-scale
planting of a new variety of GM rice containing human genes. The rice,
produced by a company called Ventria Bioscience, has been engineered to
produce recombinant human milk proteins to be extracted from the rice
for a variety of suggested uses. In the media, Ventria claims these
proteins will be used in oral rehydration solutions to treat diarrhea.
But elsewhere, the company says it will use them as supplements in
yogurt, sports drinks and granola bars.

If that earlier contamination was worrisome, the USDA's support for
planting up to 3200 acres of Ventria's 'pharmaceutical rice' is even
more so. We are particularly concerned that this massive planting of
drug-containing rice is going forward even though the US Food and Drug
Administration has refused to approve Ventria's recombinant
pharmaceutical proteins as safe.

The first GM food crop containing human genes is set to raise many socio-
economic, cultural as well as ethical questions, besides environmental
and health concerns.

This rice is being produced by Ventria Bioscience, a biotech company
based in California, USA. According to Ventria Bioscience, the rice,
which will be planted on up to 3,200 acres in Kansas, is endowed with
human genes that produce recombinant versions of human proteins,
including bacteria-fighting compounds found in breast milk and saliva.
If Ventria's application is fully approved by USDA, this will be the
largest planting of a drug-producing food crop in the US.

Ventria has been field-testing rice engineered with human genes since
1996 to produce three pharmaceutical proteins-lactoferrin, lysozyme and
serum albumin. When farmers, consumers and food companies protested
against their field trials in California and Missouri, concerned that
the engineered crops would contaminate rice destined for the food
supply, Ventria shifted to Kansas.

According to analysts, pharmaceutical (pharma) crops such as Ventria's
rice pose a threat to human food supply and public health, as the
proteins they contain are intended to be biologically active in humans,
yet have not undergone adequate testing or received FDA approval as
drugs, and thus may thus be harmful if eaten accidentally. The chances
of contamination are also high when such compounds are produced in food
crops grown outdoors. The contamination routes are numerous, including
cross-pollination and seed mixing during commercial growing and seed

Ventria's rice has already been publicized in many written and
audiovisual media as an important solution to one disease that
particularly affects poor children in the Third World: diarrhea. On 6
March, a BBC report showed images of ill African children in a hospital
as an example of some of the supposed beneficiaries of that new GM rice.

'We can really help children with diarrhea get better faster. That is
the idea', said Scott E. Deeter, president and chief executive of
Sacramento-based Ventria Bioscience. The proponents of this GM rice say
they want to widely introduce their products into oral hydration
solution,'which is consumed by at least half of the world's children'.
They define their product as 'the Holy Grail' of rice and assert 'that
is what every mother would want for their child'.

From the company's sources, an experiment using this technology has
already been conducted in Peru on 140 infants from five to 33 months in
age, in hospitals attended by the poorest sectors of the population.
Several reports indicate that parents of the children were not
adequately informed of the experimental nature of the treatment, and at
least two mothers of infants in the clinical trial reported that their
infants suffered from allergic reactions, causing the Peruvian
government to launch an enquiry into the experiment.

Does Africa need a genetically modified solution for diarrhea? Diarrhea
is responsible for over 2,000,000 deaths every year, the majority in the
Third World. Despite being a major cause of deaths among children,
particularly those under five years old, today there are already well-
known measures to prevent and treat diarrhea. In fact, these proven and
effective measures have already reduced the mortality rate of children
suffering from diarrhea from 4.600,000 deaths in 1980 to 1,500,000 to
2,500,000 million deaths today, and is regarded as one of the greatest
medical achievements of the 20th century.

Simply put, when a person has loose or watery stools, he has diarrhea.
If mucus and blood can be seen in the stools, he has dysentery. It can
be mild or very serious and may come suddenly or remain for many days.
It is known that the disease is more common among young children and
especially so with the undernourished ones. A well nourished child would
usually recover from a case of diarrhea even without any medical
treatment. For a poorly nourished child, on the other hand, an attack of
diarrhea can easily prove fatal.

One of the most prevalent causes of diarrhea is linked to the limited
access to safe water supply and sanitation coverage. In Africa, nearly
40 per cent of the population has an unsafe water supply and poor
sanitation coverage. The World Health Organisation (WHO) found that a
reduction in the number of diarrhea cases and deaths due to diarrhea was
directly related to access to safe water supply and sanitation services.
As the Water Quality and Health Council indicates, 'if access to safe
water and sanitation coverage were improved there would be a smaller
frequency of diarrhoea cases', which consequently would mean that
patients would avoid costs related to treatment expenditures, drugs,
transportation and time spent going to hospital and clinics. The WHO
concluded in a 2004 study that simple technologies for improvement of
water and sanitation 'would lead to a global average reduction of 10% of
episodes of diarrhoea'. WHO concludes that if the level of intervention
was higher, the reduction of diarrhea episodes could be higher: 'access
to in-house regulated piped water and sewerage connection with partial
treatment of waste waters, could achieve an average global reduction of
69 per cent'.

Diarrhea is a symptom of infection caused by a host of bacterial, viral
and parasitic organisms most of which can be spread by contaminated
water. It is more common when there is a shortage of clean water for
drinking, cooking and cleaning, and basic hygiene is important in
prevention. Water contaminated with human faeces, for example from
municipal sewage, septic tanks and latrines, is of special concern.
Animal faeces also contain micro-organisms that can cause diarrhoea.
Diarrhea can also spread from person to person, aggravated by poor
personal hygiene. Food is another major cause of diarrhoea when it is
prepared or stored in unhygienic conditions. Water can contaminate food
during irrigation, and fish and seafood from polluted water may also
contribute to the disease (World Health Organisation).

It is important to note that diarrhea usually lasts a day or two and
goes away on its own without any special treatment. Only prolonged
cases, however, present indications of other problems Thus, special
treatment for diarrhea is needed only occasionally. What children
suffering from this condition need is rehydration as they lose a lot of
water through the diarrhea. There are already very cheap and accessible
ways of fighting dehydration by simple oral rehydration therapy.

It is obvious from the above that the world does not require rocket
science in order to combat incidents of diarrhea. More than anything
else, what is needed is basic hygiene, safe water access and the
provision of infrastructure that would support that. Moreover, investing
in GM solutions when 'simple' solutions exist constitutes a diversion of
energies from the already challenging objective to guarantee the right
to clean water and sanitation.


Key measures to reduce the number of cases of diarrhea include:
- Access to safe drinking water
- Improved sanitation
- Good personal and food hygiene
- Health education about how infections spread.

Key measures to treat diarrhea include:
- Giving more fluids than usual, including oral rehydration salts
solution, to prevent dehydration
- Continue feeding
- Consulting a health worker if there are signs of dehydration or other
(World Health Organisation)

African children have been used once again in the media in order to
facilitate acceptance for a new product which is not needed in our
continent. Diarrhea is a disease with well-known causes, as well as
solutions. If deaths from a preventable disease such as diarrhea are to
be stopped, more efforts should be undertaken to tackle its causes and
greater investments should be made in improving basic water and
sanitation conditions in our continent.

We once more state that Africans do not need GMOs and by no means want
'medicine crops' beyond the ones already supplied by nature. Africans do
not need these expensive, experimental fixes.

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