Supporters of transgenic rice spread several myths about the product. They claim it will solve the problem of world hunger. They say it is harmless; that it can reduce the use of pesticides, and that Americans eat it every day. Unfortunately, none of this is true.
1. Transgenic rice can feed the world's 1 billion undernourished people
This is the biggest myth about transgenic rice.
Yields of Bt rice (modified with genes from Bacillus thuringiensis to increase its resistance to insects) are only 8 percent higher than those of ordinary rice. That is a very limited gain.
Most of the world's 1 billion undernourished people live in Africa. The principal reason they are starving is war. Their farmland has been laid waste by perpetual conflict. If these people were left to live in peace, they could solve their own food problems with traditional crops. Transgenic rice is not the answer.
The low output of rice in China is due to its low purchase price. Without proper incentives, farmers quit the land to work in the cities. They only plant once or twice a year even if their land can handle three plantings. Another factor is that rice demand and supply is basically in balance in China. So there is no reason to boost productivity.
2. Transgenic rice is safe.
This is an illusion.
Many researchers say that since the Bt protein has been used in cotton and beans, it's safe to use it in rice. But they cannot prove that the Bt protein will not combine with the rice genome to produce unexpected results. Furthermore, just because it's safe to feed to rats doesn't mean it's safe for people. And observations have been going on for too short a time to be conclusive.
3. Transgenic rice can reduce the use of pesticides.
This is totally wrong.
The use of pesticides is the result of the industrialization of agriculture. Since industrialization all farmers have depended on chemical products instead of traditional methods. Transgenic technology is just another form of chemical agriculture and will only exacerbate the problem.
4. The Americans eat transgenic food every day.
This is absurd.
America's transgenic soybean oil contains no transgenic elements. Transgenic corn is only used to produce ethanol for fuel or as animal feed. No transgenic rice or wheat has been planted in America. It's ridiculous to claim that Americans are eating transgenic food.
If transgenic rice were allowed on the market in China, identifying it would be a major headache for concerned consumers. Just labeling transgenic products would not solve the problem. Products labeled as transgenic would be cheaper than natural products and swindlers would remove the labels to make extra money. Everybody knows how easy it is to cheat in China.
(This post was first published in Chinese and translated by Chen Chen.)