Nutrient-boosted Golden Rice should be embraced

ONE of the more unedifying aspects of the fight over genetically modified food has been the unbending opposition of Greenpeace and others to rice that has been modified to help prevent blindness. Golden Rice contains a precursor of vitamin A, deficiency of which blinds an estimated half a million children every year.

Opponents of the rice are not oblivious to the tragedy, but argue there are other solutions. They are correct. One has just been found effective in Uganda – a naturally bred, fortified sweet potato.

Good news, but no single solution will work everywhere. To eradicate preventable blindness, we need as many options as possible. The sweet success of the potato doesn’t mean that GM can or should be taken off the menu. So it is also good news that the latest research into Golden Rice bolsters the case for its adoption (see “Nutrient-boosted foods protect against blindness”).

In light of this, opposition to Golden Rice increasingly looks like bullheadedness rooted in a desire to halt GM at any cost. There are reasons to be wary of GM promoted by big business. But tarring a humanitarian project with the same brush is dogmatic – and wrong.


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6 responses to “Nutrient-boosted Golden Rice should be embraced

  1. Is golden rice real, ready to plant, an actual viable crop? I’ve been hearing “any day now” reports about golden rice for a decade or so now. There is no point in opposing or advocating a mythical plant.

    • Of course it is real. It has made the comparison study stage of testing its effectiveness in humans against other dietary and supplemental methods, as grown by subsistence farmers themselves and is under propagation for still-limited distribution. That’s the thing about biotechnology is that it is rigorously tested for both efficacy and safety over sustained periods before release for general use. It would be a little closer to helping eliminate vitamin A deficiency if misanthropic greens stopped interfering but only by a couple of years, probably. IIRC it was always anticipated for general availability in growing season 2015 and despite greenpeas that still looks good.

      As a side note – and media departments and the press bear much responsibility – the public are only poorly aware of what is involved in getting from the stage of a few pounds of seed produced in research, through testing, including in target populations to see how well it performs grown by subsistence farmers in cases like these free-license public health projects, through international approval (usually on a country by country basis), then propagation (after raising the finance and finding seed producers who will produce your give-away-license seed) and then through distribution with education to inform subsistence farmers why risking growing an unknown and unfamiliar seed will actually help them and their families more than the seed they’ve always struggled on with, no matter how poorly. The task is considerable and a 15-20 year time horizon from inception to general distribution is not just realistic but actually dazzling pace through the bureaucratic morass.

      If you’ve been hearing “any day now” for a decade then the people you’ve been hearing from were not fully informed, often mischievously misled by greenpeas propaganda, sadly. The golden rice project remains on track and a lot of people are working hard to improve the lot of the desperately poor.

  2. So the short answer to “Is golden rice real, ready to plant, an actual viable crop?” would be “No. It’s Still being developed and tested.”

    I presume that golden rice will succeed or fail mainly on it’s viability compared to what’s being grown now in the 3rd world. The Whirled Peas folks will probably get it banned in Europe. In Africa and other less developed areas, golden rice will likely stand on its own merits. Does it produce as much rice per acre as it’s competitors? Is it as multi-generation fertile as traditional heirloom seeds? Are the local insects particularly fond of golden rice? Is it compatible with the local growing season? Etc.

    Farmers are very pragmatic. If golden rice is otherwise as good or better than what they’ve been planting, you won’t be able to stop them from using it. If golden rice is more difficult to grow than what they already have, they won’t touch it, blindness be damned. The Greenies won’t make the decisions in the hinterlands.

    • I would put the short answer as yes since where it has been tried by subsistence farmers (the only trials that really count, IMHO) it has delivered and had the desired effect.

      Greenies always make the decisions in the hinterlands – look at how they’ve managed to terrorize traditional maize growers and hindered uptake of more productive varieties. The obstructionists have the finance and the will to put people in the field to “poison the well” against any and all modernity and hinder development at every turn. That’s what comes of viewing people as gaia’s “disease”.

  3. I haven’t kept that close a track on Greens blocking GMOs in the 3rd world. I recall a story where both Mon$anto and Greenpeace were upset that some poor Mexicans had panted some BT corn. As I recall, Greenpeace is angry with India for embracing the whole “transgenic crops are good” thing… Dunno what’s happening in the rest of Asia.

    I would imagine that most 3rd world countries would be pretty unimpressed with the whole Malthusian bent of many environmentalists. Foreigners that aren’t friendly and helpful aren’t welcomed very long. There’s only so much you can do to obstruct progress before you’ll be shown the door. That whole barefoot and in the dark thing is a tough sell, no matter how much money you have to promote primitive living.

  4. I first read of the development of golden rice in a Newsweek article in 1983. Even back then, the idiots who call themselves environmentalists, greenies or whatever, called this a blight. The leading researcher and developer stated very simply what they had done to genetically-modify this rice and the benefits to millions of people worldwide.
    Reading the piece made me wonder what could be so negative about this incredible food crop. I wouldn’t need it of course: my diet was good, full of all the nutrients that a modern, advanced society provides for its citizens. But not all of us are so lucky.
    Why are these nutters excluding them from what bounty the earth can provide? Who are they to decide who should be healthy and progress or be otherwise dis-empowered?
    That 30 years on this stupidity is still given credence is beyond me.
    I don’t have the answers, but something has to give.

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