A Golden Rice opportunity

Finally, after 12 years of delay caused by opponents of genetically modified (GM) foods, so-called “golden rice” with vitamin A will be grown in the Philippines. Over those 12 years, about eight million children worldwide died from vitamin A deficiency. Are anti-GM advocates not partly responsible?

Golden rice is the most prominent example in the global controversy over GM foods, which pits a technology with some risks but incredible potential against the resistance of feel-good campaigning. Three billion people depend on rice as their staple food, with 10% at risk for vitamin A deficiency, which, according to the World Health Organization, causes 250,000-500,000 children to go blind each year. Of these, half die within a year. A study from the British medical journal The Lancet estimates that, in total, vitamin A deficiency kills 668,000 children under the age of five each year.

Yet, despite the cost in human lives, anti-GM campaigners – from Greenpeace to Naomi Klein – have derided efforts to use golden rice to avoid vitamin A deficiency…

The New York Times Magazinereported in 2001 that one would need to “eat 15 pounds of cooked golden rice a day” to get enough vitamin A. What was an exaggeration then is demonstrably wrong now. Two recent studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition show that just 50 grams (roughly two ounces) of golden rice can provide 60% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. They show that golden rice is even better than spinach in providing vitamin A to children…

To be sure, handing out vitamin pills or adding vitamin A to staple products can make a difference. But it is not a sustainable solution to vitamin A deficiency. And, while it is cost-effective, recent published estimates indicate that golden rice is much more so.

Supplementation programs costs $4,300 for every life they save in India, whereas fortification programs cost about $2,700 for each life saved. Both are great deals. But golden rice would cost just $100 for every life saved from vitamin A deficiency…

Finally, it is often claimed that GM crops simply mean costlier seeds and less money for farmers. But farmers have a choice. More than five million cotton farmers in India have flocked to GM cotton, because it yields higher net incomes. Yes, the seeds are more expensive, but the rise in production offsets the additional cost.

Of course, no technology is without flaws, so regulatory oversight is useful [necessary]. But it is worth maintaining some perspective. In 2010, the European Commission, after considering 25 years of GM-organisms (GMOs) research, concluded that “there is, as of today, no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.”

Opposition to GM foods as one of many basic scientific solutions to food as scarce goods is no more rational than opposition to vaccination as one of many solutions to disease. The sad part of the equation is the number of well-meaning individuals who are willing to oppose the products of science based upon their fear of science and unfounded, unscientific so-called studies. Studies, I must say, which function like “creation science”, e.g., here’s the result we’re looking for – what can we do to get that result?

Well-meaning folks who gladly count themselves among progressives and other classes of human-oriented politics confound my sensibilities when they wander off into the realm of noble savage science. All them happy villagers are supposed to be better off with a lifespan of 38 years instead of 68 – or 78.

About these ads

2 comments

  1. moss

    Those who tie their reasoning to what are instances of predictable corporate corruption and decide science-based processes must be equally feared are foolish beyond rational thought. We’re stuck with profitmaking entities defining our economics. Hiding behind Utopian beliefs achieves nothing.

    Better to adopt regulatory standards and fight the political fight to enforce them – than to whine about challenges we all face from greedy corporations and therefore oppose the potential good that must find a path beyond corruption.

  2. Pingback: Golden Rice: a golden ticket to health, or fool’s gold? | Science on the Land

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s