Sunday, July 17, 2016

Taking the shine out of golden rice

Over a hundred Nobel laureates accuse Greenpeace of killing millions by delaying “golden rice”, a genetically modified strain of rice to provide vitamin A. The PR stunt was timed to coincide with the US Senate vote on the “Dark Act” — the denial to Americans of the right to know what they eat. 

Golden rice is genetically engineered rice with two genes from a daffodil and one gene from a bacterium. The resulting GMO rice is said to have a yellow colouring. 

It is now more than 20 years since the “miracle” golden rice began to be promoted. Glenn Stone, a rice scientist at Washington University, states: “The simple fact is that after 24 years of research and breeding, golden rice is still years away from being ready for release.”

In fact, golden rice, if successful, will be 400 per cent less efficient in providing Vitamin A than the alternatives. 

Two tablespoons of spinach or cholai (amaranth) leaves or radish leaves
Four tablespoons of mustard or bathua leaves
One tablespoon of coriander chutney
One-and-a-half tablespoon of mint chutney
One carrot
One mango

Not only do these alternatives provide more Vitamin A than golden rice ever will, and at a lower cost, but also provide multiple other nutrients. This critique of golden rice is that even if it is developed, it will be inferior to the alternatives. concluded way back in 2001: “The best chance of success in fighting Vitamin A deficiency and malnutrition is to better use the inexpensive and nutritious foods already available, and in diversifying food production systems in the fields and in the household. The euphoria created by the Green Revolution greatly stifled research to develop and promote these efforts, and the introduction of golden rice will further compromise them. Golden rice is merely a marketing event. But international and national research agendas will be taken by it.”

Even a programme of distributing supplement pills for free would be simpler and more effective than “golden rice”.

The World Socialist Movement is not opposed to technology – we are no Luddites - but what galls us so much is the presumption that, with a little engineering, all problems can be solved. At the heart of the matter is the corporate funding of scientific research at the university level, research that is expected to provide corporate dividends.

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