I think it is safe to say that most people would answer “yes.” You may be thinking, "But I am only one person—how could I make a difference?" You have family, don’t you? You have friends, don’t you? You have colleagues and coworkers, don’t you? You could save the lives of 2.7 million children by doing nothing more than informing your family, friends, colleagues, and coworkers about Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) and the simple, safe, inexpensive, and sustainable solution: Golden Rice.
If you tell just ten people about Golden Rice, and have those ten people tell ten people, who have those ten people tell ten people, and so on, pretty soon a whole lot of people will understand the benefits of Golden Rice.
What is Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD)?
"Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is prevalent among the poor whose diets are based mainly on rice or other carbohydrate-rich, micronutrient-poor calorie sources. Rice does not contain any β-carotene (provitamin A), which their body could then convert into vitamin A. Dependence on rice as the predominant food source, therefore, necessarily leads to VAD, most severely affecting small children and pregnant women. In 2012 the World Health Organization reported that about 250 million preschool children are affected by VAD, and that providing those children with vitamin A could prevent about a third of all under-five deaths, which amounts to up to 2.7 million children that could be saved from dying unnecessarily." (Source)
Why can’t people just eat healthier brown rice instead?
"The natural oil-rich outer layers of the rice grain—the bran and the aleurone—are rich in some important nutrients, including vitamin B, and yet rice is generally consumed in its milled form, i.e. with the outer layers removed. If not removed, the oils in those layers undergo natural oxidation processes and the grain becomes rancid, affecting smell and taste very rapidly, particularly in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Milling improves the long-term storability of rice without loss of taste." (Source)
So, what is this Golden Rice stuff anyway?
"Golden Rice is rice that has been genetically engineered to produce and accumulate β-carotene in the endosperm (the edible part of the grain). This gives the grains a golden color, as opposed to regular white rice, which is practically devoid of carotenoids. When the rice is consumed, the β-carotene is either stored in the fatty tissues of the body or converted into vitamin A." (Source)
Genetically engineered?! Ah, the plot thickens--heard all sorts of nasty stuff about GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
Geneticist Michael Purugganan of New York University addresses some myths about Golden Rice:
Myth 1: Golden Rice is “unnatural”
First is the notion that Golden Rice is some sort of unnatural, monster rice.
The truth is, in developing Golden Rice, geneticists have inserted only three genes into rice DNA to allow it to make beta carotene, which is a source of vitamin A. Three genes out of the more than 30,000 genes present in a rice plant. And, the genes they inserted to make the vitamin are not some weird manufactured material but are also found in squash, carrots, and melons.So, there is nothing unnatural about the process—scientists just figured out how to take a gene from one species and add it to another’s DNA. Plants do this in the wild all the time. It is called horizontal gene transfer, and plants, animals, and bacteria have been shown to acquire many genes from each other as they evolve. Breeders actually do much more radical things to the rice genome and the rice plant by traditional breeding methods, and with much less information about what exactly they are doing to the rice plant’s genes. We know a great deal more about the genes that were inserted into the Golden Rice by geneticists—what they do, how they act—than we know about thousands of genes and millions of mutations in rice.
Myth 2: GMOs are unsafe and risky
Second is the idea that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are unsafe, cause cancer or other major health risks, or pose serious environmental problems.
Let me be clear here—the safety issue has been studied and discussed by scientists around the world, and they concluded that there is no evidence that GMOs are inherently unsafe. Let me repeat again. The most prominent scientific bodies in the world—among them, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, and the Philippine National Academy of Science and Technology—have publicly concluded that GMOs are safe.
Now, it is true that we still have to test the safety of every new genetically modified plant variety that is developed—that is just common sense. In fact, GMOs are probably the most intensely tested and studied crop varieties in the world. Much more so than the seeds you buy from your local garden or farm store, which are released with no health or safety analysis.
But, you ask, haven’t I read stories about scientists that have supposedly linked health problems— even cancer—to eating GMO foods? Well, the overwhelming majority of reputable scientists who have examined these claims have shown that such conclusions are simply wrong. These stories are based on research that was poorly designed and analyzed, and other scientists have strongly criticized these studies. (Source)
Some people claim big businesses that developed Golden Rice are in it to make money off poor farmers.
"Syngenta has no commercial interest in Golden Rice in respect of its potential use or application in developing countries. Initially it was investigating a potential commercial use in developed countries, given the strong interest in antioxidants, but in the meantime it does not see a commercial market for it anymore. Nevertheless, the technology has been donated by the inventors and Syngenta to the resource-poor farmers of developing countries, and further development is now the responsibility of the Humanitarian Board and public institutes, which are the licensees. Golden Rice is being introduced into publicly-owned rice varieties via national and international public sector research institutions, to be made available by government institutions, free of charge, to resource-poor farmers. The farmers will then be able to grow, save, consume, replant and sell the resulting rice crop into the local economy. No new dependencies will be created." (Source)
Will Golden rice cost more than ordinary rice?
"No surcharge may be charged for the technology (i.e. the seed may cost only as much as a seed without the trait)….Reusing the harvested grain as seed for the following season is allowed (the farmer is the owner of his seeds)." (Emphasis mine. Source)
According to ecologist Dr. Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, "Vitamin A deficiency kills more children worldwide than any other disease."
So, what’s stopping Golden Rice from being made available where it’s needed the most? "Greenpeace is...the most powerful force actively working to stop Golden Rice," according to Moore. Moore is no longer with Greenpeace and is actively campaigning to get Greenpeace to end its opposition to Golden Rice.
Golden Rice is safe, can only cost as much as ordinary rice, the harvested seed can be reused, and it could save the lives of 2.7 million children. You can help save these lives by dispelling the myths and misinformation about Golden Rice. Simply tell ten people, and have them tell ten people, who in turn tell ten people, and so on.
It’s actually pretty easy to do these days using Facebook, Twitter, Google+, email, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, Reddit, Slashdot, etc.
Follow me on Twitter: @SteveSchuler20