Golden Rice, Golden Opportunity
    By Norm Benson | May 3rd 2014 12:11 PM | 21 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    You people in the developed world are certainly free to debate the merits of genetically modified foods, but can we please eat first?” - Dr. Florence Wambugu
    The blind girl lurched toward me across the parking lot at Tirta Empul temple, mewling. I guessed she was ten to thirteen years of age, and shorter than she should have been. A whitish haze coated her eyes, each looking upward in a different direction. She moved herky-jerky due to poorly formed bones. I did not speak Indonesian; she did not speak English, yet there was no doubt what she wanted. Money.

    I gave her what I had in my pocket: a 5000 Rupiah note, about 42 cents.

    She would buy rice with the little money I gave her. The food would fill her belly, but not her body’s needs.

    Her condition is common for the poorest children in Asia; it is caused by a lack of Retinol (vitamin A). Retinol is a chemical (C20H30O) essential for healthy growth and vision. Most of us get enough vitamin A by eating a varied diet that includes yellow or green vegetables, though it is found also in cod liver oil and egg yolks. The poorest of the poor can afford to buy only rice, the cheapest food available. Rice has no vitamin A or beta-carotene, which our bodies convert to vitamin A. Chronic Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) causes irreversible blindness and poorly formed bones.

    Prevalence of vitamin A deficiency. Red is mos...
    Prevalence of vitamin A deficiency from WHO data. Photocredit: Petaholmes.

    Half of the afflicted will die within one year. VAD is also a major cause in high rates of maternal mortality during pregnancy and childbirth.

    I encountered the girl in November, 2013, when my wife and I had arrived in Bali, Indonesia for my son’s wedding. Our clothes clung to us. The temperature was in the 80s with humidity to match. The heat index was 104.The “developing” in “developing country” is evident in Indonesia. People work hard and make very little. Indonesia’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per person is $ 4,923 per person per year; compare that with $51,704 for the United States.

    The poorest of the poor can afford only rice to eat.

    I saw rice fields everywhere I went. It seemed that any open field had rice planted on it. I watched Balinese men and women cut the rice stalks with a sickle and threshed the grain by hitting it against a screen into a container. Everything in the rice field seemed done by hand in the open sun. The people growing the rice can afford little more to eat than the rice they grow. And the rice they grow has no Retinol.

    Each year around the world, one half-million are afflicted with irreversible blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency, just like the girl I saw at the Hindu temple.

    If only there were a way that the rice could help prevent vitamin A deficiency.

    There is: Golden Rice, a genetically modified food. It was developed in the late 1990s by Ingo Potrykus of the Institute of Plant Sciences in Switzerland and Peter Beyer, professor for cell biology at Freiburg University in Germany. They borrowed a gene from corn and one gene from a bacterium (remember bacteria make up ninety percent of our bodies). One bowl of golden rice supplies 60 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin A. It may not be a silver bullet, but something that can save nearly 500,000 children each year from blindness and eventual death strikes me as a miracle.
    “Let's make the choices available to the people who have to take the consequences” - Per Pinstrup-Andersen of the International Food Policy Research Institute
    You may not like the idea of genetically modified food, but you probably do not have to watch your child die due to a lack of vitamins. Neither you nor I have the right to deprive someone of food that can literally save his or her life. “Let's make the choices available to the people who have to take the consequences,” Per Pinstrup-Andersen of the International Food Policy Research Institute told a group of congresspeople. Or as Dr. Florence Wambugu of Kenya puts it, “You people in the developed world are certainly free to debate the merits of genetically modified foods, but can we please eat first?”

    If only those farmers I watched toiling under a brutal sun could be harvesting golden rice. Once countries such as Indonesia give their approval for golden rice, they can. It will be given to subsistence farmers without charge or restriction to grow. That will not save the little girl who confronted me in the temple parking lot, but it might save her sister.

    Visit for more information on Golden Rice.

     Golden Rice grain compared to white r...
    Golden Rice grain compared to white grained rice.
    Photo credit: International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)


    The day that anti-GMO activists wake up to the fact that organic, non-GMO food is a luxury, the better. Believing that people in the Developing World can afford to wait for groups like Greenpeace to bring organic farming to them is like believing you can drive your car across the oceans.

    But GMOs are so bad because I heard "genetically modified" in a zombie movie once and it sounds like no good! Can't someone please think of the children?

    In the new Spider-Man movie, the spider was genetically modified rather than simply irradiated, so at least Marvel continues to be the comic book company on the cutting edge of science.

    I mean, anti-science hippies may object to saving kids from blindness but no way can they be against gaining the proportional strength of a spider.
    I'm waiting for Russell Crowe, Mat Damon and Keanu Reaves to make a movie together about how B-A-D genetic engineering is. Then, and only then, will I finally wake up and see the light. Oh yeah, and Meryl Streep too.

    Norm Benson
    That's so much cooler than being bitten by a genetically modified goat.
    Norm Questioning green dogma since 1972.
    Whilst I completely agree that GM golden rice would provide an extremely good weapon in the arsenal against vitamin A deficiency, I don't think we should lose sight of the fact that it isn't the only weapon.

    As the author points out, vitamin A is also available in green vegetables. Alongside trying to introduce golden rice, we should also be making our best efforts to eliminate the abject poverty that means that people only have the resources to buy rice, and cannot afford such foodstuffs that we might take for granted like leafy veggies. So that might mean campaigning against massive land grabs that drive poor farmers off their land so cash crops for the first world can be grown. It might be helping provide seeds, tools and training so people can grow their own vegetables to supplement their diets, or help to access local markets.

    Providing people with nutritious food is the first step in eliminating abject poverty.

    Norm Benson
    I agree that eliminating poverty is key. According to Matt Ridley, ‘The percentage living in such absolute poverty has dropped by more than half – to less than 18 per cent’ (source: Chen, S. and Ravallion, M. 2007. Absolute poverty measures for the developing world, 1981–2004. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS). 104: 16757–62.)

    The remaining 17+% need help. Agreed.

    Golden Rice will allow farmers to make a profit and allow children to grow with eyesight and properly formed bones. GR gives those who would otherwise suffer from Vitamin A deficiency the chance to be productive.
    Norm Questioning green dogma since 1972.
    I learned that Philippine government is now promoting the use of golden rice as more nutritious than the white counterpart.  However, Filipinos are not yet into it for the reason that it is still more expensive than white rice. (Philippine TV news)
    Well, CFC was believed to be harmless until years when  its effects on the ozone layer was discovered.  Will this be a good analogy- to jumping into genetically modified foods? Maybe or Maybe not.  For once thing, there will always be risk. The good thing when there is enough information about the risk is that we can weigh it against its advantages.  What is more fearful is when we are left with nothing but to speculate.

    I agree with this comment of "If it ain't broke (not verified) | 05/05/14 | 09:39 AM"  although I am not against genetically modified foods.
    Whilst I completely agree that GM golden rice would provide an extremely good weapon in the arsenal against vitamin A deficiency, I don't think we should lose sight of the fact that it isn't the only weapon.
    Don't lose sight of the fact that organic foods come replete with their own risks, many of which are downright deadly. E. coli anyone? Perhaps some listeriosis?


    CORRECTION:  The Philippines promotes BROWN RICE not golden rice. also

    When Public Relations replaces Science

    by Dr. Vandana Shiva

    "Golden Rice": A technology for creating Vitamin A deficiency.

    Golden rice has been heralded as the miracle cure for malnutrition and hunger of which 800m members of
    the human community suffer.

    Herbicide resistant and toxin producing genetically engineered plants can be objectionable because of their
    ecological and social costs. But who could possibly object to rice engineered to produce vitamin A, a
    deficiency found in nearly 3 million children, largely in the Third World?

    As remarked by Mary Lou Guerinot, the author of the Commentary on Vitamin A rice in Science, one
    can only hope that this application of plant genetic engineering to ameliorate human misery without regard
    to short term profit will restore this technology to political acceptability.

    Unfortunately, Vitamin A rice is a hoax, and will bring further dispute to plant genetic engineering where
    public relations exercises seem to have replaced science in promotion of untested, unproven and
    unnecessary technology.

    The problem is that vitamin A rice will not remove vitamin A deficiency (VAD). It will seriously
    aggravate it. It is a technology that fails in its promise.

    Currently, it is not even known how much vitamin JA the genetically engineered rice will produce. The
    goal is 33.3% micrograms/100g of rice. Even if this goal is reached after a few years, it will be totally
    ineffective in removing VAD.

    Since the daily average requirement of vitamin A is 750 micrograms of vitamin A and 1 serving contains
    30g of rice according to dry weight basis, vitamin A rice would only provide 9.9 micrograms which is
    1.32% of the required allowance. Even taking the 100g figure of daily consumption of rice used in the
    technology transfer paper would only provide 4.4% of the RDA.

    In order to meet the full needs of 750 micrograms of vitamin A from rice, an adult would have to
    consume 2 kg 272g of rice per day. This implies that one family member would consume the entire
    family ration of 10 kg. from the PDS in 4 days to meet vitaminA needs through "Golden rice".

    This is a recipe for creating hunger and malnutrition, not solving it.

    Besides creating vitamin A deficiency, vitamin A rice will also create deficiency in other micronutrients
    and nutrients. Raw milled rice has a low content of Fat (0.5g/100g). Since fat is necessary for vitamin A
    uptake, this will aggravate vitamin A deficiency. It also has only 6.8g/100g of protein, which means less
    carrier molecules. It has only 0.7g/100g of iron, which plays a vital role in the conversion of Betacarotene
    (precursor of vitamin A found in plant sources) to vitamin A.
    Superior Alternatives exist and are effective.

    A far more efficient route to removing vitamin A deficiency is biodiversity conservation and propagation
    of naturally vitamin A rich plants in agriculture and diets.

    Table 1 gives sources rich in vitamin A used commonly in Indian foods.
    Source Hindi name/ Content (microgram/100g)
    (Amaranth leaves) Chauli saag=266-1,166 -
    (Coriander leaves) - Dhania=1,166-1,333
    (Cabbage) Bandh gobi=217
    (Curry leaves)-Curry patta=1,333
    (Drumstick leaves)-Saijan patta1=283
    (Fenugreek leaves)-Methi-ka-saag=450
    (Radish leaves)-Mooli-ka-saag=750
    (Spinach)-Palak saag=600
    (Pumpkin (yellow))-Kaddu=100-120
    (Mango (ripe))-Aam=500
    (Tomato (ripe))-Tamatar=32
    (Milk (cow, buffalo))-Doodh=50-60
    (Egg (hen))-Anda=300-400
    (Liver (Goat, sheep))-Kalegi=6,600 - 10,000
    Cod liver oil=10,000 - 100,000

    In spite of the diversity of plants evolved and bred for their rich vitamin A content, a report of the Major
    Science Academies of the World - Royal Society, U.K., National Academy of Sciences of the USA, The
    Third World Academy of Science, Indian National Science Academy, Mexican Academy of Sciences,
    Chinese Academy of Sciences, Brazilian Academy of Sciences - on Transgenic Plants and World
    Agriculture has stated, Vitamin A deficiency causes half a million children to become partially or totally
    blind each year.

    Traditional breeding methods have been unsuccessful in producing crops containing a high vitamin A
    concentration and most national authorities rely on expensive and complicated supplementation programs
    to address the problem. Researchers have introduced three new genes into rice, two from daffodils and
    one from a microorganism. The transgenic rice exhibits an increased production of betacarotene as a
    precursor to vitamin A and the seed in yellow in colour. Such yellow, or golden rice, may be a useful tool
    to help treat the problem of vitamin A deficiency in young children living in the tropics.

    It appears as if the world’s top scientists suffer a more severe form of blindness than children in poor
    countries. The statement that "traditional breeding has been unsuccessful in producing crops high in
    vitamin A" is not true given the diversity of plants and crops that Third World farmers, especially women
    have bred and used which are rich sources of vitamin A such as coriander, amaranth, carrot, pumpkin,
    mango, jackfruit.

    It is also untrue that vitamin A rice will lead to increased production of betacarotene. Even if the target
    of 33.3 microgram of vitamin A in 100g of rice is achieved, it will be only 2.8% of betacarotene we can
    obtain from amaranth leaves 2.4% of betacarotene obtained from coriander leaves, curry leaves and
    drumstick leaves.
    Even the World Bank has admitted that rediscovering and use of local plants and conservation of vitamin
    A rich green leafy vegetables and fruits have dramatically reduced VAD threatened children over the past
    20 years in very cheap and efficient ways. Women in Bengal use more than 200 varieties of field greens.
    Over a 3 million people have benefited greatly from a food based project for removing VAD by increasing
    vitamin A availability through home gardens. The higher the diversity crops the better the uptake of
    pro-vitamin A.

    The reason there is vitamin A deficiency in India in spite of the rich biodiversity a base and indigenous
    knowledge base in India is because the Green Revolution technologies wiped out biodiversity by
    converting mixed cropping systems to monocultures of wheat and rice and by spreading the use of
    herbicides which destroy field greens.

    In spite of effective and proven alternatives, a technology transfer agreement has been signed between the
    Swiss Government and the Government of India for the transfer of genetically engineered vitamin A rice
    to India.

    The ICAR, ICMR, ICDS, USAIUD, UNICEF, WHO have been identified as potential partners. The
    breeding and transformation is to be carried out at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore,
    Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack and Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana and University of
    Delhi, South Campus.
    The Indian varieties in which the vitamin A traits are expected to be engineered have been identified as IR
    64, Pusa Basmati, PR 114 and ASD 16.

    Dr. M.S. Swaminathan has been identified as "God father" to ensuring public acceptance of genetically
    engineered rice. DBT & ICAR are also potential partners for guaranteeing public acceptance and steady
    progress of the project.

    Genetically engineered vitamin A rice will aggravate this destruction since it is part of an industrial
    agriculture, intensive input package. It will also lead to major water scarcity since it is a water intensive
    crop and displaces water prudent sources of vitamin A.

    Transferring an Illusion to India.

    The first step in the technology transfer of vitamin A rice requires a need assessment and an assessment
    of technology availability. One assessment shows that vitamin A rice fails to pass the need test.

    The technology availability issue is related to whether the various elements and methods used for the
    construction of transgenic crop plants are covered by intellectual property rights. Licenses for these rights
    need to be obtained before a product can be commercialised. The Cornell based ISAAA (International
    Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Application) has been identified as the partner for ensuring
    technology availability by ensuring technology availability by having material transfer agreements signed
    between the representative authority of the ICAR and the "owners" of the technology, Prof. I. Potrykus
    and Prof. P. Beyer.
    In addition, Novartis and Kerin Breweries have patents on the genes used as constructs for the vitamin A

    At a public hearing on Biotechnology at U.S. Congress on 29th June 2000, Astra-Zeneca stated they
    would be giving away royalty free licenses for the development of "Golden rice".

    At a workshop organised by the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Dr. Barry of Monsanto’s Rice
    Genome initiative announced that it will provide royalty-free licenses for all its technologies that can help
    the further development of "golden rice".

    Hence these gene giants Novartis, Astra-Zeneca and Monsanto are claiming exclusive ownership to the
    basic patents related to rice research. Further, neither Monsanto nor Astra - Zeneca said they will give up
    their patents on rice - they are merely giving royalty free licenses to public sector scientists for
    development of "golden rice". This is an arrangement for a public subsidy to corporate giants for R&D
    since they do not have the expertise or experience with rice breeding which public institutions have.

    Not giving up the patents, but merely giving royalty free licenses implies that the corporations like
    Monsanto would ultimately like to collect royalties from farmers for rice varieties developed by public
    sector research systems. Monsanto has stated that it expects long term gains from these IPR
    arrangements, which implies markets in rice as "intellectual property" which cannot be saved or
    exchanged for seed. The real test for Monsanto would be its declaration of giving up any patent claims to
    rice now and in the future and joining the call to remove plants and biodiversity out of TRIPS. Failing
    such an undertaking by Monsanto the announcement that Monsanto giving royalty free licenses for
    development of vitamin A rice like the rice itself can only be taken as a hoax to establish monopoly over rice production, and reduce rice farmers of India into bio-serfs.

    While the complicated technology transfer package of "Golden Rice" will not solve vitamin A problems in
    India, it is a very effective strategy for corporate take over of rice production, using the public sector as a Trojan Horse.

    Quite shameful on your part Ronald. You really have no idea what people like Vandana Shiva really stand for. Do you.

    "When Public Relations replaces Science"

    Let's see, she says farmers are rapists and is a philosopher who tries to claim expertise in biology.

    In that sense, she is the perfect person to know how to replace science with P.R.

    "33.3% micrograms/100g of rice" That's completely nonsensical. Wouldn't expect it to be otherwise, though.

    When I learned Shiva was the Hindu god of destruction, that was pretty much all I needed to know about old Vandana.

    I met her in Saskatoon Saskatchewan back in 1997 when I was training to become an organic inspector. Even at the time when I was excited about working in the organic industry, and was highly suspicious of the new science of genetic engineering, she struck me as a completely negative person.

    Like all organic activists she attacks her enemy instead of extolling any of the alleged virtues of her own philosophy. It's all about never trusting agricultural corporations. Right... like we'd be so much better off with government running the show. You know, like in the old Soviet Union?

    I've always suspected Vandana is a communist, but it's hard to tell because she's quite wealthy in ger own right.

    Golden rice is a scam. You guys aren't scientists. Your propaganda spewers.

    Quite right David08. Guilty as charged!
    I am not a scientist. I am in fact relying on the opinions of people who ARE scientists, most notably, Dr. Patrick Moore, the founder of Allow Golden Rice Now.
    So, are you a scientist? If not, who are you relying on for your contradictory information?

    All I know guys is that strong accusations need to be supported.Any proofs?
    I am a person who embraces and respects diversity.  Maybe harsh manner of commenting has something to do with it. Cultural? Or Breeding?
    Who do you mean? Regarding Shiva, not knowing any biology and calling farmers rapists is part of the public record.
    I agree to say that impact on rice quote is so volatile and opportunities are georgious for traders. I used to trade & tell my testimony on and if you wanna use stock market to be independant, you can do it but market is dangerous se becareful !