Heralded on the cover of Time magazine in 2000 as a genetically modified (GMO) crop with the potential to save millions of lives in the Third World, Golden Rice is still years - and millions of dollars in anti-science activism - away from field introduction. Vitamin A deficiencies leave millions at high risk for infection, diseases and other maladies, such as blindness, and Golden Rice produces the micronutrient beta carotene, so it is basically fortified, but using a natural process that increases Vitamin A rather than an additive.
Regardless of that altruistic foundation, GMOs are decried as Frankenfood or a corporate world control cabal by environmentalists and yet Golden Rice, created by an academic and offered for free, has been unable to gain any traction precisely because it has no corporate representation that can combat the thousands of environmental lawyers Greenpeace and the other groups, with $1,000,000,000 in annual revenue at their command, lined up against it.
For that reason, Washington University in St. Louis anthropologist Glenn Stone is declaring Golden Rice overhyped, and
in the journal Agriculture&Human Values
defends fellow activists from claims they are blocking its uptake. Stone has similarly insisted despite the evidence that Bt cotton is unsuccessful in India, and that claims to such effect are biotechnology conspiracy theory, and defended philosopher Vandana Shiva from criticism when she has arguably been the biggest opponent of science on the world stage.
Stone and co-author Dominic Glover, a rice researcher at the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex, say environmentalists are not to blame for its lack of approval. Strangely, he is implicitly criticizing it for not having a deep-pocketed corporation shepherding it along.
"It has not even been submitted for approval to the regulatory agency, the Philippine Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI)," he chides them in his press release.
And they dismiss the destruction of a 2013 Golden Rice test plot by Greenpeace and insist that should have made no difference.
He is not anti-GMO, he insists, but rather just keeping an open mind. "The simple fact is that after 24 years of research and breeding, Golden Rice is still years away from being ready for release."
Since 2013, Stone has directed a major Templeton Foundation-funded research project on rice in the Philippines. His research compares Golden Rice to other types of rice developed and cultivated in the Philippines. These include high-yield "Green Revolution" rice strains developed in the 1960s in an effort to industrialize rice farming, and ''heirloom'' landrace varieties long cultivated on the spectacular terraces of the Cordillera mountains of northern Luzon.
And Golden Rice is just a waste of time, Stone and Glover believe, because it is still unknown if the beta carotene in Golden Rice can even be converted to Vitamin A in the bodies of badly undernourished children. How long can it be stored between harvest seasons? Will it still produce Vitamin A when cooked in rural locations?
It's the anti-science playbook - poor people can be helped by other methods, they don't need science.