Scientists Find No Realistic Benefit in 'Golden' Rice
Bioengineered rice loses glow as vitamin A source
The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods is circulating an interesting article that recently appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It seems that the genetic manipulators are once again failing to meet their own claims. Here are some excerpts from that article.
by Tina HesmanWhen Swiss researchers announced last year that they had engineered rice grains to combat vitamin A deficiency, world health officials, biotech advocates and others hailed the development as a major advance in solving nutritional problems in the developing world.
Many in the biotechnology industry touted the rice - called Golden Rice for its color - as a savior for the beleaguered industry: a symbol of genetic engineering's promise.
But the rice may not be all it's puffed up to be. The product, designed to make beta-carotene, is at least five years from market.
Moreover, some critics say that the amount of rice a person would have to eat to get the nutritional benefits promised is more than humanly practical.
Their estimates equate to a child having to eat 27 to 54 bowls of rice a day to get the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A.
Consider these statistics provided by Gurdev S. Khush, the principal plant breeder at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines:
* About 400 million people are at risk of vitamin A deficiency, 124 million of them children.Many of the people at highest risk of developing a vitamin A deficiency live in Southeast Asia, where rice is a dietary staple. Normal rice grains don't contain vitamin A, or any of the chemicals, such as beta-carotene, that can be converted to vitamin A.
* 1 million to 2 million children die every year because of a lack of vitamin A in their diets.
* About 500,000 children go blind as a result of vitamin A deficiency.
So when researchers led by Ingo Potrykus at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich came up with a way to get rice to produce beta-carotene in the edible parts, the innovation seemed like a potential nutritional boon for the developing world.
Companies that owned licenses on the technology used to create the yellow rice quickly offered up duty-free rights for humanitarian uses. Monsanto Co. of Creve Coeur was one of the first agriculture biotechnology companies to get on board. Five other companies also gave up their technology licenses to allow humanitarian development of the rice.
Biotechnology industry representatives quickly seized on the companies' generosity and held Golden Rice up as a model for the way genetically modified crops could help feed the world. It was a badly needed positive message for an industry under fire, said Adrian Dubock, an executive at European biotech giant Syngenta Ltd.
But not everyone bought the soft-focus television images of mothers frolicking with their children while a smooth announcer discussed the potential benefits of Golden Rice and biotechnology.
"This whole project is actually based on what can only be characterized as intentional deception," said Greenpeace campaigner Von Hernandez in a prepared statement. "We recalculated their figures again and again. We just could not believe companies would do this."
Golden Rice won't be ready for widespread use in developing countries for another five or six years, rice breeder Khush said.
Activists are questioning the nutritional value of the rice as well.
By the most conservative estimates of nutritionists, a 4-year-old would have to eat nearly 4 pounds of Golden Rice, which would fill about 9 cups, to meet the entire recommended daily allowance of vitamin A. And that's 4 pounds of uncooked rice.
Cooked, the rice would fill more than 27 bowls - well beyond the amount of rice any child could be expected to eat in a day.
A new report by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institutes of Medicine, which is associated with the National Academies of Science, indicates that the situation could be even worse.
Previous nutritional calculations were based upon data that indicated that the body needs 6 micrograms of beta-carotene to produce 1 microgram of vitamin A. More recent studies suggest that it takes 12 micrograms or more of beta-carotene from food to make 1 microgram of vitamin A in the body.
Based on the new estimate, a 4-year-old would have to eat 54 bowls of Golden Rice to get all the vitamin A in the recommended daily allowance.
When will the genetic manipulation corporations stop doing public relations and lobbying, and start doing serious science instead? How did they get exclusive licenses to taxpayer-funded research in the first place? What's your view on all this? Share your opinions with others at The Progress Report:
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