A group of activist farmers in the Philippines stormed a government research facility and destroyed an area of genetically modified rice crops the size of 10 football fields.
According to New Scientist, the farmers say that genetically modified organism (GMO) foods have not been established to be safe for consumption and that the real solution to world hunger isn’t biologically engineered plants, but a reduction in worldwide rates of poverty.
“The Golden Rice is a poison,” said Willy Marbella to New Scientist. Marbella is a farmer and deputy secretary general of a group of activists known as KMP — Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or Peasant Movement of the Philippines.
The farmers attacked the fields at the research facility in Pili, Camarines Sur out of concern that their own crops could be pollinated and thereby contaminated by the GMO plants, possibly resulting in a boycott of their products like U.S. farmers of soft white wheat saw when a strain of Monsanto herbicide-resistant wheat abruptly appeared in an Oregon field. South Korea and Japan both halted imports of U.S. wheat in the wake of the discovery.
Golden Rice is a strain of rice that has been modified by scientists to contain beta carotene, a source of vitamin A. An estimated 2 million people die from vitamin A deficiency worldwide every year. Annually, about 500,000 children — mainly in the developing world — go blind from lack of the nutrient.
Golden Rice advocates claim that replacing half of a child’s rice intake with Golden Rice provides them with 60 percent of their daily requirement of vitamin A.
Representatives of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), a fervently pro-Golden Rice organization, that receives support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) say that even though the GMO has yet to be approved for human consumption, research trials suggest that it’s safe, and that scientists can’t find out anything more if people destroy the test plants.
Framing attacks on GMO crops as attacks on the effort to end world hunger, the IRRI issued a series of press releases since the action at Pili last week decrying the farmers as ill-informed “vandals.”
Anti-GMO activists say that too many studies on the effects of GMOs are being undertaken by organizations that have a stake in their success. They also say that Golden Rice is being used as a seeming innocuous “poster boy” crop to sell GMOs to an overly credulous public.
Beau Baconguis of Greenpeace Southeast Asia told New Scientist, “There is not enough safety testing done on any GM crops.”
“I think that the farmers know what they want,” she said. “What they want is a safe environment that they can grow their crops in” without fear of contamination and a subsequent boycott…This is playing with the lives of people when you are using Golden Rice to promote more GMOs in our food.”
Scientists developed the world’s first genetically modified crop 30 years ago with the hope o fending global malnutrition. Golden rice is one of the first GM crops developed specifically to bring real nutritional benefit to developing countries where children struggle with malnourishment.
Now that the Philippines has approved the rice for planning, the door appears to have opened for other countries accepting the new rice. Bangladesh and Indonesia have indicated they are ready to accept golden rice, and other nations, including India, have also said that they are considering planting it.
“Vitamin A deficiency is deadly,” said Adrian Dubock, a member of the Golden Rice project. “It affects children’s immune systems and kills around two million every year in developing countries. It is also a major cause of blindness in the third world. Boosting levels of vitamin A in rice provides a simple, straightforward way to put that right.”
Recent tests have revealed that a substantial amount of vitamin A can be obtained by eating only 60 grams of cooked golden rice. “This has enormous potential,” Dubock said.
Golden rice was originally developed in 1999, but gaining approvals for its cultivations has been staggering slow and vehemently opposed by those who refused to accept that the new rice could deliver enough vitamin A. The anti-GM crowd has embraced golden rice as the crop to hate, claiming it will create a dependence on western companies and is merely a tool of capitalism.
Scientists have rejected the anti-GM claims and suggest that the rice offers real benefits.
“We have developed this [rice] in conjunction with organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as a way of alleviating a real health problem in the developing world,” said Dubock. “No one is going to make money out of it. The companies involved in developing some of the technologies have waived their licenses just to get this off the ground.”
Golden Rice Q&A
What is Golden Rice?
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 colour, 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.
Carotenoids, including β-carotene, are naturally occurring plant pigments and are widely found in coloured fruits, carrots, and green vegetables. Plants do not contain Vitamin A, but only its precursor, β-carotene, also known as provitamin A. Animals, including man, synthesise Vitamin A from a few carotenoids eaten in the diet. Hence, animal meat products contain Vitamin A. People living on a poor diet are at risk of becoming vitamin A deficient, which can lead to life-threatening illnesses.
Rice grains provide an ideal matrix as carrier of β-carotene. It disintegrates readily in the digestie system and the natural lipid membranes (of fatty nature) contained in the grain seem to be enough to facilitate the absorption of β-carotene, even in diets with little or no other added oil, which is usually a facilitator of carotenoid uptake. For many millions of people in the world, rice is not only a source of energy—which they obtain from the starch contained in the grain—but also their main source of essential lipids, in spite of the low fat content of rice grains.
Who invented Golden Rice and how did the project start?
The inventors of Golden Rice were Ingo Potrykus, Professor emeritus of the Institute for Plant Sciences of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH, Zurich), and Professor Peter Beyer, of the Centre for Applied Biosciences, University of Freiburg, Germany(Ye et al 2002). The search for a Golden Rice started off as a Rockefeller Foundation initiative in 1982. After years of research by various research groups, a meeting of experts was convened in New York in 1992. There, Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer met for the first time, and subsequently decided to embark on the project that would lead to the development of Golden Rice in 1999.
Will Golden Rice solve the Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) Syndrome?
Golden Rice alone is not expected to solve VAD, but its use could significantly reduce the incidence of VAD syndrome. Rice provides as much 80 percent or more of the daily caloric intake of 3 billion people, or half the world's population! Many people eat little else than rice. But other challenges, such as poverty, lack of infrastructure and lack of education remain, and should be dealt with by governments and policymakers concurrently. Golden Rice is not a replacement for existing efforts to tackle the problem, but could substantially complement them in the future and help make these sustainable, especially in remote rural areas.
Critics of the technology have claimed that children in the developing world will have to eat an unrealistic amount of Golden Rice in order to reduce VAD. One wrong assumption is that Golden Rice will have to supply the entire recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin A for malnourished children.