Golden Rice: The Fortified, Modified And Vilified Option For Third World Malnutrition

3251 words - 13 pages

Each year without fail anywhere between 250,000 to 500,000 children go blind from Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD), more than half of those die within twelve months. To visualize this number think of Seattle, now imagine half or all of its population going blind. With a few dollars’ worth of food or supplements enriched in vitamin A this problem can be mollified. But getting fresh foods and vitamins to those with the greatest need has proven an insurmountable problem. Food Aid, while indeed lifesaving, is costly and does not fix the underlying problems in poor societies. To be truly secure people must have food independence, which is to say they must be able to grow their own food supply and not rely on outside markets. In countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines, India and China the main food staple is rice. While rice is a valuable source of carbohydrates, once the rice is milled, and its outer layer shucked, it losses most of its nutritional value. Thirty years ago two German scientists, Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer set out to see if they could do something about making a better rice. What they came up with was genetically modified rice that was bright yellow because it was rich in β (beta)-carotene, and was called golden rice because of its sunny hue. But before the two scientists could pat themselves on the back for solving Vitamin A Deficiency, anti-GM (genetically modified) groups such as Greenpeace denounced the unnatural solution and swore that golden rice would never find its way to third world farmers. Twenty eight years and approximately 10,000,000 million deaths later golden rice has still not been able to escape the red tape and fear mongering of the First World. And while golden rice is not a cure all for world hunger, it’s a hell of a start, if it starts at all.
In 1992, when Ingo Potrykus, one of the scientists behind golden rice decided to tackle malnutrition he chose to focus on countries where rice was the main food staple. A little over three billion people have rice as their main food source and about 10% of those are at risk of malnutrition, “deficiencies are especially severe” (Potrykus 2003), where children are raised on a diet consisting mainly of rice gruel. Portrykus’ goal with golden rice was to give subsistence farmers better rice, and unlike most other genetically modified foods that were designed with agribusiness in mind, golden rice “was the first crop designed to help poor consumers in developing countries” (Enserink 2010). Without going into too much scientific detail, golden rice was created by adding beta-carotene into the rice’s endosperm (the central portion) by means of beta-carotene biosynthesis genes from daffodils. A later version, developed in 2005, of the modified rice dubbed “golden rice 2” was created by combining a beta-carotene synthesizer in corn with the rice, creating a super rice that not only contained more vitamin A but zinc, iron, vitamin E and improved protein as well (Paine et al. 2005)....

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