How would you feel if I told you that a group of scientists came to Canada and fed a group of 24 children between the ages of six and eight with a potentially dangerous product that had yet to be fully tested or understood?
What if I told you that federal authorities came out publicly against this very experiment, and yet the experiment continued? You'd be pretty outraged, right?
Not Margaret Wente, a columnist at the Globe and Mail. She prefers to criticize Greenpeace for issuing an ‘’alarming press release’’ on that very issue.
Last week, she wrote column (“Greenpeace’s Golden Rice stand should appal us all”) that addressed the genetically engineered ‘Golden Rice’ trial in China. She ended her article by asserting that Greenpeace and its allies would rather have millions of children go blind than be given this “safe” solution.
Such hyperbole is not worthy of Canada’s national newspaper and she couldn’t be further from the truth. Ms. Wente is feeding the illusion that the Golden Rice is a safe solution. The truth is that the safety of genetically engineered (GE) food for humans and feed for animals is still unknown. There aren’t any available independent studies that prove otherwise. On the other hand, there are studies that prove that GE crops certainly have the potential to cause allergic reactions.
Ms. Wente defends the idea that genetically engineered rice is a solution to vitamin A deficiency among malnourished children in the developing world. The reality is, we do not need this "silver bullet" rice, because inexpensive and effective methods of combating vitamin A deficiency (VAD) have long been available.
Over the past 20 years, the world has been tackling VAD using safer and more effective techniques. The most commonly used method is, unsurprisingly, vitamin A supplements – vitamin pills. The tens of millions of dollars spent on the development of Golden Rice would be better spent on VAD solutions that are proven to work and have extensive studies behind them.
By promoting GE rice you encourage a diet based on single starch staple rather than an increase in access to the many vitamin-rich food plants in a diversified diet. These plants would address a wide variety of micronutrient deficiencies, not just VAD. In her eagerness to smear Greenpeace, Wente dismisses the feeding of millions of children a healthy diverse diet as a “utopian” solution. Really?
Furthermore, a few large multinational companies hold the majority of patents for genetically engineered plants. Therefore, it's in their financial interest – and not ours, the public – to get us hooked on their seed.
From the outset, this Golden Rice project appears to be designed more towards helping the biotech industry overcome the widespread consumer rejection of GE crops, than to help overcome malnutrition.
This, Ms. Wente, is what we should all be appalled about.