'Golden' rice is a technical failure standing in way of real solutions for vitamin A deficiency

Press release - 17 March, 2005
Five years after the hype on the so called 'Golden' rice started, Greenpeace claims that this project is a technical failure, not suited to overcome malnutrition and worse, is drawing funding and attention away from the real solutions to combat vitamin A deficiency (VAD). Greenpeace expects that industry scientists will shortly release new propaganda on 'Golden' rice, misleading the public again on real solutions for VAD.

'Golden' rice was first presented in 2000 as a rice variety that was genetically engineered in a laboratory to produce pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene). The aim was that this genetically engineered (GE) rice would solve the problems of vitamin A deficiency, which can result in blindness and even death and occurs predominantly in developing countries.

"Industry tries to sell 'Golden' rice as a magic solution. Their strategy is misleading the public, they are oversimplifying the actual problems in combating vitamin A deficiency and try to turn down other, more effective solutions," says Christoph Then, GE campaigner, Greenpeace International. "The 'Golden' rice project simply aims to help industry to gain support for their controversial GE-food in markets such as India and Europe".

Close reading of the 'Golden' rice publications (1) reveals that these publications were hiding technical problems. The original publication on 'Golden' rice did not fully, nor accurately, describe the type of pro-vitamin A present in 'Golden' rice. In fact, the reported amount of beta-carotene present was significantly over-estimated. The main problem is that current science doesn't understands how the GE rice makes the beta-carotene in the plant.

The human food safety of the GE rice is unknown, but it is known that cultivated rice will outcross to wild and weedy relatives, likely to cause agronomic and environmental problems.

Since 'Golden' rice was presented in 2000, solutions such as increased food diversity, medical vitamin A supplementation and home gardening, have proven to be working solutions for VAD. Although VAD is still a serious problem, in some countries such as Bangladesh, these solutions helped to virtually eliminate the blindness of children induced by VAD (2). There are also traditional rice varieties that not only contain beta-carotene but also several other important nutritional compounds such as iron, high quality protein and even fatty components that are necessary for any uptake of beta-carotene (3).

"GE rice could, if introduced on a large scale, exacerbate malnutrition and undermine food security because it encourages a diet based on a single industrial staple food rather than upon the reintroduction of the many vitamin-rich food plants with high nutritional value that are cheap and already available." says Professor Klaus Becker, from University of Hohenheim, Germany, one of the contributors to the Greenpeace reports that are released today.

Greenpeace warns that 'Golden' rice researchers will again try to draw attention by presenting new research on their GE rice, claiming that this 'Golden' rice will have a ten times the content of beta-carotene as the first generation. In five years of propaganda, 'Golden' rice has not deliverd any real solutions to combat VAD, but distracted public awareness away from available solutions that are likely to be cheaper, more effective and more sustainable for the environment.

(1) Greenpeace, Not all that glitters is gold, The false hope of "Golden Rice", www.greenpeace.org/goldenrice
(2) Antje Lorch, Vitamin A deficiency: diverse causes, diverse solutions, www.greenpeace.org/vitaminA
(3) Michael Frei and Klaus Becker, On rice, biodiversity and nutrients, www.greenpeace.org/ricebiodiversity