Genetically Engineered 'Golden Rice' is Fool's Gold

Press release - February 9, 2001
Genetically engineered "Golden Rice" containing provitamin A will not solve the problem of malnutrition in developing countries according to Greenpeace. The Genetic Engineering (GE) industry claims that vitamin A rice could save thousands of children from blindness and millions of malnourished people from vitamin A deficiency (VAD) related diseases. But a simple calculation based on the product developers' own figures show an adult would have to eat at least twelve times the normal intake of 300 grams to get the daily recommended amount of provitamin A.[1]

Genetically engineered "Golden Rice" containing provitamin A will not solve the problem of malnutrition in developing countries according to Greenpeace. The Genetic Engineering (GE) industry claims that vitamin A rice could save thousands of children from blindness and millions of malnourished people from vitamin A deficiency (VAD) related diseases. But a simple calculation based on the product developers' own figures show an adult would have to eat at least twelve times the normal intake of 300 grams to get the daily recommended amount of provitamin A.[1]

Syngenta, one of the world's leading genetic engineering companies and pesticide producers, which owns many patents on the "Golden Rice", blatantly boasts that a single month of marketing delay of "Golden Rice" would cause 50,000 children to go blind.[2]

Greenpeace calculations show however, that an adult would have to eat at least 3.7 kilos of dry weight rice, (i.e. around 9 kilos of cooked rice), to satisfy his/her daily need of vitamin A from "Golden Rice". In other words, a normal daily intake of 300 grams of rice would, at best, provide 8% percent of the vitamin A needed daily. A breast-feeding woman would have to eat at least 6.3 kilos in dry weight, which converts to nearly 18 kilos of cooked rice per day.[3]

"It is clear from these calculations that the GE industry is making false promises about 'Golden Rice'. It is ridiculous to think anyone would or could eat this much rice daily, and there is still no proof that it can provide any significant vitamin benefits anyway," said Von Hernandez Campaign Director for Greenpeace in Southeast Asia. The first grains of the genetically engineered rice had been delivered to the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines last month for breeding into local rice varieties. "This whole project is actually based on what can only be characterised as deliberate deception. We recalculated their figures again and again, we just could not believe serious scientists and companies would do this, " he added.

To demonstrate the exaggerated claims made by industry regarding the health-saving potential of Golden Rice, Greenpeace activists in Manila served a volunteer the cooked equivalent of 3.7 kilos of mock GE rice on a huge platter and placed it beside a small plate of vegetables which would yield the same quantities of beta carotene as the mountain of rice.

In addition, the Rockefeller Foundation, a major sponsor of the Vitamin A rice research project, recently admitted in a letter to Greenpeace that "the public relations uses of Golden Rice have gone too far." While upholding their principal support for the project, Rockefeller Foundation President Gordon Conway told Greenpeace that "the industry's advertisements and the media in general seem to forget that it is a research product that needs considerable further development before it will be available to farmers and consumer."[4]

"The wide disparity between reality and industry propaganda in this case is appalling. These biotech pushers obviously have no qualms about propping up half-truths in their frantic efforts to railroad the introduction and commercialization of genetically modified crops in developing countries like the Philippines," said Beau Baconguis, Greenpeace GE Campaigner in the Philippines.

"The European markets have resoundingly rejected GE products, consumers worldwide don't want them in their food, and the industry is desperate for alternative markets. 'Golden Rice' has been presented as a quick fix for a global problem. It isn't, and the cash-driven propaganda about the product is drowning out other genuine attempts to enforce existing effective solutions, and carry out further work on other sustainable, reliable methods to address malnutrition" added Hernandez.

Genetically engineered rice does not address the underlying causes of vitamin A deficiency (V AD), which are mainly poverty and lack of access to a more diverse diet. For the short- term, measures such as supplementation (i.e. pills) and food fortification are cheap and effective. Promoting the use and the access to food naturally rich in provitamin A, such as red palm oil, will also help addressing the V AD related sufferings. The only long-term solution is to work on the root causes of poverty and to ensure access to a diverse and healthy diet.[5]

For her part, Baconguis stressed that "Syngenta and its pro-biotech cohorts should stop, exploiting the issues of malnutrition and hunger for their self-serving agenda of promoting a dangerous technology which has potentially irreversible consequences to the environment and human health. "

Notes: [1] United Nations' World Health Organisation/Food and Agriculture Organisation and the US National Academy of Science recommendations on daily vitamin A intake. [2] Dr. Adrian C. Dubock, of Zeneca Plant Science (now Syngenta): "The levels of expression of pro-vitamin A that the inventors were aiming at, and have achieved, are sufficient to provide the minimum level of pro-vitamin A to prevent the development of irreversible blindness affecting 500.000 children annually, and to significantly alleviate Vitamin A deficiency affecting 124.000.000 children in 26 countries." "One month delay = 50,000 blind children month." at a conference on "Sustainable Agriculture in the New Millennium" in Brussels, May 28-31,2000. [3] Greenpeace briefing paper "Vitamin A: Natural Sources vs. Golden Rice" and "The false promise of GE rice" are available at http://www.greenpeace.org/~geneng/">http://www.greenpeace.org/~geneng/ [4] Letter to Greenpeace UK, January 22nd, 2001 http://www.greenpeace.org/~geneng/">http://www.greenpeace.org/~geneng/ [5] Nutritionists have pointed out that numerous problems converge to cause vitamin A deficiency. In a recent letter to the New York Times, Dr. Marion Nestle noted that "conversion of beta carotene to vitamin A, and transport in the body to the tissues that use vitamin A, require diets adequate in fat and protein. People whose diets lack these nutrients or who have intestinal diarrheal diseases -common in developing countries -can not obtain Vitamin A from golden rice."