“Golden” rice is a genetically engineered (GE, also called genetically modified, GM) rice variety developed by the biotech industry to produce pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene). Proponents portray golden rice as a technical, quick-fix solution to Vitamin A deficiency (VAD), a health problem in many developing countries. However, not only is golden rice an ineffective tool to combat VAD it is also environmentally irresponsible, poses risks to human health, and compromises food security.
Golden rice has been in development for over 20 years, yet no commercial applications have resulted – largely because of the complexity of the genetic engineering. Exactly how the betacarotene is made in the plant is not well understood, and the complexity of the genetic engineering increases the potential for unexpected and unpredictable effects, which could affect food safety. Yet assessing food safety is problematic for regulators because the concept of substantial equivalence is not applicable to golden rice.
There are many technical questions surrounding the beta-carotene in golden rice: exactly what is produced, how stable it is, and exactly what happens when it is processed in the human body. While the food safety of golden rice is in doubt, what is known is that GE rice will undoubtedly contaminate the non-GE rice supply, particularly traditional varieties and landraces. GE contamination of food supply poses risks to health. By encouraging a diet based on one staple rather than an increase in access to the many vitamin-rich vegetables, golden rice could – if introduced on a large scale – exacerbate malnutrition and ultimately undermine food security.
The tens of millions of dollars spent on this project would have been better spent on VAD solutions that work. Golden rice is simply the wrong approach and a waste of money. Golden rice diverts significant resources away from dealing with the real underlying causes of VAD and malnutrition, which are mainly poverty and lack of access to a more diverse diet. Indeed, it is a risky distraction from solutions that are already helping to tackle VAD and malnutrition more effectively without subjecting the population to unknown health risks.
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