Summarising a recent non–technical Soil Association briefing.
Vitamin A deficiency is widespread in many parts of the world, leading to blindness and death for millions of children. As the late Winin Pereira pointed out from the 90s onwards, this happens because, in areas where rice is the staple food, the urban poor or villagers who have lost their land, have to survive on virtually nothing but rice, which lacks certain nutrients . . . suffering from broader malnourishment than just vitamin A deficiency.
Some scientists believe that the solution is to create rice which provides the missing nutrient, but the SA believes that this only treating the problem, not the symptom – poverty. They advocate the reduction of the number of people who have to survive on rice in the first place. Lack of access to other foods and the land, tools and skills to grow them, are the main reasons children are going blind.
The best solution to vitamin A deficiency
The SA says that the best solution is to use supplementation and fortification as emergency ‘sticking-plasters’, and also for funding support and research to go into measures which tackle the broader issues of poverty and malnutrition . . . The SA believes that further progress towards curing blindness in developing countries years ago could have been made, if the money, research and publicity that have gone into Golden Rice for 15 years had been spent on proven ways of curing the Vitamin A deficiency that causes blindness . . .
As with all genetic modification, Golden Rice is taking years to develop. Scientists have overlooked the social nature of a problem, which they see as having a simple, quick fix, and have ploughed on regardless of difficulty, expense and time, while ignoring the readily available, alternatives.
- After more than 15 years, Golden Rice is still at the field-trial stage. The International Rice Research Institute reports that it hasn’t yet been tested for effectiveness in reversing vitamin A deficiency, or for toxicity, and is unlikely to be ready for commercialisation for two years or more.
- All the initial work on Golden Rice was focussed on a strain of rice Japonica, a short-grain variety, not suitable for growing in the areas where Vitamin A deficiency is highest. It is only recently that the long-grain variant Indica has been targeted, grown in countries such as the Philippines where vitamin A deficiency is a major problem.
The claims about Golden Rice made by pro-GM scientists, GM companies and some politicians in 1998 have not been fulfilled. Golden Rice is still years away from being readily available, and those developing it still do not know if it is safe.
There are already effective cures for Vitamin A deficiency, both short-term and long-term which work, and xthe long-term solutions solve not just the problem of Vitamin A deficiency, which does not occur in isolation, but the wider problem of multiple vitamin deficiency. #
- Adverse effect of storage on levels of carotenoid in golden rice grains: http://www.clrri.org/ver2/uploads/noidung/14-03_1.pdf
- Fortified rice: http://riforg.gainhealth.org/rice-fortification/rice-key-facts-and-figures
- Biofortified sweet potato: http://www.harvestplus.org/content/uganda-and-mozambique
(Ed: GE ‘Golden’ rice could contaminate non-GE rice nearby, adversely affecting conventional and organic rice farmers because they lose markets. One example: in June 2011 Bayer agreed to pay 750 million dollars to farmers for damages and lost harvests in 2006 due to the contamination of – allegedly – more than 30% of United States rice in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas. The large Arkansas rice mill, Riceland, was awarded $16.9 million in compensatory damages and an additional $125 million in punitive damages against Bayer. Japan and Russia banned U.S. imports of the rice, while Mexico and the European Union imposed strict testing.)