Golden rice: Anti-GMO extremists refuse to let you decide

posted at 4:01 pm on August 27, 2013 by Bruce McQuain

What if one of the biggest problems in the developing world was a lack of vitamin A?  And what if you could engineer a crop that was a staple in most of that world that would provide sufficient vitamin A to prevent certain diseases, conditions and death:

Lack of the vital nutrient causes blindness in a quarter-million to a half-million children each year. It affects millions of people in Asia and Africa and so weakens the immune system that some two million die each year of diseases they would otherwise survive.

You’d be a hero right?  You’d be hailed as someone who has vastly improved the lives and chances for millions.

Unless you ask Greenpeace.

Greenpeace, for one, dismisses the benefits of vitamin supplementation through G.M.O.’s and has said it will continue to oppose all uses of biotechnology in agriculture. As Daniel Ocampo, a campaigner for the organization in the Philippines, put it, “We would rather err on the side of caution.”

How will they “err on the side of caution?”  By denying you a choice:

One bright morning this month, 400 protesters smashed down the high fences surrounding a field in the Bicol region of the Philippines and uprooted the genetically modified rice plants growing inside.

Had the plants survived long enough to flower, they would have betrayed a distinctly yellow tint in the otherwise white part of the grain. That is because the rice is endowed with a gene from corn and another from a bacterium, making it the only variety in existence to produce beta carotene, the source of vitamin A. Its developers call it “Golden Rice.”

The concerns voiced by the participants in the Aug. 8 act of vandalism — that Golden Rice could pose unforeseen risks to human health and the environment, that it would ultimately profit big agrochemical companies — are a familiar refrain in the long-running controversy over the merits of genetically engineered crops. They are driving the desire among some Americans for mandatory “G.M.O.” labels on food with ingredients made from crops whose DNA has been altered in a laboratory. And they have motivated similar attacks on trials of other genetically modified crops in recent years: grapes designed to fight off a deadly virus in France, wheat designed to have a lower glycemic index in Australia, sugar beets in Oregon designed to tolerate a herbicide, to name a few.

“We do not want our people, especially our children, to be used in these experiments,” a farmer who was a leader of the protest told the Philippine newspaper Remate.

Instead, they prefer the children who aren’t as well off as theirs go blind or die from preventible conditions or diseases.

Those that oppose this cite “big Agriculture” as one reason to oppose GMO. But this isn’t a product of “Big Ag”:

Not owned by any company, Golden Rice is being developed by a nonprofit group called the International Rice Research Institute with the aim of providing a new source of vitamin A to people both in the Philippines, where most households get most of their calories from rice, and eventually in many other places in a world where rice is eaten every day by half the population.

And besides, they claim, there are other foods these people can eat and, as usual, provide a overly simple answer to a complex problem:

” … critics who suggest encouraging poor families to simply eat fruits and vegetables that contain beta carotene disregard the expense and logistical difficulties that would thwart such efforts.

The controversy over golden rice typifies the arguments in general about genetically modified crops.  Rife with agendas and politics, short on actual scientific fact:

“There’s so much misinformation floating around about G.M.O.’s that is taken as fact by people,” said Michael D. Purugganan, a professor of genomics and biology and the dean for science at New York University, who sought to calm health-risk concerns in a primer on GMA News Online, a media outlet in the Philippines: “The genes they inserted to make the vitamin are not some weird manufactured material,” he wrote, “but are also found in squash, carrots and melons.”

Mr. Purugganan, who studies plant evolution, does not work on genetically engineered crops, and until recently had not participated in the public debates over the risks and benefits of G.M.O.’s. But having been raised in a middle-class family in Manila, he felt compelled to weigh in on Golden Rice. “A lot of the criticism of G.M.O.’s in the Western world suffers from a lack of understanding of how really dire the situation is in developing countries,” he said.

Some proponents of G.M.O.’s say that more critical questions, like where biotechnology should fall as a priority in the efforts to address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition and how to prevent a few companies from controlling it, would be easier to address were they not lumped together with unfounded fears by those who oppose G.M.O.’s.

“It is long past time for scientists to stand up and shout, ‘No more lies — no more fear-mongering,’ ” said Nina V. Fedoroff, a professor at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia and a former science adviser to the American secretary of state, who helped spearhead the petition. “We’re talking about saving millions of lives here.”

The anti-GMO crowd, led by Greenpeace, doesn’t really care about that.  In fact, they’re modern day Luddites.  And, ironically, they’re all about denying you choice in what you want to consume.  The simple solution to all of this is to refuse to consume genetically modified crops if one opposes or fears them.  In reality, what others choose to consume is really none of  Greenpeace’s business, is it?


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Major distinction: An individual has a choice to consider the risks before using the drug. If GMO hoses some part the ecosystem, nobody can choose to opt-out. And actually, you help make my point of unintended …

Tsar of Earth on August 29, 2013 at 9:30 AM

A new pharma can screw with the ecosystem, too.

It’s still a risk. You can’t say it’s not.

blink on August 29, 2013 at 11:02 AM

I wish I would have been a bit more succinct, yet ‘gray’ in my original comment – but it would have been too long. I think both sides are unintentionally being a bit polarized to the extreme edges.

Let me try: I read a case-study about the hastening of tests conducted by Monsanto – for a Monsanto GMO product. It was clear that established protocols to enforce due-diligence suffered the affects of a strong political lobbying effort (and there has been recent related legislation giving further ‘immunity’ to the GMO industry). And there were negative consequences as a result.

I am a Capitalist (despite the conclusion of some here). But in the latter years of my life, I have concluded that the Achilles-Heel of Capitalism is runaway greed. I do not know what the solution is – I’m not crazy about knee-jerk regulations. I attribute the mistakes we all make to the Human Condition. The best I can arrive at is a litmus-test to justify a new Regulation: If market forces cannot mitigate ‘harmful’ greed, perhaps we need a regulation.

And now, we have the need to define ‘harmful’. The problem is not solved – its simply displaced.

Tsar of Earth on August 30, 2013 at 11:06 AM

and there has been recent related legislation giving further ‘immunity’ to the GMO industry

Is this what people are calling the “Monsanto protection act?” From the information I have seen (but haven’t done a lot of research into) I thought that if a seed technology is cleared for use, farmers buy it and plant it, but then at some point down the line the seed technology is recalled, the law says that farmers with crops in the ground can still sell it and elevators don’t have to dump/ruin millions of bushels of crops when that happens. First of all, is my interpretation wrong? If it isn’t, isn’t that really the Farmer Protection Act or Elevator Protection Act?

cptacek on August 30, 2013 at 12:12 PM

Let me try: I read a case-study about the hastening of tests conducted by Monsanto – for a Monsanto GMO product. It was clear that established protocols to enforce due-diligence suffered the affects of a strong political lobbying effort (and there has been recent related legislation giving further ‘immunity’ to the GMO industry). And there were negative consequences as a result.

I can guarantee this isn’t happening.

Murphy9 on August 31, 2013 at 11:42 PM

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