Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : March 19, 2005
* On the Uptake of Healthier GM Foods
* Nobel Laureate Pitches for GM Technology
* GM Crop Potential
* GM Crops: Safety Research Falls Foul of German Politics
* How to Make A Minority Look Like A Majority
* 2005 Bioethics Institute at Iowa State U
* To Patent or Not to Patent?
* No More Starlink in US Corn Supply
* Greenpeace Says that Golden Rice is a Technical Failure!
On the Uptake of Healthier GM Foods
- New Scientist, March 19, 2005, Issue 2491, page 5
One of the biggest hurdles in selling genetically modified crops to sceptical consumers, especially in Europe, has been that there was nothing in it for them. All the traits commercialised so far, such as herbicide resistance, benefit farmers. So it is a major - and pleasant - surprise to find that the agribiotech company Monsanto has created a crop specifically to appeal to health-conscious westerners. This is not food for poor people, like rice rich in vitamin A or potatoes packed with protein, but the first commercial GM crop designed for well-heeled consumers.
Monsanto's new variety of soya produces unusually low levels of linolenic acid. When used in processed food, it should reduce the amount of saturated fat in the product, the company says (see "Will low-fat foods sway biotech sceptics?"). And this is just the start. Monsanto has plans for a range of healthier crops, including soya that produces omega-3 oils, the fatty acids found in fish that are credited with staving off heart disease.
The new variety was created specially for the US market, where new food labelling rules will give products low in saturated fat a commercial edge. This is, however, unlikely to persuade sceptical consumers, who will ask if this is the best Monsanto can do. After all, processed foods do not figure prominently in what most people consider a healthy diet.
The new soya also manages to muddy the waters over what GM really means. The low-linolenic-acid trait was created using conventional breeding, and the resulting plants were cross-bred with herbicide-resistant GM soya to produce the new variety. So the crop's only GM attribute remains its herbicide resistance.
From the European perspective this looks like an odd decision. Why develop a consumer-friendly crop using conventional techniques only to add an unrelated GM trait? Some critics see this as a stealth tactic designed to make GM more acceptable to European consumers. But the truth is more prosaic: the soya is designed to be grown in the US, where farmers have embraced GM technology and consumers don't share Europe's concerns.
Even so, foods made with the new soya could soon be heading to Europe. Monsanto's herbicide-resistant soya is already licensed for sale in Europe, and because no extra genetic engineering was performed to create the new variety, it will be covered by the same licence.
So will the new variety reverse Monsanto's fortunes in Europe? Probably not, as critics will continue to point to concerns such as the spreading of GM pollen to organic farms, the indirect damage to wildlife from the herbicide-spraying schedules used on GM crops, and the undesirability of placing food production in the hands of a few corporations. Nevertheless, designing crops for consumers and for specific markets is a step in the right direction.
Nobel Laureate Pitches for GM Technology
- Business Line (The Hindu; India), March 17, 2005 http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/
Legendary agricultural scientist and Nobel Laureate, Dr Norman Borlaug, on Wednesday made a strong case for adoption of genetically-modified (GM) technologies to enhance agricultural growth in developing countries.
Delivering the Coromandel Lecture instituted by the Murugappa Group at a scientific convention, marking the centenary celebrations of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute here, the 90-year-old Dr Borlaug said he did not favour the use of the term GMOs (genetically-modified organisms). "Crops have been modified genetically right from the Neolithic age. I would prefer to call the new generation crops transgenic crosses," he said.
What marked these out from the products of conventional breeding was that "the new techniques help us to cross taxonomic lines (across unrelated species), which means I can put a Bt gene from a soil bacteria on to cotton."
Dr Borlaug said his "biotechnology dream" was to transfer the innate immunity of rice to rusts (diseases caused by pathogens of the Puccinia species) to other cereals such as wheat, maize and sorghum. "Since 1997, per capita production of wheat has been declining because of the emergence of new diseases such as stem rust. If we can use modern biotechnology tools to transfer rust resistance in rice to wheat it would make a huge contribution to farmers" he noted.
Similarly, he pointed at the possibility ('dream') of transferring wheat proteins (gliadin and glutenin) that enable making superior dough for leavening bread to other cereals. "You can probably then be eating rice sandwiches" he remarked.
Dr Borlaug said there was to need to double food production by 2050 if hunger were to be banished from the world and the ongoing 'gene revolution' can definitely play a part in this. "You cannot build peace on empty stomachs. Only 8 per cent of countries with lower levels of hunger are mired in conflict," he added.
GM Crop Potential
- Business Standard (India), March 18, 2005 http://www.business-standard.com/
The strong defence of genetically modified (GM) crops by Nobel laureate Norman E Borlaug, hailed as father of the Green Revolution, is essentially commonsense. It was the genetic alteration of the wheat plant by him in the early 1960s that triggered the Green Revolution in India and many other countries.
And he knows that a similar genetic manipulation of other crops can produce even more wonderful results today. As Borlaug pointed out, if the genes that make rice plants resistant to dreaded rust diseases could be transferred to crops like wheat, maize, and sorghum, the latter could be freed from a big hazard, ensuring good production without any use of pesticides. Similarly, if wheat’s leavened dough-making trait could be transferred to rice, it would be possible to make pasta products, breads and chapatis from rice flour.
Indeed, the advantages offered by a calculated genetic alteration of crop plants are countless. Farmers have not been slow to take advantage. The total area under GM crops globally has risen by 20 per cent in the last year alone. In India, where their use was allowed only three years ago, about 1.34 million hectares have come under Bt cotton.
As a result, cotton output has scaled a new peak this year, posing problems of plenty. But it is not farmers who are complaining about GM crops; it is the strong anti-GM lobby that is unable to stomach it. This lobby has been opposing GM crops on various grounds, none of which is entirely convincing. If GM crops do indeed pose a real environmental or health hazard, some of it should have surfaced by now in areas where they are being grown for years now.
Many anti-GM activists take advantage of the general ignorance about the distinction between GM and transgenic products. While all objects with artificially altered gene structures are GMOs, only those receiving genes from unrelated species are transgenic (like plants receiving genes from bacteria or animals, and vice versa).
Gene transfers from related species have been going on for centuries through conventional plant breeding. The production of transgenic organisms is not possible with conventional technology. The new tools of molecular biotechnology have made the evolution of both kinds of products easy, broadening the horizons of this technology.
No doubt, such a potent technology is amenable to misuse, especially if it falls into the wrong hands. That is a good enough reason to call for more safeguards and study, but not blocking it. There are also acceptable ways to check misuse. All that is needed really is ample caution by way of hazard-testing before clearing GM products.
But even this caution need not be taken to an extreme and converted into an impediment, as seems to be the case in India, where GM seeds have had to wait for years before being cleared.
As a result, a good deal of the investment made by public and private sector organisations in these seeds remains blocked. Only a handful of Bt cotton hybrids have so far been allowed to be gainfully utilised. It is time to review our GM variety approval mechanism to speed up the commercial exploitation of useful crop varieties.
Genetically Modified Crops: Safety Research Falls Foul of German Politics
- Gretchen Vogel, Science, v.307, No. 5716, p. 1706. Mar 18, 2005,
Berlin -- Researchers at two government-funded labs in Germany have had to withdraw from projects involving the safety of genetically modified (GM) plants after their bosses, officials in the agriculture ministry, said the work was inappropriate. The ban came despite the fact that the projects won funding from another government department--the ministry of research and education--in a nationwide competition for projects studying GM plant safety.
The showdown is the latest example of political hostility toward GM research in Germany, says Jörg Hacker of the University of Würzburg, a vice president of the federal research agency DFG. Even so, he says, the cancellation of specific projects is unprecedented: "To my knowledge, it's the first time such a thing has happened." The projects involved "one of the core concerns of the ministry," he adds, to improve the safety of GM plants.
Agriculture and consumer protection minister Renate Künast, a Green Party member of the left-leaning governing coalition and the researchers' ultimate boss, is openly skeptical of gene technology. Last year, her ministry proposed a law that holds anyone who plants GM crops financially liable if neighboring fields are contaminated with genetically altered pollen. Scientists have complained that the law, which received final approval from the Bundestag in December, essentially prevents all field research with GM plants (Science, 25 June 2004, p. 1887).
The researchers leading the projects, Joachim Schiemann of the Institute for Plant Virology, Microbiology, and Biosafety in Braunschweig and Reinhardt Töpfer of the Federal Center for Cultivated Plant Breeding Research in Siebeldingen, hoped to optimize a method for removing antibiotic-resistance genes from GM plants. During the genetic alteration process, antibiotic-resistance genes are commonly introduced as markers. Their presence in GM plants is often cited by opponents of the technology as a potential danger to consumers and the environment. A spokesperson for the agricultural ministry says the projects could lead to products that would later need to be evaluated by the institutes in question, and the ministry acted to prevent potential conflicts of interest.
The researchers were not available for comment, but a member of Schiemann's consortium, Inge Broer of the University of Rostock, says the research will go on. Her group will take over the project, she says, "but we have enough other work to do. It would be better if the [agriculture ministry] researchers did it themselves." If the government hopes to properly assess the safety of GM crops, she says, they will need qualified experts in the field.
How to Make A Minority Look Like A Majority
- Scott Campbell and Ellen Townsend, Australian Science, March 17, 2005, Via Agnet
'Scott Campbell and Ellen Townsend reveal how the results of a UK report on public acceptance of genetic modification were misrepresented.'
A little over a year ago the British government undertook a massive public consultation exercise on public attitudes towards genetically modified (GM) food and crops. GM Nation? hit the headlines throughout Britain and the world in late 2003, with most journalists describing the report as an accurate reflection of the public's attitudes.
However, very few troubled themselves with any critical analysis of the exercise. In actual fact, the GM Nation? debate was a travesty, and serves as a model of how not to use social science in the interests of democracy.
The GM Nation? report concluded that the general public is overwhelmingly against GM technology, with feelings ranging from "suspicion and scepticism, to hostility and rejection". There are, it said, "many more people who are cautious, suspicious or outrightly hostile about GM crops than there are supportive towards them".
These conclusions were based on quantitative questionnaires answered by 36,500 people, as well as by additional comments received. Such a large sample certainly looks impressive, considering that much social science and market research draws conclusions on the basis of samples of only a few hundred people, or even less.
But the large size of the sample does not overcome one glaring problem. It is, as even its authors concede, a self-selected sample, and therefore is almost certainly not random. As a self-selected sample, it is probably comprised mostly of people with strong opinions on the subject – because people with strong opinions on a subject are the ones most strongly motivated to participate in any debate on the subject. After all, if you're not interested in a topic, why would you go to the trouble of writing a letter to a survey unit telling them that you're not interested?
The fact that tens of thousands of the sort of people who have strong feelings about GM wrote in to say that they have strong feelings about it tells us nothing much about the rest of the population, especially when one considers that none of the survey's considerable budget was spent on advertising, so most of the people who knew about it (before the results hit the headlines) were the activists.
The Hidden Figures
Further strong support for this conclusion comes from the report itself. The authors had acknowledged that the views of those who made the effort to take part in GM Nation? "might not be representative of the general population", so a "narrow-but-deep" study was commissioned from another company. This consisted of asking 78 randomly chosen people 13 of the same questions that had been asked of the larger "open debate" group. In this way the narrow but- deep group functioned as a control group for the open debate group to see if there was a "silent majority with different views".
According to the report, apart from some minor differences the control group results backed up the results from the open debate group. The general public was not "a completely different audience with different values and attitudes from an unrepresentative activist minority".
Was this true? Well, no journalist was likely to find out because no table had been provided to present the differences, and the actual results of the two groups were buried deep within the hundreds of pages of supporting documents, far apart from each other with some of the data actually missing. Suspecting that some inconvenient data had been deliberately hidden, we gathered the relevant material together. Once these results were compared side-by-side, stunning differences emerged. For instance, on the question "I would be happy to eat GM food", 86% of the open debate group disagreed compared with only 35% in the random group. Only 8% of the open group agreed with this statement compared with 36% of the random group.
On whether GM crops would result in less pesticides, 71% disagreed in the open group compared with 12% in the random group, while agreement went up from 14% to 54%. Some 79% of the open group thought that GM wouldn't help British farmers compete, but this collapsed to only 23% in the random group. Meanwhile, the people who thought GM would help farmers compete rose from 9% to 40%. Would it provide cheaper food? Some 70% said no in the open debate group compared with only 14% in the random group, whereas people who agreed with the statement increased from 14% to 43%. "Does GM interfere with nature in an unacceptable way?" The 84% yes vote collapsed to 37% in the random group. Could GM benefit people in developing countries? Three-quarters of the open debate group disagreed compared with only 18% in the random group, whereas the percentage in favour rose from 13% in the open debate group to 50% in the random group.
Massive differences like these resulted for more than half of the questions surveyed. These results discredit the results of the open debate. The randomly selected control group did its job, indicating that the results of the larger survey should have been discarded as they cannot be said to be representative of what the UK public thinks about GM food.
But nowhere is this admitted in the report. In fact, the opposite is claimed. The report says that the control group's responses mostly bear out the main results.
It should also be noted that many of the questions were of very low quality. For example, question 2 was: "I am concerned about the potential negative impact of GM crops on the environment". This is exactly the sort of question that even a high school social studies student could tell you should not be used in a survey. It's vague, and practically begs to be answered in the affirmative. So the GM Nation? report was based on a method that no decent empirical researcher would consider adequate, and was discredited by its own control group data. But instead of being discarded, it was released to the general public as definitive.
The only argument we have heard in defence of this move was that the results were supposed to be "qualitative, not quantitative". But this is simply a fudge. The survey was set up to record masses of quantitative data, as well as some qualitative data in the form of written comments. And the quantitative data was presented as just that – quantitative.
So how should governments work out what public attitudes are – if, indeed, this is any of their business? The best way is to use the tried-and-tested technique of random sampling. One doesn'tneed 36,500 people to determine attitudes if the sample is random.
However, problems arise even here. One might, for example, send out questionnaires to randomly chosen members of the public, and many reputable academic studies on attitudes to GM have done this. However, in most cases the response rates are very low. In fact, response rates as low as 25% have been reported. Most of those people who responded are probably going to be those with strong views on GM to start with. So even if one starts with a random sample, the sample can end up being greatly biased by way of- the limited response.
What is needed is what we call a "topic blind" recruitment strategy, where random people agree to provide their views on what they are told is a general current issue – before they know what the actual issue is. That way, much of the self-selecting is prevented.
We have done a careful topic-blind study of 100 people. Published recently in Risk Analysis, our study presents a different picture than to GM Nation?. In fact, its results are more like the results of the narrow-but-deep sample. We found that about 50% of people intend to buy GM food while 50% do not. Even among the latter group, though, attitudes are not that set against GM food: 87% of that group were happy to taste what they thought was GM food. It is also desirable that questions about GM food be embedded among questions about other current concerns. This strategy has been used in risk perception research for decades now. The use of such a strategy means that participants will be unaware that GM food is the focus of the research; consequently, their responses are more likely to be reliable and realistic.
Such a study has been carried out in another paper that has been published recently in Risk Analysis. In this study, feelings and perceived risks from GM food were compared with 19 other issues of current concern, such as human cloning, mental illness and car crashes. GM food was viewed as the least risky of all the issues studied and was not dreaded or seen as particularly unethical. In other words, these results show that worries about GM rank very low compared with worries about other issues that people- face in modern life. Public participation exercises such as GM Nation? give us inaccurate pictures of public opinion on controversial issues. Despite this, there is considerable support for such exercises in Britain.
Groups that advocate more public participation in the "democratic process" are keen to extend their use to other issues as well, and we expect there to be support in Australia for such an idea. However, such public debates inevitably attract a skewed segment of the population, and cannot be used as a gauge on public opinion.
Scott Campbell and Ellen Townsend are based at the University of Nottingham's Institute for the Study of Genetics, Biorisks and Society.
Inviting you to the 2005 Bioethics Institute
- Iowa State University Campus - Ames, IA; May 23-27, 2005. Tom Zinnen, firstname.lastname@example.org
University faculty and Cooperative Extension personnel are invited to apply for the 2005 Bioethics Institute, which will be held on the Iowa State University Campus from May 23-27, 2005.
The Institute is an intensive five-day course, designed to help teachers introduce ethics and ethics-related material into their teaching and outreach activities. The Bioethics Institute will be of interest to faculty who address issues related to life science ethics in a wide range of disciplines, including the life sciences and agriculture as well as the social sciences or humanities. Application Deadline: April 15th
For fees and funding details, eligibility criteria, and application materials, please see our website at http://www.iastate.edu/~ethics/Institute_Page.html
To Patent or Not to Patent?
- Shanthu Shantharam, BioSpectrum (India), February 14, 2005; Part I http://www.biospectrumindia.com/archive/articledetail.asp?arid=67123&mode=disp
Indian agriculture is badly in need of capital investment and innovation and that is not likely to come about if the investors do not have a reasonable chance of recouping their investment and one of the tools that will ensure it is patent protection for their inventions.
This $64-million question has been just answered through a presidential ordinance by an amendment to the Indian Patent Act of 1970 just in the nick of time. India's IPR laws had to be WTO compliant by January 2005. The governments in India since the 1990s have prevaricated a lot to bring amendments to the Patent Act as they were never able to muster enough votes to pass them in both the Houses of parliament. Granted India amended the Patent Act twice in the past, the third one for granting product patent will have to ratified by the Parliament when it will definitely run into rough weather.
Leftists will oppose it on ideological grounds and rest of the Opposition will do so just to be a prickly opposition sans any ideology. They will have plenty of support from a myriad of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) who will be soon organizing street protests. The present government did not have much of a choice but to issue an ordinance to avoid the parliamentary wrangle. Likewise, many countries in the developing world are scrambling to amend their Patent laws to be WTO compliant. Both politicians and administrators in India have realized that India has no choice but to bring in product patent these days of knowledge economy to invite foreign direct investment and to promote innovation in India's public and private sector. Yet, they lacked political will and courage to take the determined action publicly.
The Union Agriculture Minister has stated that he will bring amendments to the Seed Act of 1966, to grant patent over transgenic seeds that will run counter to the sui generic system of Plant Varieties and Protection and Farmer's Right Act of 2002. The new amendment to the Patent Act gives silent nod to patenting of biotech seeds and other biotech applications (products) in medicine, agriculture and environment. The opponents fear that the patent protection of transgenic seeds will amount to mortgaging the poor farmer's economic interest when private companies will start extracting technology royalty payments. But, that need not be the case. The Indian government can retain the powers to determine the method of marketing and prevent companies from charging technology fee for biotech seeds as is done elsewhere as it is impractical for the companies to collect such a payment in a country like India.
Private seed companies purveying biotech seeds must tread cautiously not to use the technology licensing tactic in India and other developing countries at this point in time. Markets in developing countries will surely bear some increased costs for biotech seeds (as evidenced by the sales of Bt-cotton) that can offer superior value and profits to the grower for the money, but the same markets cannot afford exorbitant costs. Private companies for sure know the market they are dabbling in and would do well to avoid technology backlash. Biotech companies will have to realize that they have increased social responsibility now than ever before.
The stated objections of many conscientious and ideological protestors are that the revised patent law will throw open the India's intellectual property for a free raid (piracy) by the multi-national companies (MNCs). In fact the bottomline goal of the Leftists and Socialists is to deny any possible benefit to MNCs who in their opinion are only concerned about their profits and do not have any concern for the poor. Many of them seem too concerned about the social and economic injustices that will be inflicted upon the poorest of the poor in the areas of agriculture and medicine. Their patent concern does not seem to stretch into other industrial sectors. They also harp on how the new patent system will offer free access to traditional and indigenous knowledge (TK and IK) of Indian communities and tribes that will be commercialized by private sector without any benefit to those who for centuries have developed the knowledge base.
This point becomes particularly egregious in the area of modern agricultural and medical biotechnology. Recent instances of neem, turmeric and Basmati patents have become lightning rods for their cause and are regularly cited as how the North will exploit India's natural heritage of wealth and knowledge without an iota of benefit accruing to the Indian people. On the face of it, these allegations and accusations seem to be well founded and have been used to whip up emotions.
Everyone falls for it, and that has been the reason why in India, one cannot get almost no patent protection for biotech inventions of any sort. The result is most of the medical biotech community uses licensed technologies for manufacture or use expired patents to manufacture products, or simply engage in contract research. But, that picture is rapidly changing as many as 30 patents have been obtained by Indian medical biotech companies in the US in 2003 alone.
World class talent
This is an elegant proof that there is world class talent in the country but they have to seek protection for their inventions outside the country. This is also one of the reasons why there is hardly any venture capital available in the country that is now likely to change. This also shows how Indian inventors have to spend enormous amount of money to patent their inventions in a foreign country as their own country's law does not grant them any Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).
Other than the lone plant gene patent for Ama1 held by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and Professor Asis Datta of Jawaharlal Nehru University in the US, there is really no other sign of Indian agribusinesses having patented any invention in recent times. It should not be a surprise that India's investment in R&D in medicine and agriculture is still an insignificant part of the overall investment. In the medical sector, the generic drugs will soon dry up with the proposed patent amendment, and the fear expressed is that India will be denying low cost drugs to even poorer countries if the patent protections for life saving drugs are monopolized for 20 years.
Need of the hour
Indian agriculture is badly in need of capital investment and innovation and that is not likely to come about if the investors do not have a reasonable chance of recouping their investment and one of the tools that will ensure it is patent protection for their inventions. This is perhaps the most important reason why Indian agricultural biotechnologists are constantly looking out for buying or borrowing novel genes and gene constructs to develop products which means they will be just doing "me too" kind of copy cat R&D. With the patent law amendment, even that will become dearer and is sure to hinder scientific and technological progress in the country.
Although the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) strongly encourages patenting scientific discoveries and technological inventions by its scientists, the economic impact of that is still not significant. That scenario is expected to change for the better in due course of time. But, there is also a new tendency among the CSIR scientists to file for all sorts of useless patents for which there will be no buyers.
Patent filing should not become another frivolous activity like publishing "junk" scientific papers just to add to the numbers and seek personal career advancement. Patents do not always translate into successful commercialization. Sometimes defensive patents are obtained to prevent others from cashing in on the idea. Such abuses must also be prevented while implementing the amended patent law. Some critics of patent law would like to see patent protection for just "basic" inventions whatever that means. This is once again a flawed bleeding heart approach to jettison the effectiveness of the Act. You cannot have the carrot and eat it too!
The basic underlying principle of patent must be to spur economic growth. If one looks at the leading economies of the world like members of OECD, one cannot help but notice that they have strong intellectual property rights and developing countries do not, and poverty in these countries is telling. Contrary to the widely held belief, IPR protection will provide social and economic justice in the long run by investment, industrialization, job creation, and overall economic development. If India and other developing economies continue to hold on to their TK and IK base without having the skills and incentives to convert them to wealth creation, it will continue to scout for technologies around the world and will end up paying dearly.
In this knowledge-based era, it is important to realize that no amount of emotionalizing the issue on the basis of social justice will get our poor farmers and their ilk out of their miserable plight. In reality, Indian agriculture needs enormous investments which the country does not have and sloganeers cannot cook up investments by miracles. Poor Indian farmers cannot afford to wait forever to improve their lot.
The implementation of the patent law should be designed to take care of some of the existing problems in the country. The devil is in the details. India can utilize the provisions of Article 7 of the TRIPS agreement to suit the social and economic needs of the country and at the same time make it worthwhile for the investors in developing technology.
(Part II would appear tomorrow...CSP)
No More Starlink in US Corn Supply
- Gary A. Drimmer, Corn Products International; GaryDrimmer@Cornproducts.com Add to Address Book
The Federal Grain Inspection Service has reported that it found no evidence of StarLink grain in the samples of the U.S. corn supply it inspected from October 2004 through February 2005.
It is the first period since they began testing for StarLink in November 2000 that no positive samples have been found. During the previous year 99.7% of the FGIS tests were negative.
Greenpeace Says that Golden Rice is a Technical Failure!
- Greenpeace International, Mar 17, 2005, http://www.ems.org/nws/2005/03/17/golden_rice_is_a
Amsterdam, 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 qual