Golden Rice – and a personal perspective

Golden Rice could be considered one of the significant advancements of the 21st century,  Through biotechnology, a strain of rice has been developed that has extra Vitamin A, a deficiency killing hundreds of thousands a year.

As expected, there is strong opposition to this new advancement in science.  The New York Times had a good piece on the topic, which I shared with my Facebook friends.

The topic of hunger and starvation in the third world is one that has interested me and I am firmly in the camp that Golden Rice would be of significant benefit to much of the world that does not know the luxury every one of you (and me) reading this blog post enjoys.

However, I will admit I have very little on-the-ground, real world experience on this topic.  I have heard the direct stories of a few farmers from around the globe, but other than that much of my knowledge comes from a media source of some type or another.

However, at this point I would like to introduce you to Ryan and Becky.  They are friends of Marci and I, just last winter we spent time with them at their Chicago home.  Since then, they and their children have moved to the Philippines for Ryan’s work.

It is Becky’s comment that I want to share with all of you from my FB post about the New York Times article:

 Darin Grimm – something like that could hugely benefit the people here in the Philippines who are not getting the proper nutrition they need from the rice that is all they are currently eating. I think it’s easy for those of us who have only known the US to judge what the rest of the world “needs” because we’re able to go out and buy anything we want food-wise, and at the very least what we need to survive. I just helped out in a free medical clinic in a remote flood-stricken area last week and it was SO hard to have to tell people that the best way to treat what was wrong with them was by eating foods high in fiber or in iron when all they have available to them is rice. They might be better off if they had rice that could provide them those much needed nutrients.

Now, this is super cool to me on two levels.. First, because it is real world experience that confirms what I have been told about needs and the situation in places like the Philippines .  Becky’s direct experience (she is a nurse, btw) shows the very specific problems that Golden Rice was designed to address.

Secondly, connections are amazing things.  We’ve known Ryan and Becky for a long time, and it fascinates me that friendships built years ago are utilized for something as seemingly random as Golden Rice, not something us as couples would probably ever have discussed when together.

To me, this represents a simple, small, example of the power of social media to enhance what we collectively know and understand.  To learn from the experience and insight of others.  It’s the kind of necessary plumbing that will be needed to help solve the difficult challenges of meeting the needs of an expanding, increasingly affluent global population, while not neglecting the very basic and often unmet needs of the millions of people still living in desperate poverty.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for the post, Darin. One thing I’ve carried with me since sometime from 1999-2003 when I was in college is about Golden Rice. First off, that tells you that this issue has been on (or is it off?) the table for quite a while. I cannot remember the context in which this was brought up or even which class I was in at the time, but the professor brought up the fact that not eating the rice is somewhat a cultural thing. People are used to eating white or brown rice. Golden rice looks weird. Simple as that.

    You know me though. I’m definitely behind this solution to a really terrible problem.


  2. Wonderful share!! I am an ag educator who has entered the world of “mothers with young children”. It is not something I was terribly prepared for, especially since most are terribly vocal about the fact their child is not to eat conventional produce and they can only drink soy milk. They spend much of their time trying to one-up the other members of their tight little groups by sharing how many farmers markets they visited and how much they paid for their grass fed beef. Ugh. Don’t even get them started on GMOs. It gives me a headache.

    Personal stories like these do so much to “put a face” with the plight.

    Thank you.


  3. Here is excerpt from Earth Open Source’s GMO Myths & Truths on golden rice.
    “The best-known attempt to nutritionally improve a GM crop is beta-carotene-enriched “Golden Rice”.122,123 The crop is intended for use in poor countries in the Global South, where vitamin A deficiency causes blindness, illness, and deaths.
    However, despite over a decade’s worth of headlines hyping Golden Rice as a miracle crop, it is still not available in the marketplace.
    GM proponents blame excessive regulation and anti-GM activists for delaying the commercialisation of Golden Rice. But the real reasons for the delay seem to be basic research and development problems. The first Golden Rice variety had insufficient beta-carotene content and would have needed to be consumed in kilogram quantities per day to provide the required daily vitamin A intake.122 As a result, a totally new GM rice variety had to be generated with much higher beta-carotene content.123
    Also, the process of backcrossing Golden Rice with varieties that perform well in farmers’ fields in order to ensure a viable product has taken many years.124,125 A 2008 article in the journal Science said that there was still a “long way to go” in the backcrossing process.124
    It has taken over a decade to develop Golden Rice. Yet as of 2012, field trials have not been completed to ensure that it grows successfully
    in local conditions. Nor has it been tested in toxicological feeding trials on animals to establish whether it is safe to eat. Nevertheless, the rice was fed to human subjects (adults and children) in experiments conducted by researchers at
    Tufts University, Boston, MA. This was not a safety study but an efficacy test to see whether the human subjects assimilated sufficient beta-carotene and converted it to vitamin A.
    The efficacy test was conducted without basic toxicological testing having been carried out.
    This was condemned as a breach of medical ethics and the Nuremberg Code (established after
    World War II to prevent a repeat of inhumane Nazi experiments on humans) by a group of international scientists in a letter of protest to the Tufts researchers.126
    In contrast with the problematical Golden Rice, inexpensive and effective methods of combating vitamin A deficiency have long been available.
    The most commonly used method is Vitamin A supplements. A review published in the British Medical Journal assessed 43 studies involving 200,000 children and found deaths were cut by 24% if children were given the vitamin. The researchers estimated that giving vitamin A supplements to children under the age of five in developing countries could save 600,000 lives a year. They concluded, “Vitamin A supplements are highly effective and cheap to produce and administer.”127,128
    The World Health Organization’s long-standing project to combat vitamin A deficiency uses vitamin A supplements, backed up with education and development programmes. These programmes encourage mothers to breastfeed and teach
    people how to grow carrots and leafy vegetables
    in home gardens – two inexpensive, effective,
    and generally available solutions. WHO says its programme has “averted an estimated 1.25 million deaths since 1998 in 40 countries.”129 According
    to WHO malnutrition expert Francesco Branca, these approaches are, for now, more promising approaches to combating vitamin A deficiency than Golden Rice.124
    If the resources that have been poured into developing Golden Rice had been put into such proven programmes, thousands of children and adults could have been saved. The food writer Michael Pollan wrote in an article for the New York Times entitled “The great yellow hype”: “These ridiculously obvious, unglamorous, low- tech schemes are being tried today, and according to the aid groups behind them, all they need to work are political will and money.”130
    Pollan is one of several critics who suggested that the real value of Golden Rice lies in its usefulness as a public relations strategy to boost the tarnished image of the biotechnology industry. Pollan wrote that Golden Rice seemed less like a solution to vitamin A deficiency than “to the public- relations problem of an industry that has so far offered consumers precious few reasons to buy what it’s selling – and more than a few to avoid it.”

    Instead of investing millions dollars in developing this golden rice & testing it , wouldn’t it be easier to help farmers and educate them how to properly fertilize their soil or even help them pay for the fertilizer? If the soil had all these nutrients in them then the rice would be very nutritious! Any crop is only as good as the soil in which it is grown in. You can’t get something from nothing.


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