Golden Rice is genetically modified rice variety, it contains large amounts of beta-carotene. Such rice has a beautiful golden yellow color, became the first genetically modified crops in history, where it was possible to achieve a higher nutritional value. Scientists prove that golden rice will improve the quality of food in the countries of the third world, where there is a critical lack of vitamin A now. This vitamin deficiency causes epidemic of blindness and other diseases dangerous for children in developing countries.
In the development of golden rice there was a long delay since it was invented in 1999, it was not because of activists against genetically modified products, but because of the problems of research. Since thirty years of hard work in the field of bioengineering, scientists first stated that created the world’s first genetically modified product that will solve the global problem of malnutrition for those countries where vitamin A deficiency is fatal. Lack of this substance affects the immune system of children each year and kills nearly two million infants in developing countries. In addition, it is one of the main causes of blindness in the third world countries. ‘Increasing levels of vitamin A in rice provides an easy way to solve this problem’, – said Adrian Dubock, coordinator of the ‘Golden Rice’ project. However, this product still requires a number of experiments and testing.
Recent tests have shown that the required amount of vitamin A can be obtained from 60 grams of cooked golden rice. But the satisfaction of scientists on the project is overshadowed by the fact that it took a very long time for its approval. Golden rice was first developed in 1999, but its development and cultivation was impossible because of the numerous public campaigns against genetically modified products as well as problems of research. Environmentalists have flatly refused to recognize the obvious usefulness of this product and argue that the introduction of this crop in developing countries make farmers dependent on western industry. Global anti-genetically modified movement considers the program ‘Golden Rice’ an instrument of global capitalism.
This is confirmed by the statement of the International Rice Research Institute which is the main working body of this project. In accordance with the statement of the Institute, timing of new product development for about 13 years and golden rice is ‘still in development and subject to evaluation’. In September 2013 the researchers said that readiness for golden rice requires another two years.
While bigger part of the scientific society considers golden rice rather expensive and unproven solution to the problem, for which there are better solutions. It is rather questionable that the project was financed with millions of dollars but still did not give the necessary result. On the other hand, the program of the World Health Organization has a number of cheap and already available ways and have proven its effectiveness in combating vitamin A deficiency. They focus on techniques such as teaching people the cultivation of green leafy vegetables in the kitchen, support breastfeeding and the use of food supplements and fortified foods, when they are needed. During the research organization in India has been calculated that green leafy vegetables contain 3500% more beta-carotene than golden rice. Among other problems with the distribution of this program there are such questions like special conditions that are essential for the right action of golden rice as a source for beta-carotene.
For example, beta-carotene can be metabolized by the body only if the person has a sufficient amount of fat. The question is how the supporters of golden rice are going to provide fat, which will be included in the diet, along with the golden rice to those who need it.
Moreover, the hidden information about the genetics of golden rice also provokes a number of questions and mistrust. In the peer-reviewed literature there is not enough relevant characteristics of this new rice. It is known that, where is secrecy, there is distrust. The first question is cultivation conditions. Early versions of golden rice were golden rice 1 and golden rice 2 – both cultivated varieties of Japanese rice because growing it on the basis of Indian rice had many serious problems. In areas that were originally selected including India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines – the vast majority of the population used Indian rice for food, not the Japanese one (Greenpeace video). Tests of golden rice on the basis of Indian varieties did not begin until 2010 and it seems that all of today’s tests are limited by greenhouses only. The data on the stability, consistency, performance or levels of beta-carotene with earlier or later versions of golden rice has not been published yet.
Another question is the persistence of beta-carotene. Nobody knows the amounts of beta-carotene that remains in GR through the storage time under normal domestic conditions. However, it is known that when in 2001 golden rice 1 was sent to scientists in Germany, they found that the level of beta-carotene was less than 1% of the level which was supposed to be. After cooking, the level lowered even more for 50%. These results draw the project results back for many years.
Besides, nobody knows how bioavailable is beta-carotene in the golden rice and how it will show off. To check this, there were realized two studies on humans. It was rather dubious research involving children, published in 2012, and an earlier study involving adults, published in 2009. Both studies that were determined to prove the basic principle of this product did not provide information on whether it work in real life. For example, rice samples were stored at -80°C and at -70°C respectively before being used in research. This was done to ensure the delay of falling levels of beta-carotene. Studies did not provide information on the usefulness of golden rice in real home situations and when used in a typical diet. Also, studies involving adults were designed to maximize the absorption of beta-carotene by adding an additional 10% of butter in the diet of subjects which is not a realistic scenario for the poor families of Asia. By way of helping to such families this rice was created and bio-fortified with beta-carotene.
However, the fact that golden rice is a bio-fortified product is also risky. There are questions about food enrichment and the fortification. Due to the fact that people are different including young and old, healthy and sick, men and women, overweight and malnutrition, some people get too little nutrients, while others have too much of them. Overdose of vitamin A is associated with an increased risk of birth defects, and in the case of smokers it can cause an increased risk of developing cancer.
Besides, due to the lack of evidence that golden rice is safe for human consumption its mass usage and production have to be deeply researched. The genetic modification can lead to the formation of new toxins and allergens in plants, or to changes in the nutritional value. New toxins or allergens may occur even if the desired gene was taken from the source as non-toxic changes may occur after the new gene introduction into a new plant. Such sudden changes are difficult to detect without a corresponding safety studies on animals or in laboratory. One potential danger, as indicated by Professor David Schubert of the Salk Institute in the United States, is associated with retinoic acid, a derivative of vitamin A, which can damage human embryos and lead to birth defects.
Returning to the required testing, it must be mentioned that there have not yet been realized any toxicological studies on animals, which contradicts the Codex Guidelines of quality food. Many scientists complain about the method by which the Board of golden rice humanity simply assumes that golden is safe for human consumption, without showing a security research result. After prolonged pressure MIIS 2013 announced a study on mice in laboratories. But there was no evidence that such studies have focused on the demonstration of equivalence or food security. While such studies have not been published in peer-reviewed literature, the safety use of golden rice in food is not proven.
Moreover, it is important to mention several research testing involving humans and especially children which is not ethical. Despite the fact that GR was not tested for unexpected toxins or allergens on animals the Body of GR humanity together with Tufts University conducted three studies on humans. One study included the participation of children that have vitamin A deficiency. In 2009, a group of 32 scientists at Tufts complained of a violation of medical ethics and the Nuremberg Code. Following the publication of two papers in 2009 and 2012 with the results of studies in China there was a scandal because of the use of children in the experiment was without the informed consent. The exposing led to the dismissal of three Chinese officials and forced to retire a leading researcher in the Tufts.
The above points are relevant to the scientific issues surrounding the GR. Other questions about GR are linked to food independence and security of supply, preferred agricultural system, as well as socio-economic and political factors. It also raises questions about corporate control and patenting, which lead to the question statements that GR is a public product. Besides, there are also a number of questions that are asked by the farmers referring to the GR seeds supply. The thing is that GR seeds are genetically modified and its crops will not be productive for the next year. Thus, farmers will have to buy it every year, what makes its economical aspect questionable as well.
In conclusion, GR is not a real solution to the problem of malnutrition and furthermore, it may even lead to more serious problems in people who start growing it up and eating it. The potential solution to a number of problems including malnutrition and deficiency of beta-carotene for the developing countries still has a number of questions. Millions of dollars spent for its research still do not give the necessary answers. The problem of cultivation and availability of seeds have to be solved, the persistency of beta-carotene is not proven yet. Moreover, the testing that was provided did not show off the necessary results and bio-fortification of this product was proved to be safe for people. By summing it all up, all the tests and research results do not let the people to trust this product and the name golden rice still presents more problems rather than solutions to problems it was created to overcome.