Golden Rice: A ‘Good’ GMO?

Golden Rice grain compared to white rice grain in screenhouse of Golden Rice plants. (IRRI CC)

Golden Rice grain compared to white rice grain in screenhouse of Golden Rice plants. (IRRI CC)

Could Golden Rice, a genetically modified strain of rice that imbues the grains with beta carotene, be the GMO that proves the exception to the Monsanto-led madness of Roundup Ready crops? Amy Harmon reports for the New York Times:

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 indexin 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.

But Golden Rice, which appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 2000 before it was quite ready for prime time, is unlike any of the genetically engineered crops in wide use today, designed to either withstand herbicides sold by Monsanto and other chemical companies or resist insect attacks, with benefits for farmers but not directly for consumers.

And a looming decision by the Philippine government about whether to allow Golden Rice to be grown beyond its four remaining field trials has added a new dimension to the debate over the technology’s merits.

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…

[continues at the New York Times]

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  • Cortacespedes

    Oh for godsake Monsanto, just develop “soylent roundup-ready rice” and be done with it!
    This article in a nutshell: “corporate control of agriculture”.

    • godozo

      Wouldn’t surprise me if that WAS roundup-ready soylent-rice, with the Vitamin A added in because they HAD to add in some value to the plant for the Philippine market. Remove the competition, and the genetics change so that the yellow coloring becomes some sort of glowing that shows that Glycophosphate (why hide behind the name “roundup” when you don’t have to) has been applied, with no Vitamin A in sight.

  • Ted Heistman

    …um, actually no. http://disinfo.com/2013/07/in-defense-of-human-dignity-gmo-versus-permaculture/

    Not that that article is the final word on it, but there is a good indication that golden rice is a trojan horse for opening markets in Asia to a Monsanto Monopoly. Monsanto strategy is always monopoly.

    • drokhole

      One of the top comments on the article nails it:

      “People are malnourished because they are poor.; bcause their traditional farming practices have been disrupted by colonialism and “free trade” practices that force farmers to grow for export. There’s plenty of vitamin A in other crops. Dandelions for example are one of the most nutritious plants around.”

      So Vitamin A deficiency is the symptom of a whole host of issues. Food waste/distribution being one of them. The uncomfortable fact of local and global economic manipulation/pressures/inequality, another (lobbyists, trade associations, big businesses, governments…especially things that incentivize nutritionally deficient crops and/or mass-scale commodity farming). These contribute to the lack of access to nutritionally rich crops, and then the lack of a diverse diet takes its toll.

      For one thing, the human body requires adequate amounts of zinc, protein and dietary fats in order to absorb beta-carotene, elements often lacking in the diets of poor people. Those with diarrhea – common in “developing” countries – have even more difficulty obtaining/absorbing vitamin A. You can feed them Golden Rice by the shovel full, their bodies won’t properly absorb/metabolize them without a host of other nutrients….particularly dietary fats, which rice is almost completely devoid of.

      Furthermore, terrace farming used to involve complimenting rice paddies with fish (like tilapia), ducks, duck eggs, and greens at the margins – all of which add to a much more balanced and varied diet. Not so with GMO rice and growing practices. The fish can’t survive the fertilizers/pesticides, the ducks can’t wade through dense paddies, and there isn’t a green to be seen. There may not have been as much rice per acre grown, but total output (fish, rice, ducks, duck eggs, greens, etc…) was quite substantial.

      Which brings us to the soil itself, which is all but neglected by the Golden Rice brigade (didn’t warrant a single mention in the article). Talk about a deficiency! Both when it comes to the nutrients of the depleted soils, and in intellectual examination.

      Healing and managing the soil is the true key long-term investment for farmers and our food/nutrition, and golden rice-type monocultures methods have been proven to erode soil at an incredible rate, with large amounts of it (along with fertilizers/pesticides) washing off into lakes, rivers and oceans, polluting waters and damaging ecosystems along the way. Plus, weaker soils mean weaker plants much more susceptible to disease. Not to mention an increase pesticide/herbicide resistant bugs and weeds.

      Biodiverse practices, meanwhile, have been shown repeatedly to not only balance soil nutrition, but to actively feed nutrients back into the soil, leading to a larger mix of micro- and macro-organisms, more robust and resilient plants, a healthier array of forage choices for livestock, a wider variety of nutrition, a higher degree of water penetration and retention, and a more long-term, sustainable balance with local ecosystems. Not to mention the fact that deep/robust soils sequester carbon like mad.

      Golden rice is a singular focus to a multifaceted/systemic problem.

      • Ted Heistman

        Excellent points. These issues can’t be solved with a GMO magic bullet. But the establishment prefers magic bullets to maintain the balance of power.

    • drokhole

      (repost)

    • drokhole

      Also brings to mind a story I recently read by Khalil Gibran (this is a slightly condensed version):

      Decayed Teeth

      I had a decayed tooth in my mouth that troubled me. It stayed dormant during the day. But in the tranquility of the night, when the dentists were asleep and drug stores closed, it began to ache. One day, as I grew impatient, I went to the dentist and told him to extract that damned tooth that dealt me misery and denied me the joy of slumber by converting the silence of my night into moaning and uproar. The dentist shook his head and said, “It is foolish to have your tooth extracted if we can cure it.” Then he started to drill its sides and clean its cavities and used every means to restore it and free it from decay. Having finished drilling, he filled it with pure gold and said boastfully, “Your bad tooth now is stronger and more solid than your good ones.” I believed him and paid him and departed from the place. But before the week was over, the cursed tooth returned to its diseased condition and the torture it inflicted converted the beautiful songs of my soul into wailing and agony. So I went to another dentist and said to him, “Extract this damned tooth without asking me any question, for the person who receives the blows is not the one who counts them.” Obeying my command, he extracted the tooth. Looking at it he said, “you have done well to have this rotten tooth extracted.”

      In the mouth of Society are many diseased teeth, decayed to the bones of the jaws. But Society makes no efforts to have them extracted and be rid of the affliction. It contents itself with gold fillings. Many are the dentists who treat the decayed teeth of Society with glittering gold. Numerous are those who yield to the enticements of such reformers, and pain, sickness and death are their lot. In the mouth of the nation are many rotten, black, and dirty teeth that fester and stink. The doctors have attempted cures with gold fillings instead of extraction. And the disease remains. A nation with rotten teeth is doomed to have a sick stomach. Many are the nations afflicted with such indigestion.

  • VaudeVillain

    Is there some particular reason that Filipino farmers cannot grow crops that already have beta carotene, or that Filipinos in general cannot consume these food sources?

    This strikes me as an incredibly expensive solution to a problem that already has a perfectly functional and inexpensive solution just waiting to be implemented.

    Adding beta carotene to rice isn’t so much sinister as it is unnecessary.

    That said, there are potential uses for GMO that I would support and I can see no immediate reason to oppose, salt-resistant crops, for example, could expand the amount of arable land available and even reclaim some that has been destroyed due to human stupidity. Kneejerk opposition to science based exclusively on guilt by association isn’t a particularly noble or enlightened sentiment

    • Anarchy Pony

      “Is there some particular reason that Filipino farmers cannot grow crops that already have beta carotene, or that Filipinos in general cannot consume these food sources?”

      They can’t be allowed to do that! That’ll mean less acreage of the money crops for export that Monsanto wants them to grow shit cheap.

  • BuzzCoastin

    a pretty even piece of reporting
    from Monsanto mouthpiece the NYT

    as long as industrial farming exists
    GMOz will exist
    because industrial farming needs GMOz
    to offset the damages caused by industrial farming

  • Oginikwe

    “Not owned by any company . . .” Oh? So, Syngenta has helped develop it because it is civic minded? Since when?

    “In their new stage, Beyer and Potrykus are still financed by the Rockefeller Foundation who has been joined by the company Syngenta. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, from the founder of Microsoft, has also joined, who consider the super-foods an effective way to fight against the consequences of poverty. ”

    What happened to the golden rice?: Analysis of experts
    on current science, technology and innovation (Global Talent News) 9/22/2009:
    http://www.en.globaltalentnews.com/reflection/science_presidents/641/What-happened-to-the-golden-rice.html

    If Gates wants to “fight against the consequences of poverty,” paying his overseas workers more would be a great start.