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Golden Rice: Panacea For World Hunger or Poster Child For Biotechnology?

Golden Rice 2 could be a boon to the third world, but controversy surrounds this genetically engineered crop. Golden Rice 2 could be a boon to the third world, but controversy surrounds this genetically engineered crop.


Welcome to a new era of rice.

Not since the Green Revolution of the 1960s has the world's second most consumed grain seen so much action. The clamor is at such a high that the Philippines declared 2013 their National Year of Rice. At the International Rice Research Institute, reps suggested a potential end to vitamin A deficiency is in sight. The bonanza over this popular cereal is real and there's a reason – a new variety of rice called Golden Rice 2.

Golden Rice was the brainchild of scientists Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Peter Beyer from Germany's University of Freiburg. After eight years of collaboration, they released a grain that marked a leap in biotech – a cereal injected with beta-carotene from maize and the soil bacterium Erwinia uredovora.

The product was heralded as a breakthrough and its humanitarian objective commended. The rice, which produced 1.6 µg of carotenoids per gram when grown via greenhouse, was extolled as a remedy for vitamin A deficiency in third world countries. Without sufficient amounts of carotenoids, the outer lining of the eyelid will shrivel and inflame due to malnutrition. Lack of vitamin A affects nearly two million children per year in this way, leaving 500,000 of them blind.

When the grain was revealed to contain too little vitamin A to do much good, research steamed ahead. By 2005, Golden Rice 2 was released by Syngenta. This time the genetically engineered grain boasted a whooping 37 µg of carotene per gram, nearly 23 times more vitamin A than its predecessor.

To add to the philanthropy, developers of the rice proposed it be a donation to third-world countries like India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. There, farmers will have the right to grow the rice without cost and collect seed for subsequent harvests. Despite this, a compensation limit was imposed; if any farmer using the seed earns more than US $10,000 per year growing Golden Rice 2, Syngenta is due royalties.

Soon, Golden Rice 2 received its first plug, and shot to the limelight. In 2012, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published results from Tuft University confirming that the beta carotene found in Golden Rice was of equal nutritional value as a vitamin-infused oil. Since then, the rice has been undergoing field tests in the Philippines with hopes of a speedy release.

At the outset, Golden Rice 2 made a case for biotech humanitarians, proving that not only did such a thing exist but that genetic engineering could potentially feed the world's most impoverished nations.

What was left out from Golden Rice's parade of charity however has plagued the product with controversy. As tensions rise, activists around the globe are questioning the safety of Golden Rice and its role in world hunger. With the destruction of a test field in the Philippines just this month, Golden Rice 2 continues to capture headlines.

Join RosebudMag.com for a look into the Golden Rice controversy in Part 2 of this series, coming later this week.

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Golden Rice could help in impoverished areas, but not everyone likes the idea of producing this genetically engineered crop.
Last modified on Monday, 26 August 2013 20:39

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