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Golden Rice, Part 2: Third World Remedy or GMO Nightmare?

Will GMO rice save the third world? There’s reason to be skeptical. Will GMO rice save the third world? There’s reason to be skeptical.

 

As we mentioned in part one of this series, Golden Rice 2 is a controversial new rice variety aimed to reduce vitamin A deficiencies plaguing third world nations. But despite being lauded as a step forward in the future of food, Golden Rice 2 has met with its fair share of criticism.

At the pinnacle of this debate is a concern for public safety. Being the product of genetic engineering, Golden Rice 2 as a foodstuff has existed for less than a decade. The long-term effects of biotechnology on the human body and biodiversity are still inconclusive.

From a nutritional standpoint, Golden Rice 2 cannot be entirely celebrated as a solution to vitamin A deficiency since consuming rice on its own is not a substitute for a diet that also contains vegetables or animal proteins.

Teaching people to grow their own food, providing spaces, and giving people access to the means and ability to do so are far more deep-reaching and long-lasting methods to relieve vitamin deficiencies.

43 countries across the globe have vitamin A supplement programs in place for children under five. Since the liver is able to store the vitamin and access it gradually over the course of time, these shots are given in 200,000 µg doses twice per year. Shots and supplements like these are necessary however, because their recipients are hardly eating anything at all. For many around the globe suffering from hunger, a diet consisting almost entirely of rice is a daily reality.

That said, the human body is not meant to subsist off rice alone. While eating Golden Rice 2 may increase vitamin A levels, it will not act on the many other vitamin and mineral deficiencies within a starved body.

To complicate matters, the form of vitamin A engineered into Golden Rice, beta carotene, is a hydrophobic substance. If Golden Rice 2 is not consumed along with other fats in the diet, it cannot be absorbed by the body and is instead flushed out during digestion, rendering it entirely useless.

If populations cannot access a nutritional diet because they are impoverished, are not landowners, or are penniless, there are graver issues at hand. Disparity in wealth and food distribution, lack of government-based social welfare and dysfunctional economic systems are issues that genetic engineering can't fix. Band-aiding problems like lack of vitamin A deficiencies through biotechnology only distracts from real solutions to these long-term crises.

In countries that are not struggling, if people have the ability to nourish themselves and choose not do so, then the responsibility for their health lies with them only. The simplicity of eating Golden Rice 2 alone cannot resolve the public's larger miseducation regarding healthy living.

Vegetables rich in beta-carotene include sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, mangoes, melons, dark leafy green vegetables, and spices, among others. While these foods are much more perishable than rice, their availability would serve those in need greater than a cereal since they also contain a variety of other nutrients, proteins, and minerals necessary for survival.

UNICEF is looking for a type of frequent low-dose vitamin A supplement to help combat the deficiency in the long-term. This means an improvement in global food access overall and the World Health Organization recognizes this fact. Francesco Branca, a WHO malnutrition expert, explains that "giving out supplements, fortifying existing foods with vitamin A, and teaching people to grow carrots or certain leafy vegetables are, for now, more promising ways to fight the problem".

Teaching people to grow their own food, providing spaces, and giving people access to the means and ability to do so are far more deep-reaching and long-lasting methods to relieve vitamin deficiencies. There is so much knowledge at our disposal – from how to grow food both rurally and in cramped urban centers – that could be shared with those in need.

Golden Rice 2 proponents will hand out their rice without even admitting that it needs to form part of a moderately proportioned diet in order to be beneficial. To date, their philanthropic goals do not include support for cultivation of their product alongside other vegetables or grains. Does their product then stem from a true desire to wholly help those in need or it is just a poster child for a more humane biotechnology industry that only superficially seems to care?

© Copyright RosebudMag.com, 2013



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Last modified on Thursday, 29 August 2013 19:09

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