Clarifying recent news about Golden Rice

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) says that ‘Golden Rice will not be available for planting by farmers in the Philippines or any other country in the next few months, or even this year.’

IRRI then answers questions that are in my mind: do we actually know that Golden Rice eases Vitamin A deficiency? Therefore, do we know that Golden Rice prevents blindness? No, we don’t know. We think that it *might* do those things for people who eat it.

IRRI says, ‘It’s true that human nutrition research indicates that the beta carotene in Golden Rice is readily converted to vitamin A in the body, providing encouraging evidence that eating Golden Rice could help reduce vitamin A deficiency.

‘However, it has not yet been determined whether daily consumption of Golden Rice does improve the vitamin A status of people who are vitamin A deficient and could therefore reduce related conditions such as night blindness. If Golden Rice is approved by national regulators, Helen Keller International and university partners will conduct a controlled community study to ascertain if eating Golden Rice every day improves vitamin A status.’

In other words, let’s not get carried away. The science is happening but it’s not all done yet. Farmers won’t start growing Golden Rice yet.

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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17 Responses to Clarifying recent news about Golden Rice

  1. EqFe says:

    When it comes to fat soluable vitabmin A, I know that the body needs a certain amount of fat in the diet to use it. I read somewhere that was the reason that Japanese people, who consumed plenty of vitamin A in their traditional low fat diet had week vision. I wonder if the same issue exists with water soluable beta caratene.

    • Finn Holding says:

      You appear to be distinguishing vitamin A and b-carotene on the basis of solubility so I’m wondering if you are saying that b-carotene is water soluble? I believe the logP values for vitamin A and b-carotene are approximately 6 and 15 respectively, which suggests that whilst b-carotene is a lot less water soluble than vitamin A, this is very relative, and a compound with a logP of 6 would not be considered water soluble in a biological context.

      • argylesock says:

        To clarify to the wide range of people who read this blog: Finn, are you saying that neither beta-carotene nor Vitamin A is water-soluble? From a nutritional point of view. What you say implies that when the body converts beta-carotene into Vitamin A, the person’s need for fat becomes even more relevant.

        So people would need fat in their diet to benefit from eating Golden Rice (if there’s a benefit to be got). Easy for us in the rich world to get enough fat. Not so easy for poor people who might eat their rice plainly cooked.

        • Finn Holding says:

          Indeed – in vivo – neither b-carotene nor vitamin A are particularly water soluble and would partition into fatty tissue in the body and not remain in the less fatty tissues.

          I’m not a nutritionist so I don’t know if a low fat diet precludes adequate b-carotene uptake leading to a deficiency in vitamin A.

          If that is the case it may render the whole excercise of feeding people in India etc, where diets are low fat compared to a western diet, golden rice, a pointless excercise. In which case it is a huge money making scam for the biotech companies that are marketing it!

      • EqFe says:

        I’ve always read that beta carotene is water soluable, and far harder to overdose to a toxic level. I have never read anywhere that “beta-carotene is a lot less water soluable than vitamine A.” The issue that I was questioning was, whether the body needed sufficient fat to utilize beta caroten, since sufficient fat would be unlikely in a developing world diet that was causing childhood blindness.

        • Finn Holding says:

          No absolutely, I see where your coming from. I was commenting from a chemistry perspective that b-carotene is less water soluble than vitamin A, based on the logP values I found (where did you read that b-carotene is aqueously soluble? If the logP really is 15 it should be about as soluble as brickdust!).

          The question about fat in the diet is an interesting one that I’d like to know the answer to. I guess in children it’s a bigger issue because the growth process requires a much higher intake of dietary fat than us adults anyway.

  2. Finn Holding says:

    I also wonder whether daily consumption of golden rice over the longer term would have other health issues? b-carotene is converted to vitamin A (retinol) in vivo which is an antioxidant that mops up free radicals which can be potent carcinogens. But if too much b-carotene is ingested it can itself become toxic and there is evidence it may be carcinogenic. I’d wager that the organisations pushing golden rice have not performed long term toxicological studies, either real or modelled, to investigate the effects on whole populations of regular consumption of foods containing elevated b-carotene levels.

    There also appears to be evidence that overconsumption of b-carotene may be particularly harmful to smokers, causing increases in lung cancer, at least in animal studies. As tobacco consumption is, I believe, increasing in the parts of the world where the golden rice will be grown and eaten this seems to be a dangerous combination.

  3. Pingback: Nourishing people: Helen Keller International | Science on the Land

  4. Pingback: Golden Rice – A Golden Opportunity or “Golden Lies”? | Science on the Land

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