Golden Rice trial is vandalised

Golden Rice is being tested in experimental fields in the Philippines but some people there don’t want it. Matt McGrath at the BBC reports that, a few days ago, local farmers vandalised the field trial. I’m grateful to my fellow blogger Finn Holding at The Naturephile for drawing attention to this.

Golden Rice is a variety of Oryza sativa. It was made by genetic modification (GM, also called genetic engineering or GE) so it’s one of the biotech crops. It makes β-carotene (provitamin A) in its grains. The idea is that people in poor countries, especially pregnant women and young children, could eat Golden Rice.

Here’s how it works. β-carotene is a ‘provitamin’ because the body converts it to Vitamin A. We need Vitamin A for our eyes and immune system, among other things. In many poor countries, people are malnourished so that Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) is a serious problem.

So Golden Rice is supposed to stop kids going blind. It might even stop some kids from dying. You can see more under my ‘Golden Rice’ tag.

The Golden Rice Project team tells us that Golden Rice is part of the solution to malnutrition. That team also tells us about the science behind Golden Rice. Apparently it’s been made from round-grained rice and also from long-grained rice.

Is Golden Rice is part of the solution to malnutrition? Well, maybe. It’s not up to me. But for what it’s worth, I think neglected crops may be more relevant. Nor is it up to Non Governmental Organisaions like Helen Keller International, although people there are talking good sense about VAD. Nor is it up to our British Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson. Golden Rice was one of the topics about which Mr Paterson showed his ignorance when he announced that GM is wonderful. He seemed to think that kids go blind within hours of not getting enough Vitamin A, which isn’t true.

The decision about whether to let farmers buy, and grow, Golden Rice seeds is a decision for governments in rice-growing countries. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), based in the Philippines, told us what was happening about Golden Rice. Until the vandalism happened.

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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8 Responses to Golden Rice trial is vandalised

  1. Finn says:

    Good post Sam. I’m with you on the use of relevant conventional crops to deal with vitamin deficiencies such as sweet potatoes.

    I reckon old style ‘GM’ by cross breeding rather than biotech derived species is a much more viable way to employ and feed people in the developing world, rather than them being held in thrall to western corporations.

    • argylesock says:

      I’m glad you like this post.

      One of the things that bothers me about GM is that it seems like a blunt instrument. A very expensive blunt instrument. Huge resources are required to bring a GM crop to farmers, then it’s a case of ‘one size fits all’ ignoring local circumstances.

      • Finn says:

        Very much so. I think that’s a consequence of the rationale behind it. Despite what Monsanto/Syngenta/Bayer/DuPont/BASF say, it’s about maximising shareholder profits – not feeding people. It would be too expensive to invest in if specific local conditions were factored in.

  2. Pingback: Malnutrition fight not over, Golden Rice research continues | Science on the Land

  3. applpy says:

    Leaving aside for a moment the debate on the role of Golden Rice on malnutrition, the vandalism needs to be condemned, there is no “Monster Monsanto” excuse here. Golden Rice was developed by scientists who then passed it on, free, to IRRI. This was a long time ago but opposition from anti-biotechnology groups has stalled adoption. Some of the reports in Indian newspapers mentioned that activists stormed the fields while farmers stood by, not participating. One wonders what their opinion would be and why the voices of those who grow our food are not louder in this debate.

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