Golden Rice is a variety of rice (Oryza sativa) which has been genetically modified (GM, also called genetically engineered or GE) to make beta-carotene in its grains. After you eat beta-carotene, your body converts it into Vitamin A.
We need this vitamin. Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) in babies, young children and pregnant women sends children blind and it affects their immune systems too. So the biofortification in Golden Rice is supposed to make it a useful food in places where VAD is a widespread kind of malnutrition. Places where people are poor.
GRAIN says, ‘Golden Rice is being developed by a ‘public-private partnership’ led by Syngenta, one of the world’s largest pesticide and seed corporations and the owner of the patent rights involved, and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)… but beta carotene is found abundantly in many plants and fruits that are already cultivated in Asia, such as carrots, pumpkins and sweet potatoes…
‘IRRI and the other promoters of Golden Rice hope that this variety, advertised as a solution to malnutrition, will break through public opposition to GMOs [GM organisms]…
‘But IRRI is hardly a public institution. Alongside from the funding it receives from governments, IRRI’s work is funded by several private entities that are strongly in support of GMOs, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and transnational agribusiness corporations like Bayer, DuPont and Syngenta. IRRI, which orchestrated the “green revolution” of chemical rice farming in Asia, has moved increasingly into the private sphere in recent years, not only in terms of funding but also through direct partnerships with agribusiness corporations, such as with Golden Rice, and by seeking intellectual property rights (IPRs) over its research.
‘Its new IPR policy expressly states that it may seek IPRs, such as plant breeders’ rights and patents, on all of its “intellectual assets” (germ plasm included) and generate revenues from the “management” of these IPRs. IRRI’s genebank holds approximately 80% of the traditional rice varieties that have been collected from farmers’ fields across the globe…
‘No one is fooled by concerted efforts of IRRI, Syngenta and national agriculture research institutes to develop Golden Rice as a “poster child” for the GM industry and to get GM foods accepted under the guise of a humanitarian mission.’
I notice that when GRAIN mentions sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) here, nothing is said about Orange Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP). That’s a selectively bred crop, involving no GM. Sweet potato grows well, and it’s culturally acceptable, in the countries where Golden Rice is being promoted. It’s still a mystery to me why OFSP isn’t being strongly promoted as an alternative to Golden Rice in Asia.
[Edit] You might want to look at what Bas Bouman at IRRI wrote about the recent European temporary ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. Dr Bouman described how that ban affects Asian rice farming. Among other ideas, Dr Bouman recommends crop rotation and crop diversity. No mention of Vitamin A sources such as OFSP or leafy green vegetables there, but why not? To my non-Asian eyes, IPM looks like a good chance to grow crops rich in Vitamin A. Was Dr Bouman asked to keep quiet about Vitamin A, since he works for IRRI? I hope not.
But don’t forget the sensible words of my fellow blogger Anastasia Bodnar at Genetic Maize. Anastasia points out that poor people eat the foods that are affordable. The most nutritious diet may not be an affordable diet. Any promotion of OFSP would need serious money behind it, to enable it as a rival to Golden Rice.
[Edit] You might also want to look at what Hellin Brink at the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First) told us about Sustainable Rice Intensification (SRI, also called the System of Rice Intensification). Dr Brink isn’t impressed by Golden Rice or by the Green Revolution. Good land management is more relevant, she says, and smallholders know how to do that.