The campaign for genetically modified rice is at the crossroads

The campaign for genetically modified rice is at the crossroads
A critical look at Golden Rice after nearly 10 years of development
Christoph Then,, January 2009
Commissioned by foodwatch in Germany
A preliminary stocktaking
What began in 1999 with a surprising success in technology has now
forced the hand of both advocates and critics of agricultural gene
technology. Critics are aware of the drastic consequences of vitamin A
deficiency for many people. They face the reproach that their criticism
of the development of Golden Rice has led to delays and that they
therefore share the responsibility for the fate of humans affected by
VAD. Advocates have thus turned the introduction of GM rice rather into
a test of conscience. But a closer look at the situation reveals that
this argument has in the meantime turned back on itself.
Golden Rice was supposed to solve all problems at once – find acceptance
for GM food, solve a real problem, simplify approval procedures, and
muzzle opponents. Under the pressure of self-created expectations, the
project seems to have partially slipped out of its managers’ hands.
Plans to conduct trials with schoolchildren in China at the present
moment in the project’s development are scientifically and ethically
questionable and should lead to scientists and financiers fundamentally
rethinking the whole project. If some kind of success is being sought in
such a rush, the project seems to have far less to do with concern about
humans affected by VAD than about implementing a certain technology.
If recipes for Golden Rice are posted on the Internet without at least
some information being provided on how much carotene is in the rice
after four weeks of storage and 20 minutes of cooking, then the project
must face the suspicion that it is not about pursuing science to solve
the problem of hunger but about making claims it cannot meet. If the
project is to continue, scientists and financiers are best advised to
make all data and information on its research absolutely transparent.
Since the product is allegedly not being seen through for commercial
interests, there is no reason to keep secrets. In addition, a broader
and more participatory discussion process should be introduced in those
regions of the world for which this product is intended, a debate in
which critics and independent experts speak and in which the effort
invested and the yield, risks and sustainability of the project are
investigated from the bottom up. The managers of the project should take
to heart the fact that, according to Science, specialists from WHO
attribute more success to distributing vitamin tablets, fortifying
normal food with vitamin A, and teaching people how to cultivate carrots
and certain green vegetables, than to using gene technology. (Enserink 2008.)
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