Note: This started out as an attempt to talk about the benefits of Golden Rice and morphed into a slightly hysterical rant but I’m leaving it as is because being hysterical about hungry and malnourished children isn’t entirely inappropriate, especially on World Food Day.
I have developed a great talent for working GMOs into dinner party conversations. Believe it or not, it’s not that difficult. (Actually, it’s very difficult but I’m queen of the non sequitur.) My husband has developed an even greater talent for making a smooth u-turn away from the group when he hears certain GMO-related keywords and phrases, one of those being ‘Golden Rice’. I love Golden Rice. It’s the reason I became so passionate about the potential of GMOs. I love it so much that if my kids weren’t little, I would fly to Bangladesh to help guard the test fields. I hate long flights, bugs, and dirt so this is a big deal for me. (I don’t do candlelight vigils or hold up posters but I’d throw my body across these rice fields to save them.)
Golden Rice is a white rice which has been genetically modified to produce beta-carotene (Vitamin A). According to the World Health Organization:
Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. In pregnant women VAD causes night blindness and may increase the risk of maternal mortality.
Also from the World Health Organization:
An estimated 250 million preschool children are vitamin A deficient and it is likely that in vitamin A deficient areas a substantial proportion of pregnant women is vitamin A deficient.
An estimated 250 000 to 500 000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.
Those are huge numbers – up to a half a million children are blind or dead because their diets don’t contain enough Vitamin A. That would be like losing every kid in my city, every year. (By the way, these are conservative numbers. I’ve seen anywhere from 2 million to 6 million.) It’s almost impossible to wrap your head around those numbers. The reason for this massive problem is that a large part of the world depends on one staple crop, rice, to meet all of its nutritional needs. Modifying rice to produce beta-carotene could potentially save the eyesight and the lives of millions of people each year.
You can read more about the history of Golden Rice here. In summary though, it’s been around for a long time and has had to overcome numerous hurdles, including violence, to see the literal light of day. Hopes are high and fingers are crossed all over the world as the first field tests of Golden Rice are set to begin in November in Bangladesh, where according to the Bangledeshi Rice Research Institute (BRRI):
Consumption of only 150 gram of Golden Rice a day is expected to supply half of the recommended daily intake (RDA) of vitamin A for an adult. People in Bangladesh depend on rice for 70 percent of their daily calorie intakes.
And here is where I go completely off the rails and beg Greenpeace and its associates not to destroy these fields again. I know they think this is some giant multinational corporate conspiracy to control the world’s food supply. I know they think that it’s better to pass out vitamin supplements and encourage home gardens and nobody is saying those aren’t part of the solution but they aren’t enough. I am begging them to be on the right side of history. Their opposition to Golden Rice is understandable because then their anti-GMO house of cards might collapse if people stopped fearing the technology but is that really worth destroying the potential to save millions of lives? Children’s lives? Is winning a manufactured war on a technology worth the lives of millions of babies? (I’m working myself up into a froth.)
Nobody is trying to control the world’s food supply (whatever that even means) with Golden Rice. The Gates Foundation and the rest of the scientists and humanitarians involved in this project aren’t part of some nefarious scheme.
Officials concerned at IRRI and Gates Foundation confirmed that as the Golden Rice inventors and subsequent technology developer Syngenta allowed a royalty-free access to the patents, the new rice when released for commercial farming in Bangladesh will be of the same price as other rice varieties, and farmers will be able to share and replant the seeds as they wish.
I feel like Rumpelstiltskin jumping up and down, ripping my hair out. THERE IS NO CONSPIRACY. It’s about starving, blind human beings.
Greenpeace does great things. I admire their defense of our oceans, especially the work they’ve done on the issues with tuna. I am with them on so much but not on GMOs and especially not on Golden Rice. It’s too important and there are too many lives at stake. It’s World Food Day. Can we agree at least today that we all have the same goals in eliminating world hunger and malnutrition? Is there any chance Greenpeace would call a truce on GMOs for just a minute to “unite on hunger” and give Golden Rice a shot at succeeding?
I have no idea if petitions do any good but here’s one about condemning any attempts to destroy the field tests if you think they do.
I hope everyone has a great weekend. Maybe take a minute on World Food Day to be grateful for how many food choices we have because most people don’t.