The World Health Organization estimates that Vitamin A deficiency causes 500,000 cases of child blindness a year, and 6,000 deaths. Five years ago, it was claimed that genetic engineering could help solve this problem with “Golden Rice” – so called because of its color, produced by the beta carotene engineered into it. Beta carotene is a precursor to Vitamin A.
Critics claimed there was not enough beta carotene in Golden Rice to make it viable – some claimed you would have to eat several pounds of the stuff daily, for it to do any good. While they probably exaggerated the problems, it did look to me as though the benefits of Golden Rice were overstated. However, I could never quite figure why the anti-GM group got so angry about Golden Rice. OK, so perhaps it wasn’t the solution, but that’s hardly a reason to use Golden Rice as proof that GM foods were evil and would result in ruin for the world. (I exaggerate, but not by much.) I always said, Golden Rice was a new technology – future versions might have enough beta carotene in it.
Well, the future is here:
British scientists have developed a genetically modified strain of rice they believe could combat childhood blindness and prevent deaths due to vitamin A deficiency.
The plant is an improved version of "golden rice", a GM crop released five years ago that is enriched in beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A.
The release of golden rice met with widespread criticism from anti-GM groups, which claimed it did not contain enough beta-carotene to have any beneficial effect.
The new strain, golden rice 2, contains more than 20 times the amount of beta-carotene in its predecessor, or enough to provide 100% of the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin A from just 70g of rice, according to its developers.
And they’re giving it away free.
I still don’t know if it’s the answer. Someone said that just eating a carrot a day would give as much beta carotene. Maybe it would. But would they all eat that carrot daily? Perhaps they’d be more likely to eat the rice? I say it’s worth a try.
I expect the anti-GM crowd will still use Golden Rice as part of the reasoning to ban all GM foods. I hope they prove me wrong.