On August 8th, 400 protesters ripped out seedlings of a new genetically modified plant called golden rice at a testing ground in the Philippines. Genes from bacteria and corn have been added to the rice to make it a source of vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to blindness and weakens the immune system, contributing to 2 million deaths every year. (Golden rice is being developed by a non-profit organization, not Monsanto.) As the Philippine government prepares to rule on whether or not to allow farmers to grow the wonder-crop, the anti-GMO movement is digging itself in for a fight. The New York Times reports:
If the rice gains the Philippine government’s approval, it will cost no more than other rice for poor farmers, who will be free to save seeds and replant them, Dr. Barry said. It has no known allergens or toxins, and the new proteins produced by the rice have been shown to break down quickly in simulated gastric fluid, as required by World Health Organization guidelines.
But the facts haven’t deterred the misinformed from campaigning against the technology. Greenpeace flatly rejects any and all biotech advances in agriculture, a Luddite and ludicrous position that is distorting the public debate:
“There’s so much misinformation floating around about G.M.O.’s that is taken as fact by people,” said Michael D. Purugganan, a professor of genomics and biology and the dean for science at New York University, who sought to calm health-risk concerns in a primer on GMA News Online, a media outlet in the Philippines: “The genes they inserted to make the vitamin are not some weird manufactured material,” he wrote, “but are also found in squash, carrots and melons.”…
“A lot of the criticism of G.M.O.’s in the Western world suffers from a lack of understanding of how really dire the situation is in developing countries,” he said.
With golden rice, we have a real, cost-effective way to safely provide millions of people with healthier food. The anti-GMO crowd is doing its best Marie Antoinette impression, saying the world’s poor should get the vitamin A this new rice provides by eating more fruits and vegetables. A well-balanced diet is a luxury many can’t afford. Cheap, nutrient-rich golden rice can save lives.
[Golden rice image courtesy of the International Rice Research Institute]