Philippines Approves Golden Rice

In 1999, researchers created a genetically modified rice variety that produced beta-carotene. This is a precursor vitamin A. Last month, the Philippines approved golden rice. It is now allowed to be grown by farmers. Two decades of delay were caused mainly by regulatory issues. This was due to ideological opposition to genetically engineered organisms (GMOs). It is not supported by science or evidence. This story highlights some fundamental principles of public health.

Vitamin A deficiency is still a major problem in many parts. Golden rice was created to combat it. Around 140 million people are affected by vitamin A deficiency (VAD). This causes 250,000 500,000 blind children each year. Half of these children will die within one year. These numbers exist despite programs that distribute vitamin A supplements to children in poor countries and to include vitamin A rich vegetables and fruits into their diets.

Golden rice is a simple concept. The staple crop of rice in many countries is the main source of calories. However, it lacks micronutrients. This is not a healthy diet. You should eat more fruits and vegetables. However, if rice could be supplemented with micronutrients such as vitamin A, this would make it a self-sustaining, automatic supplement system.

A humanitarian organization developed golden rice. They obtained the licenses necessary from the companies that own it. They license the technology to anyone who wishes to produce local varieties by conventional breeding with the golden-rice strain. The sublicense stipulates that rice seed must be freely accessible to farmers. This means that, despite common anti-GMO narratives, there is no profit for corporations. This is a humanitarian project.

It is effective with half the RDA for vitamin A in a single cup. The current strain of golden Rice is also very efficient. The FDA in the USA and Canada have symbolically approved it. This is symbolic because these countries don't grow or need golden rice. However, the FDA approval was intended to help countries that do.

Many environmental groups are opposed to golden rice, despite what may seem like a win for public health in developing countries. This is despite the fact that it has many ideological reasons. Greenpeace was a notorious opponent of golden rice and wrote about its recent approval.

Despite long-standing opposition from Filipino farmers and scientists, consumers, health advocates, environmental groups, and health advocates, the GM rice variety was approved.

The opposition of Greenpeace and other groups raises a few points. This is an abuse the precautionary principle. Public health and medicine both adhere to the principle that first do no harm and to be cautious. This sensible position could easily be altered to support any intervention or new technology. There is no way to know everything and there are always risks. With the knowledge that we have, there is always a risk-benefit analysis. This is also used by anti-vaxxers. It is no surprise that there is overlap between anti-vaccine groups and anti-GMO group.

Greenpeace's position and that of many others against golden rice is a false choice. It is also a Nirvana fallacy. Golden rice is not the perfect solution to complex socioeconomic or health problems. It won't fix poverty, equitable distribution of resources, or improve the agricultural infrastructure. We cannot afford to wait for the problems that have plagued humanity for thousands of years to be solved before we act to prevent blindness in poor children. These deep-seated problems can be addressed and some of the adverse effects mitigated.

Greenpeace falsely claims that allowing farmers to access fortified rice will hinder efforts to address poverty and improve farm infrastructure. This assertion is absurd and unsupported by evidence. Actually, by reducing blindness, VAD and death among children, it will improve the situation of poor farmers and other populations that are less fortunate. This will also reduce the burden of poverty that is conspiring to keep them down.

Golden rice is also opposed by those who argue it is too costly. However, this argument is irrelevant now. Development costs were largely funded by donors and are already being spent. We now have golden rice. The question is, should we give it to farmers freely?

It is obvious that GMOs and golden rice are not supported by any evidence or argument. This is both an ideological and commercial position. The organic food lobby is the main proponent of anti-GMO activism. They stand to gain from demonizing what they have made into a rival brand. They present organic produce as the GMO free alternative and then spread misinformation about GMOs.

Greenpeace and anti-GMO activists are really worried that golden rice will succeed. It will destroy all their anti-GMO propaganda and save the lives of children in poverty if it succeeds.

A technological advancement, gene edited crops, is also threatening their existence. This is the process of altering genes in cultivars without adding new genes. Gene edited crops are not GMOs in the United States and other countries around the globe. The exception is Europe, which considers gene edited crops GMOs. Other nations are yet to decide. This shows how arbitrary the GMO classification is. However, we now have a powerful gene edit tool that can accelerate the development of crops with enhanced characteristics while avoiding the excessive regulations and propaganda against GMOs.

We can only hope that progress will continue in the background with benefits the world cannot afford not to acknowledge, making anti-GMO ideology obsolete.