SUMMARY: "A campaign is set to be launched on March 16 in the country to allow golden rice for tackling Vitamin A deficiency in children."

A campaign is set to be launched on March 16 in the country to allow golden rice for tackling Vitamin A deficiency in children.

This is part of the Allow Golden Rice Campaign Now, headed by co-founder of Greenpeace, Patrick Moore. The campaign for the golden rice was launched in the Philippines on March 6 and in Bangladesh on Wednesday. In India, it will begin in New Delhi and then extend to Mumbai on March 19.

Oppositions ahead

But the campaign is set to be opposed by a group of 20 non-governmental organisations across the world under the banner of “Stop Golden Rice Alliance”.

The Alliance alleges that the campaign for launching the Vitamin A-enriched golden rice is a covert attempt to win wider approval for genetically modified food. “It (golden rice) will not solve the problems of malnutrition,” the alliance said in a statement.

According to the Alliance, Vitamin A deficiency, like other problems of malnutrition and hunger, is not caused by the lack of the vitamin in food, but by people’s inability to achieve a balanced diet.

But Moore, in a statement in Dhaka on Wednesday, said: “Golden rice is the obvious cure, but because it was created with genetic science, Greenpeace and the anti-GMO movement fervently oppose it. No country has approved it for cultivation.

“If golden rice was a cure for a disease like malaria, cancer, or ebola it would have been approved years ago,” said Moore, who quit Greenpeace in 1986 saying the organisation did not care about people and it was more worried about politics than science.

The Alliance said that the Green Revolution, with a bias towards monocultures of staple crops, has led to unbalanced patterns of food production around the world.

“As the UNICEF and the Food and Agriculture Organisation have stated, variety and diversifying food is the key to solving vitamin deficiency; in countries where people eat more than 200 gm of vegetables per day, Vitamin A deficiency is not a major problem,” it said.

'Hazardous, unbalanced'

Issues underlying Vitamin A deficiency can never be addressed by promoting genetically-modified golden rice, the Alliance said.

Moore said golden rice has been proven to deliver Vitamin A to both adults and children; so there is certainty that it could save millions of lives.

However, the Alliance said that the increased complexity of the gene constructs of golden rice makes it more hazardous than the existing genetically modified plants.

“With inexpensive Vitamin A available in abundance from various natural sources, produced by small-scale and backyard producers, it is a mistake to turn blindly to golden rice, a crop that the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) itself admits it has not yet determined if it can actually improve the Vitamin A intake,” said the Alliance.

Proponents of golden rice say that the rice containing beta carotene, thanks to bacteria and maize genes spliced into it, will significantly reduce Vitamin A deficiency cheaply and efficiently than the long-standing Vitamin A supplementation programme.

But the Alliance said many countries have already succeeded using Vitamin A supplementation. It is proven and cost-effective: two doses of Vitamin A supplementation per child cost between $0.25 and $2 a year in 103 priority countries.

A discussion paper by the Centre of International Economic Studies said that India, China, South and South-East Asia stood to gain $12.7 billion in value through improved health.

According to the Stop Golden Rice Alliance, the process of developing “still-unproven” golden rice has already cost millions of dollars. In addition, $100 million has been spent in its development. For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave an additional $10.3 million grant to the IRRI to fund further development and commercialisation of golden rice.

Refuting the Alliance’s allegations, the Allow Golden Rice Now said a joint clinical trial by American and Chinese scientists has demonstrated that the golden rice is as effective at providing Vitamin A as beta carotene pills. The rice has been put through a deep risk-assessment process and shows no allergenic or toxic effects.

The pro-golden rice campaigners allege that the opposition to the rice is to justify anti-GM activists’ zero-tolerance approach to genetic modification in general.

SOURCE: Business Line
DATE: 16.03.2015