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Organic Consumers Association

Golden rice: Scientific Realities and Human Health Hazards

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Dangers of Golden Rice page.

Golden Rice (GR) is genetically engineered to contain increased levels of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A (also known as provitamin A). The rice is claimed to help cure blindness and other illnesses caused by vitamin A deficiency in the Third World. It is also claimed that opposition to GR by environmentalists and anti-GMO activists has caused millions to die or go blind in the developing world.

However, the claims made for and about GR are factually incorrect and unscientific.

GR is still not ready

While there have been long delays in the development of GR since it was "invented" in 2000, this has not been due to the activities of anti-GMO activists, but to basic R&D problems.

This is confirmed in a statement by the International Rice Research Institute, the main body working on the GR project. According to the Institute, the time frame for developing a new product is about 13 years, and GR is "still under development and evaluation". In September 2013 the IRRI expected GR to take another two years before it was ready.

GR is not needed

GR is an expensive and unproven 'solution' to a problem for which better solutions exist. It has swallowed millions in development money and yet is still not ready.

In contrast, World Health Organisation programs to combat vitamin A deficiency are cheap, already available - and proven to work. They focus on methods such as educating people to grow green leafy vegetables in kitchen gardens, encouraging breastfeeding of babies, and giving supplements and fortified foods when necessary. Research by Dr Vandana Shiva's organization Navdanya in India has calculated that green leafy vegetables are up to 3500% richer in beta-carotene than GR.

These programs only need modest funding to roll out more widely. They have the additional advantage of simultaneously treating other nutritional deficiencies, as these do not occur in isolation. For example, beta-carotene can only be absorbed by the body if the person eats enough fat. Will GR proponents give out dietary fat with the GR to those who need it?       


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