"Personally, I distrust everything that comes from NGIN" Alex Avery, Hudson Institute, 18 Jan 2001
"I agree with Dr Shiva that the public relations uses of golden rice have gone too far. " -- Rockefeller Foundation spokesman Gordon Conway
GM rice promoters 'have gone too far'
Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Saturday February 10, 2001
Claims by the biotech industry and some US politicians that genetically engineered "golden rice" would save the sight of 500,000 children a year are exaggerated, according to the Rockefeller Foundation, which is funding the rice's development.
The project, which has been used worldwide by supporters of genetically modified crops as a justification for the technology, appears likely to generate only a fraction of the additional vitamin A intake it once promised. Vitamin A helps prevent eye disease.
If consumers were on a diet of 300g (11oz) of the GM rice a day - the average consumption of an Asian adult - it would provide only 8% of the required daily intake of the vitamin, according to independent scientists.
An adult would, in effect, have to eat 9kg of cooked rice (the equivalent of 3.75kg of uncooked rice) a day to satisfy the required intake and a pregnant woman would need twice that amount.
The Rockefeller Foundation says that the public relations campaign based on golden rice has "gone too far".
Syngenta, the agribusiness company which owns many of the patents on the rice, has in the past claimed that a single month of marketing delay would cause 50,000 children to go blind.
The main deficiency problem is found in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines where the lack of vitamin A in a rice diet causes childhood blindness and up to 1m deaths a year. Adding beta-carotene to rice, which the body turns into vitamin A, turns it yellow, hence the name golden rice.
The rice's development has provided a powerful propaganda tool for the GM industry. The then US president Bill Clinton said last year: "If we could get more of this golden rice, which is a genetically modified strain of rice especially rich in vitamin A, out to the developing world, it could save 4,000 lives a day, people that are malnourished and dying."
A number of bio-tech firms, including Syngenta and Monsanto, were credited with licensing patents on golden rice which would allow the technology to "be made available free of charge for humanitarian uses in any developing nation".
Charlie Kronick of Greenpeace said: "It is clear that the GM industry has been making false claims about golden rice. It is nonsense to think anyone would or could eat this much rice, and there is still no proof that it can provide any significant vitamin benefits anyway.
"Our view is that the billions of pounds that has been spent developing this rice and the false hopes it has raised has diverted valuable resources away from more sensible ways of tackling VAD deficiency.
"Far from saving children's sight, 'golden rice' is preventing other more certain methods being developed."
In response to a report by Vandana Shiva, an Indian campaigner against GM foods, Rockefeller Foundation spokesman Gordon Conway said: "First it should be stated that we do not consider golden rice to be the solution to the vitamin A deficiency problem. Rather it provides an excellent complement to fruits, vegetables and animal products in diets, and to various fortified foods and vitamin supplements."
He said that for poor families lacking, for example, 10%, 20% or 50% of the required daily intake of vitamin A, golden rice could be useful, although even the best lines of rice produced by the bio-tech companies, reported in the journal Science, could contribute only 15% to 20% of the daily requirement.
He added: "I agree with Dr Shiva that the public relations uses of golden rice have gone too far.
"The industry's advertisements and the media in general seem to forget that it is a research product that needs considerable further development before it will be available to farmers and consumers."
Mr Conway added, however, that he still thought that golden rice has the potential to make an important contribution to reducing vitamin A deficiency.