A critical look at Golden Rice
AUTHOR: Christoph Then, www.scouting-biotechnology.net
DATE: January 2009
COMMISSIONED: foodwatch in Germany
A critical look at Golden Rice
Foodwatch, 7 January 2009
The first generation of Golden Rice was developed nearly 10 years ago. Golden Rice is genetically modified so that it generates carotenoids which the human body synthesizes into vitamin A. This variety of rice is supposed to combat vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. Current research has shown that most questions about the quality and safety of this product are unanswered even today.
Even trivial technical data on how much carotenoid content remains in the rice after it has been stored and cooked have not been published. Although publication of this data has been expected for several years, no findings have been made available to the public. However, such findings are highly relevant for assessing the technical quality of genetically modified rice. For example, carotenoids can degrade relatively quickly during storage. Even if asked directly, the project managers refuse to reveal more details. This lack of transparency calls the entire authenticity of the project into question.
Although the project has not published even the most simple and basic data, it claims again and again that delays are due to consumer rejection in Europe and the influence of environmental organizations, whose exaggerated criticism has led to delays in product development and the setting of standards for risk assessment that are too high. However, this claim is designed to deflect attention from the many open questions that the project managers, the Humanitarian Board, still haven't been able to answer so far.
But it is particularly in the issue of risk assessment that the dubiety of the project's position becomes apparent. The project claims to be committed to upholding the highest safety standards, but at the same time is calling for a broad loosening of standards in the approval process for cost reasons. In addition, possible risks have been largely ignored. Issues such as out-crossing and the creation of new health risks are hardly taken on by the project managers and to date no test results have been published. However, there are strong indications that genetically modified rice can spread uncontrolled when it crosses with wild strains of rice. Additionally, unexpected effects that are health-threatening have already been expressed in animals that have consumed genetically modified plants.
Although basic technical data is lacking and findings on the risk assessment of Golden Rice have not been made available to the public to date, the project managers are now planning to test the rice on schoolchildren in developing and threshold countries. Testing that was supposed to take place this summer was not called off until the Chinese authorities intervened.
The project presents itself altogether as a campaign to see through the acceptance of genetically modified plants, and it is wrapped in a cloak of humanitarianism to be publicly effective. The project is supposed to lower the standards for the risk assessment of genetically modified (GM) seed as well as put moral pressure on the critics of GM seed and break consumer rejection.
But in the meantime, the expectations raised by the project's managers themselves seem to have put them under pressure. The hastily planned tests on Chinese schoolchildren are no small indication of this. With this background, it is now high time to fundamentally look at and evaluate the Golden Rice project again. In view of the availability of other successful measures to combat vitamin A deficiency, many observers believe the potential effectiveness of genetically modified rice to be quite low.