Golden Rice: an excellent source of Vitamin A saving the lives of millions or a poisonous, genetically modified crop with unknown health risks? It turns it may actually be both, but the potential health benefits weren’t enough to stop some 400 farmers in the Philippines from storming a government-owned research facility and destroying about a quarter of an acre of the rice crops.
From New Scientist:
Golden Rice is engineered to contain beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A which gives the rice its distinctive yellow color. Vitamin A deficiency kills up to 2 million people and causes blindness in 500,000 children worldwide each year. Advocates of the product say that replacing half of a child’s rice intake with Golden Rice provides them with 60 per cent of their daily vitamin A requirement.
Not everyone agrees with this upbeat appraisal of this rice.
“The Golden Rice is a poison,” said Willy Marbella to New Scientist. Marbella is a farmer and deputy secretary general of a group of activists known as KMP (Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or Peasant Movement of the Philippines).
According to New Scientist, the farmers say that genetically modified organism (GMO) foods have not been established to be safe for consumption and that the real solution to world hunger isn’t biologically engineered plants, but a reduction in worldwide rates of poverty.
The farmers attacked the fields at the research facility in Pili, Camarines Sur, because they feared that their own crops could be pollinated and thereby contaminated by the GMO plants, possibly resulting in a boycott of their products.
That sounds like an excellent reason to be concerned.
Anti-GMO activists say that too many studies on the effects of GMOs are being undertaken by organizations that have a stake in their success. Even so, while most of these studies show GMOs are safe for human consumption, it is widely acknowledged that the long-term health effects are unknown.
Beau Baconguis of Greenpeace Southeast Asia told New Scientist, “There is not enough safety testing done on any GM crops.”
“I think that the farmers know what they want,” she said. “What they want is a safe environment that they can grow their crops in without fear of contamination and a subsequent boycott…This is playing with the lives of people when you are using Golden Rice to promote more GMOs in our food.”
This isn’t the first attack against GMO foods. In June we brought you the news that Monsanto had officially given up its fight to spread genetically modified seeds and plants throughout Europe. This was a huge victory for those who oppose genetic engineering, but the situation is very different in the U.S.
In fact, one of the biggest stumbling blocks to securing a massive free trade agreement between the United States and Europe is a sharp disagreement on genetically modified foods, which are common in the U.S., but largely banned in the 28-nation European Union.
If you live in Europe, avoiding GM foods is easier since laws require labeling. In the US and Canada, however, food manufacturers are not required to label if their food is genetically modified or not.
A growing number of U.S. states are taking on the issue of labeling GMOs, and in June, Connecticut became the first state to pass a law requiring the labeling of food made from genetically modified organisms.
In May, the Vermont House passed a similar bill, which will now be taken up by the Senate, and in Washington state, a referendum on GMO labeling is scheduled for November.
Although Golden Rice is not being developed for profit, activists argue that it is being used as a propaganda tool to soften the image of GM crops. Golden Rice is the “poster boy” of the industry, says Baconguis. “This is playing with the lives of people when you are using Golden Rice to promote more GMOs in our food.”
Kudos to those 400 Filipino farmers for having the courage to protest what they deeply believe is wrong. Genetically engineered plants are not the solution to world poverty and hunger.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock