Golden Rice: The Pros and Cons of Genetically-Modified RiceDecember 29, 2018
- Diana CamachoWords
We Filipinos love our rice. We love it so much, we eat it at every meal at almost unlimited quantities. While our insatiable craving might stem from the fact that Filipino cuisine (i.e. ulam) is simply meant to be eaten with rice (and other similar theories), there are some of us who rely solely on rice for everyday sustenance due to economic reasons.
Such eating habits result in malnutrition and Vitamin A deficiency, a leading cause of death in our country as well as in other developing nations. Modern science aims to combat this endemic problem by developing genetically modified rice enriched with Vitamin A.
While the plan may sound like it came straight from your favorite Sci-Fi flick or comic book, the program has actually achieved a measure of success in India, Vietnam, and some parts of our country.
Recently, news broke out that the locally grown variant of this modified rice, called Golden Rice, was being uprooted from the fields because of massive opposition by certain groups. Avid anti-GM Rice organizations like Greenpeace, along with some Filipino unions are against it, implying that Golden Rice is only a marketing strategy and a sales pitch.
Whichever side of the debate you fall on, it’s always a good thing to learn more about the topic. Here are some points to consider regarding Golden Rice:
1. Can possibly help combat malnutrition.
Golden rice was developed to alleviate malnutrition and Vitamin A deficiency by enriching the rice with beta-carotene, which when consumed, is converted to Vitamin A. Here in the Philippines, carrots and kalabasa (not to mention Royal tru-Orange) are all sources of beta-carotene, hence their distinctive orange color. Thus, it is no surprise that Golden Rice bears the same hue (it looks similar to saffron rice, but sans the saffron).
Future research and development aims to add more nutrients like iron, zinc, high-quality protein, as well as Vitamin C into the rice. This will help improve nutrient intake among those who are below the poverty line.
2. Could potentially improve our economy.
Zimmermann and Qaim conducted the first study tackling the potential economic impact of Golden Rice in the Philippines. Their work suggests that Golden Rice can help our economy by decreasing the number of disease and mortality incidents due to Vitamin A deficiency. They estimate that Golden Rice could prevent almost nine thousand new cases of blindness and nine hundred fifty deaths per year in the Philippines. Using a World Bank index of economic losses due to ill health and premature death, they calculate the potential economic benefits of Golden Rice in the Philippines at about one-hundred thirty seven million dollars. While this is merely hypothetical, less disease and death is always an advantage.
3. No apparent substantial environmental risk involved.
Golden rice research has been going on since early 2000. Fast track to 2013, and there are still no manifest environmental risks involved in its cultivation. Moreover, both the University of California and Rutgers University have conducted studies showing “higher crop yields, reduced pesticide use and fewer pesticide-related health problems” amongst Chinese farmers who used GM rice strains.
These are all based on current evidence and any supposed risks posed are, at this point, only speculative. So far, there’s been little evidence that eating GM rice crops will transform us into some sort of superhuman freak with insect powers (or rice powers, which would probably suck). At least for now.
1. Could be used as means for corruption.
Does the fertilizer-fund scam ring a bell? For the uninformed, it is actually a precursor to the Pork Barrel scam. The Golden Rice Project, if implemented in the country, can be subject to the same public-private partnerships that allegedly covered up and misused more than nine hundred million pesos of the fertilizer and Malampaya funds. Do we really want to risk another similar scam on our hands?
2. Commercialization may become counter-productive.
This year has been named as the National Year of Rice in the country. Along with that declaration is the Philippines’ primary objective of rice self-sufficiency. In line with those goals, it is possible for Golden Rice to become over-commercialized. While there is nothing wrong with commercialization per se, it can make Golden Rice subject to immense taxation by the government, making it much more expensive than regular rice and thereby negating its intended benefit to the poor.
3. Health benefits are not substantial.
Many argue that the nutrient level of Golden Rice is not significant enough to help alleviate Vitamin A deficiency. Moreover, if introduced on a large scale, “it can exacerbate malnutrition and undermine food security because it encourages a diet based on a single industrial staple food, rather than upon the introduction of the many vitamin-rich food plants with high nutritional value that are cheap and already available.” says Professor Klaus Becker, from University of Hohenheim, Germany.
There has been a long standing debate on the pros and cons of genetically-modified food and its place in modern society. Whether you are for or against genetic modification (at least any genetic modification that does not involve a shirtless Captain America) we’d like to hear from you. Sound off in the comments section below!