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Golden Rice: The Pros and Cons of Genetically-Modified Rice

December 29, 2018

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.

rice spoon

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:

Pros

1. Can possibly help combat malnutrition.

golden rice

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.[1] 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.

Cons

1. Could be used as means for corruption.

rice skull (620x350)

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!


[1] Zimmermann R and Qaim M (2004) Potential Health Benefits of Golden Rice: a Philippines Case Study, Food Policy 29:147-168

Image sources: Splendid Table / The Salt / Searice

Diana Camacho Diana Camacho

Diana Camacho is a perky little energizer bunny whose idea of fun is writing a paper on the Semiotics and Curatorial Aspect of Social Media, or some other pseudo-intellectual subject matter. She is a Karate black belter who randomly says “Hai, Sensei!” by instinct, and a law school nerd who incessantly speaks in pompous law jargon. On the weekends, she plays football as an excuse to eat "recovery food."

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19 responses to “Golden Rice: The Pros and Cons of Genetically-Modified Rice”

  1. FrancesElaine Belicario Trazo says:

    Not to belittle Vitamin A deficiency as a cause of death, but malnutrition among a great number of Filipinos stems from lack of capacity to maintain a ample, balanced diet due to various deprivations (last March, SWS recorded 3.9M families experiencing hunger; June, they reported that 8.5M families experience food hunger.)

    The scarcity or absence of vitamin-enriched grub is not the problem, but rather the scarcity (read: unequal distribution) of resources in general.

    • D Camacho says:

      Yes, I agree. I don’t know why they specifically targeted Vitamin A deficiency when malnutrition in general in an endemic problem. But I’m sure they had studies for this and I suppose Vitamin A deficiency won? Haha But here in the country, scarcity and unequal distribution is, like you said, the greater culprit.

      Cheers!

      • Chrmngblly says:

        I am sure the supplier is very sorry not to cure all problems in the Phils with one single crop. I take preventing blindness as a good thing.

  2. Nico Goco says:

    hopefully the scientific community can help shed light on GM products. If there are enough third party studies done, and transparency on the issue is maintained, then we can have a better grasp of what to do with GM crops.

    Also, update! Local courts have come up with a decision regarding GM eggplants, and it favors the side of environmentalists. Unfortunately, the court’s decision has a lot of logical fallacies which can set back studies for a very long time. at least locally, that is.

    • D Camacho says:

      When I was doing my research, it appears that there are scientific data supporting both sides of the debate. But as one comment on twitter said, they are at best, speculative. We can’t know for sure until more studies are done, like you said.

      Also, I will look for that case! I am curious to know how the court took on that one. Haha.

      • David Phillips says:

        While your enthusiasm is contagious and impressive, I have to disagree with you! GM crops have been around fro decades in the sense that we are discussing, not to mention the fact that all corn is “genetically modified”. 6-8,000 years ago, Native Americans used selection to do the exact same thing as genetic modification: improve existing traits for the good of people. While there is often the claim that we don’t know much about GM crops, this is simply not true. There have been more studies conducted on GMO’s than organic crops! Thanks for your input and intriguing article!

        • Dorothy Kahn says:

          I have to agree with D. Camacho rather than you David. And I truly resent the claim that preferential breeding of domestic animals and plants is “the same” as gene-splicing on the molecular level.

  3. Ryan Amparo says:

    Kudos to the author for not citing pseudoscientific claims by environmentalists.

  4. Dora says:

    cooked rice do spoil easily at room temperature and specially with warm temperatures. many underprivileged households rely on only rice as daily sustenance (and sometimes they only have one meal a day). some do not have electricity or means to have a refrigerator to store food properly. so i say yay for gm rice that will be able to keep rice longer without refrigeration and which can be modified to include some nutritional value.

  5. Pilar San Luis says:

    According to FNRI’s latest Nutrition Survey, lack of Vitamin A is the leading micronutrient deficiency in children under five and pregnant/breastfeeding women here in the Philippines. When vitamin A is adequate, it can reduce overall child mortality from common illnesses e.g. measles, persistent diarrhea, severe pneumonia, etc.

    With rice being the number one staple in Filipino households, fortifying it with Vitamin A seems to be the logical step in combatting the deficiency. But then again, with so many vitamin A-rich foods already available in the market, why fortify rice?

    I believe what we lack is nutrition education. I also believe that our country has more than enough resources/food to feed every Filipino. If you ask me, it’s government red tape that’s keeping our fellow Filipinos hungry.

    • D Camacho says:

      Agree. We have so many resources. Red tape and unequal distribution are the major culprits. Hopefully, we can find ways of implementation that are both feasible and appropriate for the project’s purpose.

      Cheers!

  6. #Biology class says:

    Have you read 1984 by George Orwell? Some scary stuff about government red tape in there…

  7. David Phillips says:

    Another interesting thing to look at is Golden Rice could conserve the environment, especially dwindling forests, more than organic crops do. Because Genetically modified plants yield more, there is less need for chopping down forests. In fact, I have read that organic farming only produces about 1/4-1/2 of GMO farming. This is the case with Genetically modified rice also; in about a decade there is expected to be a 10% yield increase in GM rice! cool!

  8. jesse says:

    hi i love rice

  9. Sophia says:

    Grits are the superior replacement to rice in developing countries, like the Phillipines

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