Monday, 18 February 2013

Vitamin A deficiency has killed 8 million kids in the last 12 years. Help is finally on the way!

Finally, after a 12-year delay caused by opponents of genetically modified foods, so-called “golden rice” with vitamin A will be grown in the Philippines.

Over those 12 years, about 8 million children worldwide died from vitamin A deficiency.
Are anti-GM advocates not partly responsible?

Golden rice is the most prominent example in the global controversy over GM foods, which pits a technology with some risks but incredible potential against the resistance of feel-good campaigning.

Three billion people depend on rice as their staple food, with 10 percent at risk for vitamin A deficiency, which, according to the World Health Organization, causes 250,000 to 500,000 children to go blind each year. Of these, half die within a year. A study from the British medical journal the Lancet estimates that, in total, vitamin A deficiency kills 668,000 children under the age of 5 each year.

Yet, despite the cost in human lives, anti-GM campaigners—from Greenpeace to Naomi Klein—have derided efforts to use golden rice to avoid vitamin A deficiency. In India, Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist and adviser to the government, called golden rice “a hoax” that is “creating hunger and malnutrition, not solving it.”

Golden rice (right) compared to white rice (left)
Golden rice is a variety of Oryza sativa rice produced through genetic engineering to biosynthesize beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, in the edible parts of rice. The research was conducted with the goal of producing a fortified food to be grown and consumed in areas with a shortage of dietary vitamin A which is estimated to kill 670,000 children under 5 each year.

Golden rice differs from its parental strain by the addition of three beta-carotene biosynthesis genes. The scientific details of the rice were first published in Science in 2000, the product of an eight-year project by Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg. At the time of publication, golden rice was considered a significant breakthrough in biotechnology, as the researchers had engineered an entire biosynthetic pathway.

In 2005, a new variety called Golden Rice 2, which produces up to 23 times more beta-carotene than the original golden rice, was announced. Although golden rice was developed as a humanitarian tool, it has met with significant opposition from environmental and anti-globalization activists.

Most ironic is the self-fulfilling critique that many activists now use. Greenpeace calls golden rice a “failure,” because it “has been in development for almost 20 years and has still not made any impact on the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency.” But, as Ingo Potrykus, the scientist who developed golden rice, has made clear, that failure is due almost entirely to relentless opposition to GM foods—often by rich, well-meaning Westerners far removed from the risks of actual vitamin A deficiency.

Too much in advance of today's needs?

Not soon enough in my opinion!
Its kind of sad really, all those people that have now died from a lack of vitamin A because of the ignorance of the so called 'do-gooders' aka environmental and anti-globalization activists.

Exercise caution by all means by conducting tests to prove or disprove the health and safety of the consumers, protect neighbouring crops from accidental cross pollination if indeed that's the concern, but to be ignorant of the possibilities that will help save millions of lives is a step backwards not forwards.

Thankfully common sense has prevailed.

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