Golden Rice is in the news again: this time because 107 Nobel Laureates have written to challenge the anti-science stance of Greenpeace which has opposed the adoption and testing of Golden Rice, among other genetically modified crops. The purpose of modifying rice in this case was to fortify it with Vitamin A. This would provide a much needed solution to the problem of Vitamin A deficiency which causes blindness and death in children in the developing world every year.
It sounds like a cause that would find widespread support and yet, for the past three decades, Golden Rice has been out of the reach of those who need it most. As I wrote earlier, this is a case where there are no corporations involved and there are millions of lives to be saved. Yet, it faces opposition that is not evidence based and blocks progress, trials of Golden Rice in the Philippines, for example, were attacked and destroyed by Greenpeace.
The boost given to the Golden Rice project by the support from the Nobel Laureates is encouraging but it is sad that we have to have the debate at all. In all the years of opposition and fear mongering on the issue, millions of lives have been lost while no other effective solution has been suggested or implemented. It is ironic that those most vocal about opposing biofortification are often those least likely to need it. The voices in this debate are not those of the rural poor, often living at subsistence level, condemned to watching their children slowly lose their sight and their lives, because they are invisible to us. Greenpeace is worried about the possible impact on the environment (without proven evidence of harm), yet it remains impervious to the daily suffering of people, mostly children. Are they not a part of this planet and the environment?
One of the points Greenpeace likes to repeat is that it is a long, costly experiment that has not borne fruit. If we do not try it and test it, how can we know if it works or fails? Do we abandon the search for cures for ALS or cancer for example because it is costly or is taking time? Or is it just easier to ignore suffering when it is far from home? Vitamin A deficiency is not a problem in most western societies, Golden Rice will not appear on your local grocery store shelves. So why the intense opposition that will snatch away the choice for a cure from those who really need it?
I, and many others, will continue to support a technology which would spare millions from suffering and death. And I will hope for the day when facts overcome unfounded fears, Golden Rice is a reality and no more blog posts like this need to be written.
(Image Courtesy: “Rice Isolated on a White Background” by SOMMAI, freedigitalphotos.net)