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Proof That Biotech Companies Are Getting Desperate

Biotech is back promoting 'Golden Rice' as a nutritional saviour — but 13 years after they started, there's little evidence it will help children of the developing world.

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Other scientists, including Hansen, question Golden Rice’s safety on the basis of its containing retinoic acid (RA). RA is a potent teratogen, which is a substance linked to birth defects. Hansen points out that RA is the active ingredient in an acne medication that will not be prescribed to women of childbearing age. He said:

When I pointed out at the Philippine House of Representatives that GR experiment led to an unexpected increase in β-carotene, and that they should look at RA levels, since there are only two steps in a metabolic pathway between β-carotene and RA, and since trying to engineer biosynthetic pathways can cause all sorts of unintended effects, the IRRI scientist could produce no data on RA levels, much less the levels of other retinoids. He argued that people have been eating foods such as carrots, that are high in β-carotene levels (higher than the levels of GR), for hundreds of years, yet there's no evidence of a big problem with birth defects. I had to point out that people and the food they eat have long co-evolutionary history. If there had been varieties of carrots that did have high RA levels that lead to birth defects, those carrot varieties would tend not to be used over time.

No proof of beta carotene stability over time

Beta carotene, the primary source of Vitamin A in Golden Rice, breaks down when exposed to oxygen and light. That leads experts to wonder if genetically engineered Golden Rice that has been stored for several months still provides higher levels of Vitamin A. We don’t know, because we have no studies on the longer-term stability of beta carotene in Golden Rice. Says Hansen:

So, the real question is what are the β-carotene levels in rice that has sat in storage at room temperature for month or two, similar to the local storage conditions for those who might grow this rice. Again, no studies have been done.

Better Vitamin A alternatives exist

As World Health Organization (WHO) nutrition expert Francesco Branca and more recently, Michael Pollan and others point out, there are better ways to provide Vitamin A-rich diets than relying on an unproven genetically modified “techo solution.”

That was also the conclusion drawn back in 2009, by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Prof. Joe Cummins of Institute of Science in Society, who advocated a combination of food fortification, food supplements and general improvements in diets as a way to improve both Vitamin A consumption and absorption. They cited a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) study that revealed that the absorption of pro-vitamin A depends on a person’s overall nutritional status, which in turn depends on the diversity of the food consumed. Ho and Cummins wrote:

The main cause of hunger and malnutrition in the Third World is the industrial monocultures of the Green Revolution, which obliterated agricultural biodiversity and soil fertility, resulting in ever-worsening mineral and micronutrient deficiencies in our food. Golden Rice, like other GM crops, is industrial monoculture only worse, and will exacerbate this trend, as well as the destruction of agricultural land, and the impoverishment of family farmers that also accompanied the Green Revolution.

Golden Rice is a long way from reality

As food writer Beth Hoffman put it in her recent post in Forbes magazine:

Golden Rice remains a theoretical product with many, many questions and logistics to still be figured out, aimed at serving a hypothetical population who might actually benefit from its invention, if and when it becomes both viable and legally available.

In the meantime, the Golden Rice story remains little more than a thinly disguised, if well-funded, public relations ploy intended to distract consumers from the very real threat GMOs pose to our health, safety and our increasingly depleted and polluted soil and water.

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