Sunday, February 25, 2024

Genetically Modified Crops: The Golden Rice

Genetically modified organisms GMO are becoming a part of our lives as regular. It is definitely a good thing as long as it doesn’t affect our lives negatively or change us into something else. GMO related research in the field of pharmaceutical is not a new thing, it is in practice from decades and it has brought many good things to us in the form of advance and new medicines, making incurable diseases curable, which is a good thing but now taking a step further, GMO biotechnology is going to change how and what we eat, modifying, seemingly improving our food to more efficient, nutritious and fortified, but many people are not happy with that and they may have a reason for their displeasure. The thing is some experts say that interfering with our food as nature has made it for us, could be catastrophic, totally unnatural, and unhealthy, can cause mal functioning of human immune system.


Comparison: Golden Rice & White Rice

The point of discussion is Golden Rice. Don’t mistake it with Brown Rice. Golden Rice is totally a new specie of rice, and yes it is golden in colour (if you the word gold brightens your eye). The traditional Brown Rice is a natural form of rice when it comes out of its shell. There is thin yellow powder like substance covering the rice as its natural protective agent. Brown rice is actually far healthier, high nutritious and has wholesome diet value. On the other hand, the rice we see in super stores and markets in white colour, which is actually processed, polished and cleaned up form of Brown Rice, removing the natural yellowish substance from the surface, all the effort is to make it look more shiny and attractive. Making it look handsome have consequences like loss of its diet value but who cares, people love anything that looks good. ­–– The Golden Rice however is golden in its natural form (more precisely in its actual form and natural form) because it is a scientifically modified food, 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, a deficiency which is estimated to kill 670,000 children under the age of 5 each year. The scientific details of the rice were first published in year 2000. And in 2005, a new variety it was announced, called Golden Rice 2, which produces up to 23 times more Beta-Carotene than the original golden rice. The Beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A, lies in the edible part of rice, the endosperm. Normally, the rice plant can naturally produce Beta-carotene in its leaves, where photosynthesis occurs, but the plant cannot normally produce the pigment in the endosperm part which is exactly we eat.

The goal is to provide the right amount of the daily Vitamin A to the poor families that cannot afford more diverse diets. It is a simple and less expensive alternative to Vitamin supplements or an increase in the consumption of green vegetables or animal products. The product is mainly for those parts of the world where food shortage is a problem, and Rice is considered as a staple food or very important part of daily intake due to the fact of less expensive food or available in abundance food or as preferred choice as food.

Initial analyses of the potential nutritional benefits of Golden Rice suggested that the consumption of Golden Rice would not eliminate the problems of Vitamin A deficiency, but should be seen as a complement to other methods of Vitamin A supplementation.  Since then, improved strains of Golden Rice have been developed containing sufficient ProVitamin A to provide the entire dietary requirement of this nutrient to people who eat about 75g of Golden Rice per day.

In 2009, research results of a clinical trial of Golden Rice with adult volunteers from the USA were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It concluded that “Beta carotene derived from Golden Rice is effectively converted to Vitamin A in humans. In a summary about the research the American Society for Nutrition suggests the implications of the research are that “Golden Rice could probably supply 50% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of Vitamin A from a very modest amount — perhaps a cup — of rice, if consumed daily. This amount is well within the consumption habits of most young children and their mothers”.

In response to the research, a group of 20 scientists suggested in an open letter, that there might be deficiencies in clinical trials: “There is now a large body of evidence that shows that GM crop/food production is highly prone to inadvertent and unpredictable Pleiotropic effects, which can result in health damaging effects when GM food products are fed to animals. More specifically, our greatest concern is that this rice, which is engineered to overproduce Beta carotene, has never been tested in animals, and there is an extensive medical literature showing that Retinoids that can be derived from Beta carotene are both toxic and cause birth defects.”

Anti GM Crops activists state that the “technology used in Golden Rice is not ethical or environmentally responsible because it is not natural i.e. Two genes from Daffodil and one from the bacterium Erwinia Uredovora (soil bacterium) were inserted in the rice genome, leading to a greater production of Beta-carotene in the grain”. There are many risks involve in consuming genetically modified Golden Rice. The risks go farther than the environmental and human health effects. Rockefeller Foundation, the major funder of the project so far has withdrawn support from the project. The bad factor and risks associated with Golden Rice have not been highlighted properly, categorizing them as minor or less important issue in front of the problem of provided diet valued food to a large number of starving population. This does not mean that the risk should not be considered and ignored.

The first objection is that the Golden Rice is made to overproduce Beta-carotene, and studies show that some Retinoids made from Beta-carotene are toxic and can cause birth defects. This is not a non serious issue, it is a big issue. Perhaps someone is going to use this crop as a bio weapon to control the population growth by reducing birth rate in the poor and developing countries (mainly Asia) than this GM crop can definitely be flagged as a biological weapon.

Second objection against Golden Rice crop is that ingesting too much Golden Rice could also give you an overdose in Vitamin A which could lead to Hypervitaminosis which can lead the body to have toxic symptoms.  Some effects of Hypervitaminosis are i.e. Liver abnormalities, reduced bone density that could result in Osteoporosis as well as birth defects.  When pharmaceutical drugs are tested for safety, they are tested on animals first. If no harmful effects occur with animals, then testing on humans may begin. Golden Rice has never been tested on animals. Therefore it is irresponsible to test it on humans directly. The article Golden Rice: A dangerous experiment explains the issue with a bit detail.

The third main objection is if this grain is to be planted as the main source of Vitamin a for poor communities, making up the major component of their diet, then vast fields of monoculture will result in very low biodiversity. Genetically Vitamin A enriched rice has not been shown to be stable crop over time.

Another great threat is the possibility for this crop to cross over with other Rice varieties and ending up finally contaminating them, in result the traditional Rice varieties will go extinct. The fact that Golden Rice has been in the process of being accepted by governments such as India (a country which produces & consumes a large amount of Rice)  for over ten years, this show how many concerns are related to this technology. Golden Rice has never been gone through a regulatory approval process anywhere in the world. Research in Southern Africa has stated that it is easier and safer to teach poor communities to grow leafy green and yellow vegetables captaining sufficient Vitamin A amounts, creating a more diverse and natural diet, maintaining healthier people and a healthier planet with much greater biodiversity. Therefore, it is easy to say that GM foods and Golden Rice in particular have risks the greatly outweigh the benefits. It is unnecessary when the growing of traditional fruits and vegetables in home gardens can provide better nutrition for humans and secure the environment simultaneously.

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Category: Health

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