“Golden rice will be good for everybody, but some people need it more. Our job is to make sure that [those] people have access to it, understand the value of it, and ask for it.” 1 – Dr. Gerard Barry
Golden rice is a genetically modified rice variety designed to produce beta-carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A. As of 2011, “The leader of the Golden Rice project is Gerald Barry, previously director of research at Monsanto.” 2 Sounding more like Monsanto marketer than scientist, Barry stated, “Golden rice will be good for everybody, but some people need it more. Our job is to make sure that [those] people have access to it, understand the value of it, and ask for it.” 1
Proponents of golden rice like Barry claim Golden Rice is the solution to blindness for chronically malnourished people. Chemical giant spinmeisters, political figures, and the media have claimed that every month we delay the commercial production of golden rice, 50,000 malnourished children go blind. The truth is this: golden rice doesn’t exist, or at least it doesn’t exist in the form that the industry would have us believe. Greenpeace reported in 2001 that golden rice provides so little vitamin A that “a two-year-old child would need to eat 7 pounds per day.” Adults would need nearly 20 pounds a day to meet current recommended minimums. Gordon Conway, the former president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which funded development of golden rice, said, “the public-relations uses of golden rice have gone too far.” Conway adds, “The industry’s advertisements and the media in general seem to forget that it is a research product that needs considerable further development before it will be available to farmers and consumers.” 3
Industry and media talking heads are not the only bodies that have gone to far. In 2013, Tufts University Daily reported that Tufts affiliated research on golden rice involving Chinese children was shut down after officials discovered that researchers had neglected to inform parents that Golden Rice is, in fact, genetically modified rice. Why would researchers violate the principle and practice of informed consent? Because they knew that telling people their yellow rice is genetically modified was considered “too sensitive.” 4
Ethics aside, the researchers claim their latest attempt to create golden rice meets half the daily minimum for beta-carotene. They further state that their findings remain valid in spite of their unethical research. If researchers have to lie in order to exploit children and their parents, isn’t it logical to assume they might also lie about their purported findings?
Regardless, let’s pretend as the industry pretends that golden rice actually exists and is ready for commercialization. What could possibly be wrong with it? Consider the following:
1. Rice, like all other life forms on Earth, is part of the collective commons of the Earth. In spite of U.S. patent laws, rice belongs to no one. No private entity has the right to claim it as its own. No private entity has the right to infect it with foreign DNA, even if the infection is allegedly for a good cause.
2. Like all other genetically infected plants, under current law Golden rice belongs to and is patented by stakeholders in the biotech industry. Some seventy different processes, all of them patented, are needed to increase carotene levels in rice. 5 Privately owned and patented crops are the antithesis to seed freedom and food sovereignty. Farmers won’t be free to save their seeds from season to season. They won’t be free to share their seeds from farmer to farmer. They’ll be required to buy new seeds every season. Current considerations would make exceptions to small-scale farmers, but limiting trade at all demonstrates that Golden rice is about ownership and profit, not about nourishing the people of the world who have the least ability to pay.
3. Rice and all other living organisms have defenses in place to protect against invasion and infection from foreign entities. In other words, plants and animals don’t want their DNA to be infected. Rice resists genetic infection just as our own DNA resists genetic infection. Inserting foreign genes into our DNA changes the very essence of who we are. Intentionally inserting genes from one species into another entirely unrelated species is an act of warfare against the natural order of life.
4. Biotech spinmeisters have successfully propagated the lie that Golden rice is nothing more than rice plus Vitamin A. Not true. As with other genetically infected plants, scientists use a gene promoter, as well as the Califlower mosaic virus and antibiotic resistant bacteria to ensure that the foreign beta-carotene successfully infects the rice. 5 In our age of antibiotic resistant bacteria, is it responsible to infect one of the Earth’s largest staple crops with antibiotic resistant bacteria?
5. In spite of assurances to the contrary, the process of genetic engineering itself is imprecise and the results are unpredictable. And the results are unstable and non-uniform from generation to generation. 5 Results from other crops have included novel proteins that have never existed in the history of the Earth. Genes up and down the DNA are switched on or off. We now know that genetically modified corn and soy poorly absorb nutrients. Canadian researches report that sampled non-GMO corn had 437 times more calcium, 56 times more magnesium, and 7 times more manganese than GMO corn. 6 Thus, Golden rice may eventually successfully increase levels of beta-carotene, but may also result in decreased levels of other essential nutrients. In addition, we have witnessed an increase in serious animal and human medical issues that highly correlates with the introduction and increased use of GM crops and associated poisons. Unintended human side effects of GM crops likely include novel toxins, increased allergies, gastrointestinal, reproductive, and endocrine disorders, as well as increased rates of behavioral disorders, diabetes, obesity and cancer. 7
6. The chemical giants and government regulators have fought GMO-related, informed consent for decades. They can’t provide accurate information about the risks and benefits of their products because 1. They don’t know the risks and benefits because they haven’t done the research, and 2. What research they’ve done is often corrupted by fraud, conflicts of interest and slick public relations campaigns. 8
7. Like all other GM agricultural crops, one variety of government and industry promoted Golden Rice would result in vast monocultures of GM rice fields. Native and heirloom rice varieties would be lost as a result. Monocultures have and always will be susceptible to widespread crop failure. Crop failure results in famine. Famine results in more malnourished people. Thus Golden rice has the potential to increase the very problem it purports to solve.
8. Like other GM agricultural crops, native and heirloom rice varieties as well as other plant life would be at risk of genetic contamination from golden rice. It could be argued that contaminating rice with beta-carotene is not really contamination at all, because beta-carotene is the solution to blindness and other physical ailments. But as previously discussed, golden rice is more than rice plus beta-carotene. It includes foreign viruses and antibiotic resistant bacteria. Regardless of the exact nature of the contamination, neither government nor privately owned corporations have the right to contaminate Earth’s commons. And once the contamination process has started, it can never be controlled, contained, nor recalled.
9. Like with other GM agricultural crops, genetic contamination would result in absurd claims of patent infringement. Thus, farmers who have been victimized by genetic contamination would be at risk of further victimization in courts of law.
10. Like all other GM crops, Golden rice would be worth less than traditional and organic rice varieties. How much less? “The 2000 release of Aventis SA’s StarLink corn cost as much as $288 million in lost revenue and a yearlong drop in the grain’s price . . . . The 2006 release of Bayer AG’s Liberty Link rice cost as much as $1.29 billion in lost exports, food recalls and other expenses . . . . Bayer in 2011 agreed to pay $750 million to about 11,000 U.S. rice farmers who sued the company.” 9 In November, 2013, China rejected 60,000 tons of US corn after they discovered it was genetically modified. 10 Golden Rice would simply be the latest and greatest GM crop responsible for the latest and greatest agribusiness financial disaster.
11. Malnourished people lack a variety of micro and macronutrients in their diets, including zinc, protein and fats. According to a Golden Rice case study from Iowa State University, these micronutrients are essential for the absorption of beta-carotene. In addition, “Those with diarrhea – common in developing countries – are also unable to obtain vitamin A from golden rice.” 11 So even if Golden Rice were a reality, malnourished people would absorb it poorly.
12. Many of the world’s impoverished people in Africa, do not eat rice at all, let alone Golden Rice. If poor Africans adopted Golden Rice as a food staple, it would have to be subsidized and imported making entire countries dependent upon outside governments and agribusinesses to feed them. We already know that when the U.S. government floods developing nations with subsidized cheap GMO commodities crops, it drives millions of local, small-scale farmers from their farms to urban slums and shantytowns. 12 These formerly productive and self-sufficient people would then join the ranks of the world’s undernourished people, and would not even be able to afford Golden Rice, let alone a balanced, nourishing food supply.
13. Our food choices are deeply engrained in our food cultures. We all know how difficult it is to change food choices even among educated people of means. Imagine how those difficulties might multiply among the less educated. In the USA, we know that the poorest people often make the poorest food choices. In Asian countries, the color white is associated with beauty and prosperity. Brown is associated with opposite characteristics. Many Asian people may be no more inclined to eat yellow rice than you and I would be inclined to eat yellow snow. Even more unsavory than its yellow hue, Golden Rice is unsavory because it is genetically modified—so unsavory, in fact, that researchers knew their research and rice would be dead in the water if they actually informed subjects what they were eating. 4 But of course, denying consumers’ the right to know that they’re eating GMOs is the foundational principle upon which Monsanto and gang prosper.
14. Golden rice is a high tech multi-million dollar pie in the sky solution that pushes aside the reality of viable and inexpensive solutions available right now. If biotech companies sincerely wanted to prevent blindness today, they would have invested in currently available solutions.
15. The real gold in golden rice would be found in the profits Syngenta would reap from its patented golden rice sales. And like other GE crops, the environmental, political, legal, economic and medical costs would be passed along to the world. Greater profit produces greater power and greater ability to increase the scope, scale, and lethality of the chemical agro giants’ worldwide poisoning campaigns.
16. Golden rice is a Trojan horse that exploits humanity’s collective will to provide for the less fortunate among us. When countries open their hearts and doors to Golden rice, they leave themselves unprotected against the onslaught of other dangerous GMOs and accompanying poisons. We’ve already seen this scenario play out in Africa. When Kenya adopted GE-friendly regulations and introduced Bill Gates’ genetically modified sweet potato under the guise of humanitarian aid, the chemical giants followed with their poisons and commercial, patented GE crops. 2
17. Modifying rice creates the false impression that rice, one of the world’s largest staple crops, is deficient and in need of genetic modification. Not true. Malnourished people are not suffering diseases associated with malnourishment because rice has no beta-carotene, they are suffering because political and economic systems are deficient and in need of modification. Golden rice will not reduce poverty. Golden rice is not the magic bullet solution to poverty or blindness. The solution lies in the creation of just and humane political, economic, and agricultural systems. These systems must honor biodiversity, Agroecology and food sovereignty.
1. Dan Charles, In A Grain Of Golden Rice, A World Of Controversy Over GMO Foods, NPR, March 7, 2013, http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/03/07/173611461/in-a-grain-of-golden-rice-a-world-of-controversy-over-gmo-foods
2. “Genetically Engineered Rice is a Trojan Horse: Misled by Bill Gates and Monsanto,” Mercola.com, June 21, 2011, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/06/21/genetically-engineered-rice-is-a-trojan-horse–misled-by-bill-gates-and-monsanto.aspx
3. “GE ‘Golden Rice’ Propaganda Denounced as a Hoax,” Organic Consumers Association, February 10, 2001, http://www.organicconsumers.org/corp/gericetoofar.cfm
4. Sarah Zheng, University admits Golden Rice ethics violation, The Tufts Daily, October 1, 2013, http://www.tuftsdaily.com/news/university-admits-golden-rice-ethics-violation-1.2838537
5. “The ‘Golden Rice’ – An Exercise in How Not to Do Science,” Institute of Science in Science, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/rice.php
6. “Analysis Finds Monsanto’s GE Corn Nutritionally Inferior and High in Toxins,” Mercola.com, April 30, 2013, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/04/30/monsanto-gmo-corn.aspx
7. N.L. Swanson, “Genetically Modified Organisms and the deterioration of health in the United States,” April 24, 2013, http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/glyphosate/NancySwanson.pdf
8. “FDA/Monsanto Fraud: No labels for Genetic Engineered (GMO) Foods,” Examiner.com, August 11, 2012, http://www.examiner.com/article/fda-monsanto-fraud-no-labels-for-genetic-engineered-gmo-foods
9. “Monsanto Legal Risks Linger With Suit as Wheat Futures Rebound,” AgWeb, http://www.agweb.com/mobile/newsdetail.aspx?ArticleId=336468
10. “China rejects 60,000 tons of genetically modified U.S. corn,” UPI, November 29, 2013, http://www.upi.com/Business_News/2013/11/29/China-rejects-60000-tons-of-genetically-modified-US-corn/UPI-62341385749613/
11. “CASE STUDY: GOLDEN RICE,” The Biotechnology Outreach Education Center At Iowa State University, http://www.public.iastate.edu/~ethics/GoldenRiceCaseStudy.pdf
12. (Colin Todhunter, “Mass Poverty and Social Inequality in India: The Devastating Impacts of the Neoliberal Economic Development Model,” GlobalResearch, October 30, 2013, http://www.globalresearch.ca/mass-poverty-and-social-inequality-in-india-the-devastating-impacts-of-the-neoliberal-economic-development-model/5356153