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Golden Rice

“Golden Rice” is the name of a rice that has been genetically modified (GM, or genetically engineered) to produce betacarotene, which the body can convert into vitamin A. This beta-carotene gives the rice grains the yellowish colour that has inspired its name. It is still being tested for safety and efficacy but is being widely promoted as an example of how GM can be used to solve important global problems.

Updates

May 25, 2018: The US Food and Drug Administration has approved “Golden Rice” as safe but concluded that “the concentration of B [beta] carotene in GR2E rice is too low to warrant a nutrient content claim.”

GMO Golden Rice Offers No Nutritional Benefits Says FDA, by Allison Wilson, PhD and Jonathan Latham, PhD, Independent Science News, June 3, 2018

 

Health Canada Approves Golden Rice

March, 2018: Health Canada has approved the genetically engineered Golden Rice as safe for human consumption, even though the rice is not intended for the Canadian market and has not yet been approved in the intended markets in Asia.

Health Canada said, “The efficacy of the GR2E rice in helping vitamin A deficiency in affected populations was not evaluated.”

In the summary of its decision to approve Golden Rice, Health Canada said, “The main intended market for this product is in countries such as Bangladesh and the Philippines where diets are typically low in vitamin A…The International Rice Research Institute has indicated that this product is not intended to be sold in Canada.” And yet Health Canada also said that it conducted the scientific assessment of Golden Rice “in order to determine whether this rice variety could be sold in Canada as food.”

“Stop Golden Rice! Defend our Farmers‘ Rights! remains the resounding call of Asia farmers‘ network against the impending commercialization of Golden Rice in Asia. Waves of protest mobilizations stirs anew in the Philippines and Bangladesh against its commercialization, while debate rages on in Indonesia, India and other Asian countries where Golden Rice is planned for commercial release.” Read the joint statement from over 30 organizations in the Stop Golden Rice! Network

In December 2017 the government agency Food Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) was the first to approve Golden Rice. German non-profit group Testbiotech said: “This application does not show substantial benefits. Furthermore, the risk assessment as performed by FZANZ is not sufficient to demonstrate safety of food derived from GR2.” Read the critique of the safety data from Testbiotech.

Background

“Golden Rice” – GM Vitamin-A Rice, CBAN Factsheet, Updated July 2016Report Cover Golden Rice

Genetically engineered “Golden rice” is touted as a solution to the serious health problems, including blindness, resulting from widespread vitamin-A deficiency in the Global South. Golden Rice has been in development for over 20 years and is still being tested.

Current Golden Rice strains do not yield as well as their non-GM counterparts. Proponents of Golden Rice often claim that opposition has prevented the crop from helping millions of people, but in reality Golden Rice is still in development.

Other solutions to vitamin-A deficiency are available, such as delivering vitamin A supplements and fortifying vitamin A in staple foods, and are better targeted and more cost efficient. Furthermore, many conventionally bred plants show a high carotinoid content. Vitamin-A deficiency is a symptom of malnutrition and hunger due to severe poverty.

Vitamin A supplementation and food fortification in the Philippines (began in 1999) has already reduced vitamin A deficiency in preschool age children from 40% in 2003 to 15.2% in 2008 (the World Health Organization considers 15% to be the cutoff for when deficiency is considered a public health problem).

Farmers’ organizations across Asia continue to oppose the release of Golden Rice. Read the joint statement from over 30 organizations in the Stop Golden Rice! Network: “Stop Golden Rice! Defend our Farmers‘ Rights! remains the resounding call of Asia farmers‘ network against the impending commercialization of Golden Rice in Asia. Waves of protest mobilizations stirs anew in the Philippines and Bangladesh against its commercialization, while debate rages on in Indonesia, India and other Asian countries where Golden Rice is planned for commercial release.”

Resources

For the broader context see CBAN’s GMO Inquiry report “Do we need GM crops to feed the world?”