May 26, 2017, 10:43 pm
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Delaying approval of Golden Rice a ‘crime’

Delaying the approval of Golden Rice is a crime, a co-founder of Greenpeace said yesterday.

If it was a cure for cancer, malaria or Ebola, it would have been approved 10 years ago, said Dr. Patrick Moore, chairman of a group that wants the release of Golden Rice which is genetically-modified to provide vitamin A and prevent blindness and death among mothers and children. 

“In that time 20 million people, mostly children, have died This is a crime against humanity,” he said.

Moore is touring Asia as part of Allow Golden Rice Society’s advocacy campaign in the Philippines, Bangladesh and India where Vitamin A deficiency is a major cause of child deaths.

The World Health Organization estimates that 250 million pre-school aged children are chronically Vitamin A-deficient. Each year, about two million, mostly children, die and as many as 500,000 children go blind  due to the deficiency.

Nearly 3 billion people depend on rice as their main staple, providing an opportunity to deliver Vitamin A. While many staple crops such as corn, wheat and potatoes  contain beta carotene in sufficient quantity, no variety of conventional “white” rice contains beta carotene. The incidence of Vitamin A- deficiency is prevalent in  rice-eating countries.

Golden Rice,  a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO), is  genetically engineered to produce and accumulate beta-carotene in the endosperm, the edible part of the rice grain. Geneticists have inserted three genes – also found in squash, carrots and melons – into the rice DNA to allow it to make beta carotene, a source of vitamin A. 

When the rice is consumed, the beta-carotene (which gives the grains a golden color) is either stored in the fatty tissues of the body or converted into Vitamin A which is essential for healthy eyes and the immune system. Vitamin A is naturally found in fruits, vegetables but rice does not have the genes to make it.

“Golden Rice is the obvious cure, but because it was created with genetic science, Greenpeace and the anti-GMO movement fervently oppose it,” said Moore. 

Moore is a co-founder of Greenpeace in 1971 and served for nine years as head of Greenpeace Canada and seven years as a Director of Greenpeace International which he also co-founded in 1979. He was behind many policy directions that made Greenpeace the world’s largest environmental activist organization.

“All we ask is that Greenpeace and their allies make an exception for Golden Rice to their opposition to gene-modified crops,” he said. “Millions of lives are at stake.”

He believes that Golden Rice “will be one of the most cost-effective cures for a major killer in history.”

“Once Golden Rice is approved for cultivation it will be sustainable in perpetuity,” Moore said. “Farmers will be able to save seeds and replant them. It will be affordable at no additional cost compared to regular rice.”

Golden Rice is a public project. While the seed company Syngenta helped develop Golden Rice, it has  given it for free (no fees, no royalties) to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The Golden Rice varieties now being bred by IRRI and the Philippine Rice Research Institute will be turned over to the government which will then determine how to distribute them to farmers.

The annual cost of distributing Vitamin A capsules is more than $500 million, Moore said, pointing out that during the eight years it took to develop Golden Rice from 1991 to 1999, about $4 billion was spent on the distribution of Vitamin A pills. 

Rice could be a cheaper vehicle. According to IRRI, eating about one cup a day of Golden Rice could provide half of an adult’s vitamin A needs. The estimate is based on research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009.

“Vitamin A deficiency kills more children than malaria, AIDS or tuberculosis,” Moore said. The United Nations Children’s Fund or UNICEF estimates that 124 million children in the world are chronically deficient in Vitamin A.

“Vitamin A deficiency is the biggest killer of children in the whole world – and yet we’ve got a cure for it and it’s not allowed to be used,” Moore said, pointing out that vitamin A deficiency is not a disease but simply the lack of an essential nutrient.
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