By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – A US-based scientist visiting the country said genetically-modified golden rice is not the solution to Vitamin A deficiency.
The golden rice, produced in 1999 by a team of scientists, was touted as the rice that could save a million kids a year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dietary vitamin A deficiency (VAD) causes some 250,000 to 500,000 children to go blind each year. The WHO also said VAD compromises the immune systems of approximately 40 percent of children under the age of five in the developing world, greatly increasing the risk of severe illnesses from common childhood infections.
Proponents of the golden rice claimed the rice contains carotenoids, precursors to Vitamin A.
In round table discussion with legislators at the House of Representatives, August 23, Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist of the Consumers Union (USA), raised issues involving the golden rice.
Hansen said the Original Golden Rice (GR1) does not produce enough ß-carotene (Provitamin A); it produces only 1.6 ?g/gm of carotenoids. A child would have to eat more than 10 kilograms per day to get a sufficient dose.
Citing a study by German scientists in 2001 on the absorption of ß-carotene in intestines and utilization by body, Hansen said the rice had less than one percent of ß-carotene levels expected. After cooking, the level declined by 50 percent.
Hansen added that many basic questions remain unanswered with the golden rice. He said there is no systematic data available as to how much ß-carotene degrades during storage, how much ß-carotene remains after cooking and what is exact biochemical makeup of golden rice.
In the Philippines, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is conducting a field test of Golden Rice 2 (GR2), which was bred with IR64, another rice variety.
According to Resistance and Solidarity against Agrochemical TNCs (Resist Network), a broad alliance of 55 organizations and institutions that promotes natural and sustainable farming, the proponents of the golden rice in the country are already geared for its commercialization in 2013.
“Although the development of a rice variety that is high in pro-vitamin A is a development in science and technology, there is no scientific evidence that it can answer the problem of malnutrition and blindness due to Vitamin A deficiency. It is merely a public promotion of scientists and agrochemical corporations to easily accept genetic engineering,” Dr. Chito Medina, Masipag national coordinator and Resist convenor.
Medina added that the ”development and promotion of golden rice illustrate an industrial model of agriculture that limits bio-diversity and lessens dietary diversification, which primarily causes malnutrition.”
“According to the proponents of the golden rice, they will make it royalty free. Farmers can use the seeds, materials and process for free due to humanitarian purposes. However, it does not indicate that farmers can store seeds for next planting. Patents were still be owned by the transnational corporation, in which they can alter the agreement regarding royalty any time,” Antonio Flores, national auditor of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), said.
“The development of golden rice will pave the way for the legitimization and widespread control of TNCs in agriculture and food by patenting seeds and varieties,” Flores added.
Dr.Romy Quijano, president of Pesticide Action Network (PAN)-Philippines, maintained that genetically modified crops are not a sustainable means to provide food for the people as these greatly compromise the environment, livelihood of the farmers and the health of the consumers.
Quijano said beta-carotene may be sourced from mangoes, yellow corn, papaya, carrots, red curry peppers, cabbage, spinach, etc. that are readily accessible to poor people.
Medina said agricultural research must be based on the farmers’ capacity and needs. ���It should take into consideration the diversity and complexity of the environment, and maximize rich natural resources such as traditional rice varieties. Local seed varieties are more suitable and adapted to the environment and climate, which assures the farmers of better yields. Organic fertilizers from plants, and livestock are a safer means to enrich the soil and rice crop,” Medina said.?
Flores said farmers should be safeguarded against the negative effects of globalization including the excessive power and influence of TNCs. “Intellectual property rights and genetic engineering may compromise farmers’ ability to produce food. We need genuine land reform to address hunger and poverty,” he said.