Golden Rice. Could It Save the World?

by Nicole Schenk on February 19, 2014


In a society that is currently facing an obesity epidemic, it is hard to imagine that there are adults and children around the world wondering when and where their next meal will be coming from. World hunger is a prominent issue facing today’s expanding population. While many different solutions to this problem have been explored, one of the most controversial and potentially successful is the continuous use of biotechnology to create genetically modified organisms and food.

A genetically modified organism has had its original genetic material (deoxyribonucleic acid, also known as DNA) sequence altered through biotechnology. Biotechnology could, for example, be to insert another organism’s DNA into the genome of the original organism. Most often, plants are modified to ensure the maximum amount of product is produced. For example, the plants may be modified to withstand pesticides or even become resistant to insects in order to decrease the number of lost crops.

A major problem associated with hunger is malnutrition, especially the deficiency of essential vitamins and minerals. Vitamin A deficiency is increasing in numbers throughout the world, with it mainly affecting pregnant women and young children. Vitamin A deficiency is known to cause blindness and increase the risk of severe illness in children and pregnant women may suffer from night blindness. In response, researchers have genetically modified a type of rice to be rich in Vitamin A in hopes of lowering the number of Vitamin A deficiency cases.

This new type of rice has become known as Golden Rice. It has genes from both corn and bacteria giving it its unique yellow color and making it rich in beta-carotene. When consumed, beta-carotene produces Vitamin A. Rice is an essential part of many cultural diets around the world, due to its ease of availability and status as a fast source of energy through carbohydrates. Rather than introducing a new food to a cultures’ diet, the hope is to promote this new Golden Rice in areas that are Vitamin A deficient in an effort to reverse the deficiency trend.

There appears to be both benefits and controversy surrounding Golden Rice. In 2000, TIME Magazine published an article proclaiming Golden Rice “could save a million kids a year”. Although this sounds incredibly hopeful, the world is not at a point where it is clear whether or not Golden Rice has lived up to its original potential. The article spread the idea of Golden Rice to the general public. After the article was published, countless protestors have undermined the efforts of Golden Rice supporters.

The most active protestor of Golden Rice is the organization, Greenpeace. Greenpeace’s concerns stem from the fact the rice is genetically modified.They do not believe that biotechnology should be used to alter natural organisms. They are worried about the effects the rice may have on the environment it is grown in and the people who consume it. The organization fears the rice may actually cause more problems than it fixes; for example it could contaminate nearby crops. This is such a new project and it is difficult to determine what the long term health and environmental outcomes could be. Due to their efforts, Greenpeace has successfully stalled the introduction of Golden Rice into certain parts of the world.

It has been 14 years since TIME magazine published its article, introducing the public to Golden Rice. In that time a lot has been accomplished, however the plant is still undergoing development and evaluation. Although Golden Rice appears to be a solution to a large problem, much is still unknown about the potential consequences. Only once this product is introduced into circulation and time has past will we begin to see the true benefits and/or negative results of this experiment.,9171,997586-2,00.html

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