A 2009 study concluded that golden rice is effectively converted into vitamin A in humans.
A 2012 study that fed 68 children ages 6 to 8 concluded that golden rice was as good as vitamin A supplements and better than the natural beta-carotene in spinach.
Recently, scientists gathered evidence from Mozambique and Uganda that vitamin A enhanced sweet potatoes are, in fact, improving people’s lives. Children who are eating them do have more vitamin A in their blood. Based on other studies of the effects of vitamin A, nutritionists are confident that the boost is big enough to improve the health of those children. The researchers involved in the HarvestPlus effort are now trying to duplicate this success with other crops. Just this year, they started distributing new to farmers in Rwanda and a new kind of in India. Both are high in iron. In Zambia, they are starting to distribute a type of that has deep orange kernels, high in beta carotene.
Yet farming changes slowly in Africa, and it probably will take at least a decade before anyone knows whether these crops are doing as much good as the orange sweet potato.
Vitamin A capsules are already being given through programs of the World Health Organization and charities such as Hellen Keller International. They’ve been running the programs for 15 years, but they cost tens of millions of dollars a year. The problem is that besides the expense, you need the infrastructure to distribute the capsules. We’re aiming for people who can’t be reached this way, poor farmers in remote places.
As for the possibility of eating foods that supply vitamin A, such as liver, leafy green vegetables and eggs, the people we’re targeting are too poor to buy them. Some kitchen garden projects provide them, but despite these interventions we still have 6000 children dying every day. These are not enough. The Golden Rice project aim is to complement, not replace these programs
In 2005, 190 million children and 19 million pregnant women, in 122 countries, were estimated to be affected by VAD (Vitamin A Deficiency). VAD is responsible for 1–2 million deaths, 500,000 cases of irreversible blindness and millions of cases of xerophthalmia annually. Children and pregnant women are at highest risk.
Delaying the introduction of golden rice (which is now proven effective) has cost over 20 million lives since golden rice was first available in 1999 and an improved version in 2005.
It took a long time, but by conventional breeding scientist have bred a new Golden Rice with varieties to suit individual tastes in different countries. This is now completed in the Philippines, Indonesia, India, China, Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia.
2012 Study of 68 Children
Critics had claimed that the rice is impractical. According to calculations by Greenpeace, people would need to eat huge amounts – as much as 18 kilograms of cooked rice a day – to obtain enough vitamin A.
A study involving 68 Chinese children demolishes the criticism. Guangwen Tang of Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues have demonstrated that just 100 to 150 grams of the rice – about half the children’s daily intake – provided 60 per cent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A.
The children were given beta-carotene either in the rice, in pure form in oil, or in spinach. All the beta carotene they received contained isotopes enabling any vitamin A made from it to be distinguished from vitamin A that was already circulating in their blood.
Analyses showed that it took 2.3 grams of beta-carotene derived from rice to make a single gram of vitamin A – only marginally less efficient than making it from oil, which took 2 grams.
Why are Greenpeace and other groups such as Friends of the Earth so adamantly against Golden Rice?
They’ve realised that it’s politically more effective to be radical and not judge things on a case-by-case basis. I’ve had high level discussions with Greenpeace over the years and it becomes clear they cannot tolerate any genetically modified organisms (GMOs), even those that can be used for the public good. If you encourage them to change their position on Golden Rice, their response is the same: they’re against GMOs. That’s the position, and it’s very successful.
One of the cleverest tricks of the anti-GMO movement is to link GMOs so closely to Monsanto and other multinational corporations, because Monsanto has no friends. That strategy guarantees millions of supporters because people are emotionally against multinationals and in favour of organic farming because of the perception that it’s run by idealists who protect nature and don’t make money from it.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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