By Aeon Mapa

Just in case you haven’t heard, one of the most pressing issues in food production in the Philippines today is that of genetically engineered Golden Rice. Unfortunately the Philippines has become the first country to approve cultivation of this highly controversial crop. Health and Agriculture advocates alike are fighting very hard to stop this artificially developed, potentially dangerous variety of rice from being cultivated and sold in the country. You will see over the course of this article why Golden Rice is totally useless, does not achieve it’s goal of addressing malnutrition, and the drawbacks heavily outweigh any potential benefits. It is a long article, but please, stay with us till the end.

It Is Being Opposed Internationally

This article from grain.com explains the origin of golden rice and why it is important that it does not reach the farms of Asia.

Basically it is rice that was engineered to contain levels of Vitamin A. The claim of the developers is that it is an essential intervention due to deficiency in the nutrient in children living in developing countries.

The writer points out however, that supplementation through other means has proven to to be cheaper and sufficient as well.

It is clear that Golden Rice is not a humanitarian effort, but a play to improve public perception of GE crops as an aid to humanity and the developing world. It is basically one big lie.

They are not alone in this stance, for example here is a statement from the website of Greenpeace:

“GE ‘Golden’ rice is environmentally irresponsible, poses risks to human health and could compromise food, nutrition and financial security. “

They also raise the very good point that the billions of dollars that went into developing golden rice could have very easily been spent on urban gardening projects, nutrition education and other long-term sustainable solutions.

ESSA’s Stance

ESSA is completely aligned with the stance of these articles. We believe that the entry of golden rice into the country must be stopped at ALL COSTS. We have many members who are actively fighting the entry of this variety, such as CAFEi in Cebu. Click here to learn more about how you can help their efforts.

Our Research Shows That Golden Rice Is a TOTAL FARCE

Including Vitamin A in rice is absolutely unnecessary, and like is simply a ploy to make GE seem like a humanitarian effort. Foods like Kamote, Papaya, Mango, Malunggay and even wild “weeds” like Talinum, Alugbati , and Kulitis contain high levels of the Vitamin as well as other valuable nutrients(click the links to learn more). All are very easily cultivated, much more so than genetically engineered rice, and should be considered as more effective solutions to Vitamin A deficient populations. Let us demonstrate why.

Golden Rice is Actually Very Low in Vitamin A Content

A quick check revealed that golden rice includes at most 30mcg of Vitamin A per 100g. 1. This is a very low amount, meaning that for children to get their required amount of 500mcg they would need to eat several kilos of the rice daily. Alugbati for example will provide your daily amount of Vitamin A in a 50g serving. Take a look at the table below:

JUST GROW KAMOTE INSTEAD!

My goodness look at that. Sweet Potato, also known as Kamote contains more than 100 times more Vitamin A and is a totally viable staple food that is easier to cultivate and also provides a source of greens! Staple foods are typically high in carbohydrates, which makes Kamote a viable food source. Yet another reason why Golden Rice is absolutely useless. But wait, there’s more.

Golden Rice Is An Inefficient and Costly Crop For Farmers to Grow

Plants need energy, obtained from photosynthesis for their growth. That energy is utilized in two major ways. One is for producing carbohydrates and proteins (Primary metabolic pathway). The second is for producing smaller amounts of other substances like antioxidants, vitamins and the plant’s natural defenses(secondary metabolic pathway). In order for a GE Golden Rice plant to produce the miniscule Vitamin A content, lots of energy is diverted into it’s secondary metabolic pathway. This metabolic cost leads to lower yields and less profit for the farmers.

Golden Rice is also patented GE rice. This means that farmers who choose this as their main crop will be required to buy seeds every year or pay royalties. Seeds should be a free resource and losing the ability to save seeds from your own crop is a travesty and injustice to farmers. These GE crops generally require conventional practices to grow, and the toxic chemicals that need to be used damage the health of the farmers, consumers and contribute to the climate emergency which affects us all.

Farmers Can Address Vitamin A Deficiency With Other Crops

For example, Alugbati can produce about 15 tonnes per hectare. Let us assume a very good golden rice harvest is 7 tonnes. Let’s divide this by 10,000sqm. This means that per square meter you are likely to harvest .7 kilos of Golden Rice. The same square meter will give you 1.5 kilos of Alugbati.

We calculated the Vitamin A content by multiplying the content per 100g accordingly. This results are approximately 37,000 mcg of Vitamin A per square meter of Alugbati. Golden rice would only produce 210mcg per square meter. That is a ratio of 176:1!

Kamote, even at it’s lower yields produces about 17 tonnes per hectare. By the same calculations, this is 1.7 kilos per sqm and is 71,400 mcg of Vitamin A per square meter! This is a ratio of 340:1 when compared to golden rice.

Since we are trying to address malnutrition here, it is also highly significant to note that Kamote and Alugbati are also rich in other nutrients, while golden rice is mostly made up of carbohydrates. Not to mention Alugbati and Kamote are much easier to grow and require minimal input and care. Meaning communities can grow these more nutrient dense foods for lower costs.

The idea that it is an answer to Vitamin A deficiency in poor communities is a total and absolute farce.

The Dangers of Genetically Engineered Rice

Additionally with GE crops, there is always the risk of contamination. Even if a farmer chooses not to grow golden rice, but a neighbor does wind and insects may cross pollinate his crop, destroying his variety.

This poses a great danger to many of the beautiful native varieties of rice in South East Asia, many of which are easier to grow, produce more, and contain much higher nutritional value than golden rice (nutrients other than Vitamin A), providing minerals and antioxidants. And they taste better too. (Since they could not conduct human tests, they developed the taste of golden rice using chemical analysis.)

Given that it is not very good at fulfilling it’s supposed purpose, golden rice is likely more of a publicity scheme to repair the (rightfully) damaged reputation of GMO and GE crops.

Please, Take Action!

We have provided a body of evidence that should be irrefutable, especially if the primary purpose of golden rice is to address malnutrition. While some lament the delay of it’s release stating it is a death sentence for millions, the information above should show that the true death sentence is refusing to explore more effective alternatives.

There is absolutely no reason to cultivate this crop. It is not highly nutritious, it is more expensive to grow, it poses potential long-term dangers and immediate dangers to native varieties. It is an INFERIOR crop ecologically, economically, socially, nutritionally and morally.

There are SUPERIOR alternatives of both staple and supplementary foods that are more economically viable and beneficial to the consumers, communities and the farmers who grow them.

Thank you for reading all the way to the bottom of this long article. We hope that you can show this to any farmer or group that intends to cultivate this crop for humanitarian reasons. If their heart is in the right place, they will make the right choice and STOP GOLDEN RICE!

Footnotes

  1. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jafc.9b01524

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