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Letter From the Editor: ‘Rainbow Six’ and Golden Rice

Labor Day Weekend is always good time for reading books, and recent events on the other side of the world caused me to remember one of my favorite Tom Clancy novels.

I always say that somewhere in our future is the plot to an old Clancy novel. When the job used to require much more flying around the country than it does today, I never left for the airport without a new Clancy novel stuck in my carry-on.

“Rainbow Six,” which was also a very popular video game back in the day, has Jack Ryan serving as President of the United States, relying on John Clark and son-in-law Ding to take down eco-terrorists who plan nothing short of worldwide genocide.

A smaller version of that plot, some would say much smaller, played out recently in the Philippines when scientific trials of “Golden Rice” were destroyed by eco-terrorists of a different stripe – those who oppose genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

There was no corporate involvement in this one, just the government’s Philippine Research Institute and the International Rice Research Institute and other public-sector partners working for humanity.

The golden GMO in Golden Rice is Vitamin A, which is intended to help overcome malnutrition in the Third World, all stamped out in the name of food safety, of course.

Mark Lynas, the former anti-GMO activist, wrote in Slate after his Cornell University fact-finding trip to the Philippines delivered the truth on the foul incident. He wrote:

Did you hear that a group of 400 angry farmers attacked and destroyed a field trial of genetically modified rice in the Philippines this month? That, it turns out, was a lie. The crop was actually destroyed by a small number of activists while farmers who had been bussed in to attend the event looked on in dismay.

The nature of the attack was widely misreported, from the New York Times to New Scientist to BBC News, based on false claims by the activists. But then anti-GMO activists often lie. In support of the vandals, Greenpeace has claimed that there are health concerns about the genetically modified rice. In fact there is no evidence of risk, and the destruction of this field trial could lead to needless deaths.

The rice is genetically enhanced to produce the Vitamin A precursor beta-carotene, giving it a golden color. This vital nutrient is missing from the diets of millions of rice-dependent people in poor countries, where Vitamin A deficiency leads to preventable blindness and death on a massive scale.

Thankfully, the world of science and academia is rising up in the support of biotechnology on this one. Months of government-funded research and important data collection was compromised by this event.

Vitamin A deficiencies are not a big concern in the First World where eco-terrorists come from, usually before they move on to graduate school. But, in the real world, about 2 million deaths and a half-million cases of irreversible blindness are attributable to lack of Vitamin A. Most who suffer from Vitamin A deficiency are women and children, but who cares if you are feeling righteous about being you, right?

“As a toxicologist with 30 years of experience in food, cosmetics, pesticides and pharmaceuticals, I know the claims about risks of GM food are disingenuous and reflect a political rather than moral position,” writes Dr. Andrew Bartholomaeus, University of Canberra toxicology expert. “The lives of millions are at risk from the mindless actions of ill-informed anti-biotech activists.”

“Golden Rice is a breakthrough in bioforication of natural plant products,” Australian National University biology lecturer Christopher Cazzonelli added. “I am a leading plant scientist and work on the regulation of carotenoid biosynthesis in plants. So please stop the destruction of field trials and help save lives.”

Dr. Channapatna Prakash of Alabama’s Tuskegee University has launched an online petition urging Filipino politicians and policy-makers to continue the vital research. They’ve gone over their goal of 5,000 signatures since the Aug. 8 attack, but the more support they get will help persuade Filipino decision-makers to continue the important work to field Golden Rice.

And its much better for our fuzzy-headed friends in the anti-GMO crowd to go down in a petition drive than to have the factionary Clark and Ding come after them. Just remember, we do save the world in the end.

© Food Safety News
  • Reto Battaglia

    It might interest you that Golden Rice has been developed at ETHZ more than 15 years ago by Prof. Ingo Potrykus. The genetic construct was given free of charge, unpatented, to the International Rice Research Institute in Manila. Characteristically, the first shipment of the original sample (obviously a small bagfull of rice) was sabotaged by Greenpeace. Unsuccessfully though, as the real sample was sent after a decoy had been “hijacked”!!

  • JG

    Again something so simple and so important is pushed aside. Back to the basics- Vitamin A can prevent blindness.in these third world countries. Please support and pray!

    • Madeleine Love

      Golden Rice is a very important PR tool for the GM industry, little more. Again I read the word ‘can’, not ‘will’ or ‘does’, and certainly not in respect of Golden Rice.

  • SeaKat

    You fail to mention that golden rice does nothing to prevent the largest problem, which is the distribution of food to the poor.

  • Annie O’Connor

    “Just remember, we do save the world in the end.” Saving the world is a lofty goal, but let’s use

    the tools we have at hand (such as unbiased scientfic research) to determine first what is actually
    safe in the long run. Perhaps, as well as a lack of thorough long-term research (disconnected from any vested interests) a policy of transparency (ie: labeling food available to consumers) would serve
    to give any ‘doubter’s (of the GE technology) some recourse to following their ‘freedom to choose’
    the food they and their dependents will consume. Otherwise, we merely have a ‘he says/she says
    situation. (And let’s do our homework to decipher which institutions are really unbiased vs. which merely have a name that might sound unbiased!)

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

    Hold on Dan.

    There is no one more biased than someone who is a former supporter.

    Rather than indirectly accuse anti-GMO folks and Greenpeace of involvement, which is what this Slate writer is doing, you need to look more closely at the political alliances within the Philippines. A handful of agitators while the farmers peacefully looked on does not reflect the political alliances in play with this action, nor does it map to a video the demonstrators took of the event.

    http://pinoyweekly.org/new/2013/08/farmers-say-golden-rice-uprooted-to-prevent-impending-feed-trials/

    I don’t agree with this action. The reason why is because people like this Slate writer are too easily manipulated by authorities into publishing puff pieces that claim the action is all based on a small group of outside agitators. And ultimately, this isn’t the way to combat GMO crops.

    Regardless of whether I approve of the actions or not, I have no problem believing that 400 farmers, consumers, and assorted other folk traveled to this location and uprooted the crop out of anger. It matches to other events of this nature.

    Trying to repaint the event as 400 innocent farmers looking on while a handful of agitators pulled up the plants (while 30 police stood around, doing nothing), is little more than publishing propaganda.

    I didn’t know FSN was in the business of publishing propaganda.

    As for the “nutcases” behind concerns about Golden Rice, do you include Marion Nestle in that?

    http://www.foodpolitics.com/2013/08/proponents-of-food-biotechnology-are-still-talking-about-golden-rice-sigh/

    She makes very valid points.

    A question I have that has never been answered is exactly why is there a vitamin A deficiency, especially in lands that do grow vitamin A rich food crops? Before falling on GMO as a savior, I’d like an answer to this question. Wouldn’t you?

    The concerns I have about GMO, and have always had with GMO, is it is using technology to solve problems that are inherently only solvable by changing human behavior. Or perhaps the real issue is recognizing that something has changed to cause people to indulge in behaviors that cause harm to their children. So, what changed?

    Just throwing rice at the problem, isn’t going to solve the problem.

  • mem_somerville

    I’m glad to see this act of eco-terrorism get the condemnation it deserves. But it’s far from the only act that’s gone on recently by eco-terrorists on this and related issues.

    http://www.nature.com/news/nanotechnology-armed-resistance-1.11287

    The sentiment is echoed by Beatriz Xoconostle Cázares, a biotechnology researcher at Cinvestav, who is experimenting with transgenic crops resistant to drought and insects — and who regularly debates with ETC in public forums. Last September, Xoconostle arrived at work to find that
    her lab had been set on fire. A month later, arsonists attacked the lab of a neighbouring researcher.

    A field in Oregon burned recently. Papayas have been cut down repeatedly. I’m sorry that more people aren’t aware of this behavior. Please still notify Clark and Ding.

    • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

      And religious fanatics flew two planes into a couple of buildings in New York. Should we then condemn all religious believers based on the actions of a few?

  • Madeleine Love

    From a study in 1934, still absolutely true today…

    “So that in human beings a diet sufficiently lacking in vitamin A to cause xerophthalmia or keratomalacia is usually very deficient in other respects also, and it must be very rare to find a human diet deficient only in Vitamin A.”

    Yet the Golden Rice only produces a dominant spike of beta-carotene. Genetic engineering is in its elementary stages. It seems an absolutely foolish course, best left to theoretical lab research rather than food for a healthy, or perhaps more dangerously still, an unhealthy population.

    I hope the Philippines can find ways to ensure that pregnant and breastfeeding mothers can get a varied diet (with support if necessary) – it would be good if we did this in Australia as well ;)

  • Ken Kailing

    Call yourself an industrialist and be honest; scientist is a relative term these days. And I think it is good to recognize we’re at war and being an anti-GMO person, and scientist, I have complete confidence I can show you your wrong any day of the week. Unfortunately, I don’t have your money and the people I represent don’t have it either. This isn’t a question of GMOs, its a question of corporate supremacy and money.

  • yoheinna

    Better and cheaper to just give Vit A supplements to the folks who will never be able to eat enough Golden Rice to have any effect. If industrial pharma wants to look good, they’ll donate the vitamin for the next 10 years.

  • ChurnYourOwn

    What ever happened to the proven, old-fashioned way of getting Vitamin A?
    Meaning through eating small amounts of animal fats and organ meats, fish eggs and/or butter
    from cows that *actually graze on grass?* Because we can’t afford
    to feed the world with any animal-based products?? Baloney. Why is it
    better to take such an energy- and resource-intensive approach as
    creating new products in a lab, growing them in monocultures, and
    tending to them with the addition of tons of lab-created fertilizers and
    pesticides that all have to be expensively manufactured, packaged,
    warehoused, transported and spread only to end up with totally depleted
    land afterwards, which requires even more additives? If we could
    re-shift *some* of our focus on economic output toward maximizing human
    health and happiness, then I’m confident we could find a way to feed the
    world, including the poor, the omnivorous diet that mother nature
    designed us to eat. Integrated crop-livestock systems, among other
    approaches, is far more “sustainable” in my opinion, than some of the
    technology-driven approaches espoused by Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, DuPont,
    etc.

  • Jay L

    Out of curiosity… doesn’t one need to cook almost an entire pound of dry Golden Rice, and then eat it all, to get the RDA of vitamin A? That’s almost 9 servings per person daily, which is a large amount of rice for the average person. Comparatively, kale and carrots only require eating an ounce to blow Golden Rice’s vitamin A amount away (even assuming that the nutrients in Golden Rice get metabolized correctly.

    Hmm… three pounds of rice per day for a family of three, or almost 100 pounds a month.

    It seems like a terrible strategy, relying on a huge influx of carbs coming from one source in order to supplement. Even just making a supplement pill available seems like a better idea.

    Am I missing something here?

  • Jay L

    Looking at the numbers, one would have to eat a pound of uncooked Golden Rice, or 9 cooked servings, each day to get the RDA for vitamin A. That’s a lot of carbs, especially compared to one ounce of carrots for the same amount of beta-carotene. For a family of three, that’s almost a hundred pounds of rice a month.

    Am I doing my math right?