Golden Rice
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Golden Rice Regulatory Delays May Cause Millions of Deaths

Ingo Potrykus, inventor of the vitamin A-enriched golden rice says that although production of the rice is solved, regulatory delays would prevent Asians benefiting for many years yet. By transforming the indica rice IR64, they have produced a rice variety that would be applicable across most of South East Asia.

"We could give this out today," said Potrykus, chair of the International Humanitarian Board for Golden Rice. "This could reduce malnutrition safely and sustainably." However, regulatory delays were "in essence causing the unnecessary deaths of millions of people," said Potrykus. He expects it to take 3-4 years for the rice to make it through the regulatory procedures.

Potrykus says that around 200g of rice could give 100% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, according to one estimates. While the final figure might be slightly lower, it was clear that the levels were sufficient to make a major contribution to reducing vitamin A deficiency in Asia.  Greenpeace had suggested in the past that unrealistic amounts would have to be eaten to get near the RDA level.

In addition to vitamin A, the golden rice team has been exploring expression of genes to raise iron levels, vitamin E and whether they can produce a high-quality protein rice with enhanced levels of 10 amino acids. However, Potrykus says that he's been advised that the regulatory issues associated with rice containing even more genes and traits would make it near-impossible to approve it.

He is working with regulatory agencies of the Asian countries who want to distribute golden rice to try and co-ordinate a harmonised regulatory approach to the approval process. "My task is to find a unified approach" he says. Governments have indicated their financial support for making the rice available to farmers, but this depended on overcoming the regulatory obstacles.

Potrykus says that regulators are influenced by political pressure, and that the issues put to them by political groups are based on "emotions, not science." Thus far they've been unable to field test the rice, because of regulatory concerns.

Potrykus says that they have agreement on all the intellectual property issues surrounding golden rice, which would allow free licensing to farmers so long as they don't export it or profit excessively from it.  Meanwhile Syngenta has the commercial rights to develop the technology. He feels that the project has been an excellent example of a public-private partnership that has real benefits for the poor - while they might have achieved it eventually via a public route, it would have taken much longer.

Could there be a developed world golden rice? "There certainly could be a market for nutritionally optimised crops," says Potrykus. He pointed to the fact that a nutritionally enriched rice could help reduce the macular degeneration found in older people in the developed world. This eye problem was less of a concern in the developing world as people tended not to live long enough to encounter it. However, offering nutritionally improved GM crops depended on an end to the "hysteria" of European consumers over GM.

European attitudes had meant that Thailand had decided not to be part of the golden rice project because they had been warned by European importers that growing GM rice could affect their ability to export other varieties of rice. Similar factors had been at play over the Zambian government's decision not to allow GM maize into the country as food aid.

He described the impact of European views as one of the "worst cases of neocolonialism".

From, March 19, 2003 

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Last modified: September 20, 2006