Environmentalists, including one of the world’s most “powerful” women, have called on the United States Government to withdraw the award it has given to controversial “Golden Rice,” which is widely labelled a hoax.
Highly respected Indian scientist, physicist and ardent environmentalist, Dr. Vandana Shiva responded vehemently to the announcement that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) were to award the Golden Rice Project with the prestigious Patents for Humanity Award on Nutrition for 2015. The claim made by the three scientists who invented Golden Rice, which was patented in 2012, is that it provides a miracle cure for hunger and malnutrition, specifically in terms of vitamin A deficiency.
Dr Shiva, who has received numerous accolades including being identified as an environmental hero by Time Magazine in 2003; being named as one of Asia’s five most powerful communicators by Asia Week; and one of the seven most powerful women on the globe by Forbes Magazine in 2010, has strongly refuted these claims.
In a media release this week, she called on people to, “Tell the White House that there is no Golden Rice tested and approved in any country.” Even the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) that has backed its development admits it requires more research, she said.
Rather than give the award to what is essentially “fiction,” the award should go to UNICEF and governments that have been working on reducing vitamin A deficiency worldwide by providing vitamin A supplements.
Further, she said, “It should go to women who can grow and cook Vit A rich foods for their children if they had the Seeds and the space for a Garden.”
Founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in Dehra Dun, India, Dr Shiva strongly maintains that rather than Golden Rice being a promising technology to solve vitamin A deficiency problems, it is a “very effective strategy” that has been set in place for the corporate takeover of rice production.
That is the hoax.
Golden Rice and its Scientists Win Patents for Humanity Award 2015
Boasting the recent achievement, the Golden Rice Project management prominently states on its website that Golden Rice is “not just an invention.”
Stating that the award was to be “bestowed upon” the project and three scientists responsible for it – Dr Adrian Dubock, Prof Ingo Potrykus and Pro Peter Beyer, they explain how the Patents for Humanity USPTO programme recognises the work of those trying to “improve global health and living standards for undeserved populations.” These people take “life-saving technologies” to people in need, at the same time illustrating that patents are “an integrated part of tackling the world’s challenges,” they state.
The patent for Golden Rice, obtained by Syngenta, the powerful international agri-chemicals business Dubock was working for at the time (2001), was heralded as a “ground-breaking humanitarian licensing arrangement.” It was a cashless transaction for certain “commercial rights” that Syngenta was to support. Three years later the company declared it had no further interest in the technology, but would continue to support the inventors, and countries making use of the technology would not have to pay for it.
This shows how important patents are, says the Golden Rice Project.
Dubock, together with Potrykus, who is from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and Beyer, from the German University of Freiburg, received the humanitarian award in Washington on April 20, 2015.
Vitamin A Deficiency – a Killer
It is a known fact that vitamin A deficiency is rife in the Third World. It is also known to be responsible (at least in part) for the deaths of millions of children every year, and, along with malnutrition, it can cause of blindness.
Since white rice (of which there are two basic types) is the staple crop for about 3.5 billion people in various parts of the world, and because rice doesn’t contain vitamin A, the ingenious inventors of Golden Rice figured they would genetically modify rice and add vitamin A to it. This, in turn, would prevent millions of child deaths and thousands of cases of blindness every year, they said.
Environmentalists and organisations like Greenpeace have opposed the idea from the start, stating that it is “irresponsible,” and a potential health risk that could end up compromising not only food and nutrition, but financial security in the countries that plant it. This doesn’t mean that environmental campaigners against Golden Rice deny the huge humanitarian impact vitamin A deficiency has in developing countries. Instead, they want to focus rather on addressing underlying issues of poor nutrition and poverty.
As Dr Shiva points out, it is not just vitamin deficiency that is the problem, but rather a deficiency of all micronutrients. By focusing on a crop (in this case rice) that cannot provide all the nutrients human beings need, the inventors and promoters of Golden Rice are ignoring the need for diverse crops with diverse nutrients, and in so doing are promoting blindness both nutritionally and metaphorically, she says.
Vitamin A Rice is a Hoax
Addressing the claim that the technology behind Golden Rice is a means to solving worldwide vitamin A deficiency problems, Dr Shiva states unequivocally that, “Vitamin A rice is a hoax” that will simply add to the arguments against “plant genetic engineering.”
Instead of removing vitamin A deficiency, she says Golden Rice will seriously aggravate it. In fact, she goes as far as to say that the award-winning Golden Rice will worsen the world’s malnutrition crisis.
Her argument is comprehensive.
For starters no one knows how much vitamin A this genetically modified (GM) product will produce.
“Currently, it is not even known how much vitamin JA the genetically engineered rice will produce,” she states. “The goal is 33.3% micrograms/100g of rice. Even if this goal is reached after a few years, it will be totally ineffective in removing VAD.” Essentially this means their efforts will be useless, even if they achieve this goal.
Dr Shriva goes on to argue that humans need 750 micrograms of vitamin A every day. A serving of rice weighed dry is 30 g. This means that at best the rice could provide 9.9 micrograms of vitamin A, which is 1.32 percent of the amount required. Even if people were to eat 100 g of rice every day, this would only give them (at best) 4.4 percent of what they need.
If adults were to consume the amount of rice that might give them enough vitamin A, they’d be eating more than 2 kg of rice every day, which would inevitably create deficiencies in other nutrients and micronutrients. And it doesn’t stop there. Fat is needed to absorb vitamin A, and milled rice has a very low fat content. It also has very little protein and a miniscule iron content. Iron is needed to convert Betacarotene to vitamin A.
Instead of playing with “fiction,” Dr Shiva suggests that vitamin A deficiency problems be tackled by educating people to eat more vitamin A-rich plants. Some of the best are carrots, spinach, yellow pumpkin and cabbage. Many of the herbs and spices commonly used to prepare traditional Indian food also contain vitamin A, including coriander and fenugreek leaves. Both goat and sheep liver, chicken eggs, cod liver oil and butter are also rich in vitamin A.
The Vitamin A Lie in India
Dr Shriva maintains that the reason the vitamin A deficiency problem is so rife in India is because the so-called Green Revolution technologies killed biodiversity when they converted mixed cropping systems (with their rich biodiversity) and replaced these with wheat and rice monocultures. The use of herbicides has also been hugely detrimental. Yet the government of India has now agreed that the Swiss government may transfer genetically engineered, supposedly rich in vitamin A, rice to India.
Apart from its nutritional failures, she points out that this rice is a water-intensive crop and claims that the Swiss are in fact “transferring an illusion to India,” just like the inventors of Golden Rice are trying to transfer the same illusion to the world.