Transparency's picture
"Suggesting that we have to pick between supporting Golden Rice or mass malnourishment is a false choice. What if the billions of dollars (and now over a decade of time) spent on developing Golden Rice had instead been invested on a program supporting food sovereignty goals linked to farmer and consumer empowerment?" - See more at:

A:Expert Answer

Golden Rice is a great example of a public-private partnership working towards addressing major malnourishment deficiency that affects over half of the world’s population.  Rice is a staple crop in China, India, Indonesia—it can offer as much as 80% of the caloric intake. However, rice does not naturally produce vitamin A,  iron and other micronutrients. As a result of the micronutrient deficiency, children that rely on a rice-based diet suffer from impaired immune system, blindness, and even death in children.  Since there are no rice varieties that naturally produce pro-vitamin A, the owners of patented biotechnologies from both universities and companies have donated their patent rights so Golden Rice can be developed (


Aside from Golden Rice, there are other biofortification efforts to combine genetic engineering and traditional breeding to improve the nutritional content of rice, cassava, sorghum, and bananas Recently, the global scientific community has come together to support research, including biotechnology, GM approaches, to address the major challenges of feeding the world—see video and join the petition which has been endorsed by over 5,600 scientists from around the world.

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Rickinreallife's picture

Dr. Chi-Ham -- With all due respect, I think your response missed the point of the question. I believe the questioner understands that fortification of a staple crop like rice is being advanced through a public-private effort. The question, however, presents somewhat of a strawman argument that promoters of golden rice are saying that the fortification program is the only or best means to accomplish the task of reducing vitamin A deficiency in rice staple diets. The golden rice fortification program has been criticized by Greenpeace and others as a simplistic technological solution to a problem with complex social and economic foundations. They raise what are perhaps valid points that even if golden rice is successful in reducting vitamin A deficiency (which skeptics will argue is itself speculative), the ultimate solution lies in social and economic reforms to enable the poor to have access to productive resources, in improvements in income and investment in extension programs to enable the poor to access a varied diet, and programs to distribute nutrient supplements where nutrient deficiencies persist. The question suggests that resources devoted to developing golden rice might have been better spent in pursuing these other alternatives.

I think promoters of the golden rice fortification program would counter that the fortification program is a tool for addressing a major malnourishment challenge that does not and should not necessarily preclude other strategies. I have seen reference to studies that found the strategy of fortification of rice is very cost effective. Quoting from an article appearing in Slate Magazine " The Deadly Opposition to Genetically Modified Food, [ "Supplementation programs costs $4,300 for every life they save in India, whereas fortification programs cost about $2,700 for each life saved. Both are great deals. But golden rice would cost just $100 for every life saved from vitamin A deficiency." The $100 per person figure includes the upfront development costs spent thus far and remaining. Thus, the fortification of golden rice does not necessarily overcommit us to just one strategy at least in terms of resource commitment. Additionally, the supplement programs also have limitations to their success, and are an ongoing commitment. Also, those who have been involved in the golden rice project do not argue that social reforms are not needed, but do acknowledge that the social reforms opponents of gold rice have advanced are perhaps themselves a speculative and distant objective, and that golden rice serves as a safety net to address vitamin A deficiency in the meantime, and that fortification of rice would still be an valuable component even if these could be accomplished. Additionally, proponents point out that if conventional breeding were available to fortify rice to express beta carotene (i.e. by methods other than modern genetic engineering), then Greenpeace and others' opposition to a rice fortification program would be greatly diminished, although the same objections to fortification as a simplistic solution to a complex issue would still apply.

There was an interesting discussion thread on a forum topic at Biofortified that included participation by person raising much the same arguments as advanced by this question. []. The final comment post I think captures the arguments in favor of proceding with golden rice very well.

Cecilia Chi-Ham's picture

Golden Rice is one of the solutions that the public/private sector has proposed and is investing in making a reality. There may be other solutions. However, why oppose Golden Rice when it could mitigate the problem? The unfortunate reality is that you have organizations like Greenpeace, investing their millions of dollars criticizing a possible solution rather than contributing towards alternative solutions.

Transparency's picture

@ Dr. Chi-Ham, thank you for answering my question, and for sharing your perspective. @Rickinreallife, I appreciate your excellent points and well-reasoned response, as well.

Like many intriguing ideas, Golden Rice seems like a good idea in theory, and on paper. What’s not to love about reducing malnourishment, right? If Golden Rice ultimately succeeds in mitigating this problem long-term, without putting farmers into debt or reducing biodiversity, then it will be worth the 10-year wait and billions spent in development. Syngenta apparently holds the commercial rights to the Golden Rice, so will the company stay true to its “Humanitarian license”?

Looking at this from another angle, the Philippines is a nation that has been subjected to waves of patriarchal, imperialistic and colonial influence over the centuries, with mixed results. So I can understand Filipinos’ sensitivity to foreign control and the people’s desire for sovereignty:

“The development and promotion of Golden Rice illustrates an imperialist plunder of Asian agriculture that monopolizes seeds, limits bio-diversity and lessens dietary diversification, which primarily causes malnutrition,” Soriano, also the chairwoman of the National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan), said. [From comments,].

Once biotech establishes a GMO foothold in the Philippines, will this lead to yet another domino effect of increasing foreign control of Philippine resources and agriculture -- from politics to plate?

muhsina's picture

so what are the cost of gmo okay