From: Clare Westwood, Ecologist, More from this Affiliate
Published February 12, 2014 03:20 PM

Golden Rice - a complex tangle of unanswered questions

Advocates of Golden Rice - a GMO rice that produces Vitamin A - present the debate over its use a clear moral choice with only one possible conclusion. But as Clare Westwood writes, the reality is very different...


'Golden Rice' (GR) is rice genetically modified (GM) to produce beta carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A.

Its advocates claim that it provides the solution to Vitamin A deficiency, which affects some 190 million people worldwide with effects that can include blindness.

It has been the subject of fierce argument about whether it really is a viable solution to Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) - or a 'Trojan horse' public relations tool used by industry to gain regulatory and market acceptance of GE crops.

A $100 million drop

Called 'Golden Rice' because of its orange-yellow color, the first version of Golden Rice - GR1 - was developed by Dr. Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and Dr. Peter Beyer from the University of Freiburg, Germany, from 1991 to 2000with an expenditure of about $100 million.

This was funded by four donors including the Rockefeller Foundation, one of the founding donors of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) that is housing the Golden Rice Project and managing the Golden Rice Network for the continued development of GR.

The level of carotenoids (including beta-carotene) in GR1 was minimal at 1.6 micrograms per gram, and critique of this led to the subsequent creation of GR2 with a maximum of 31 micrograms per gram of beta-carotene.

The intellectual property rights tangle

One of the world's top pesticide and seed companies, Syngenta, acquired exclusive rights to the GR1 technology from its inventors but went on to develop GR2 itself. On World Food Day in 2004, it announced the donation of GR2 to the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board.

The Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, chaired by Dr. Potrykus, is a public-private partnership responsible for the global development, introduction and promotion of GE GR in target countries. It provides governance to the Golden Rice Project.

In 2000, the Rockefeller Foundation commissioned an audit through the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications for IRRI.

70 separate patents and other IPRs

The audit found that there were 70 IPRs and technical property rights (TPRs) belonging to 32 different companies and universities, which had to be navigated before the inventors could donate the technology as a 'gift' to resource-poor farmers through international agricultural research centers to national partners.

Read more from our affiliate, Ecologist.

Golden rice image via Shutterstock.

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