Greenpeace’s stand on golden rice is rather cynical and their article in support of their position offers bad science. It raises alarms about allergic reactions by writing “there are studies that prove that GE crops certainly have the potential to cause allergic reactions.” In fact, people cannot be allergic to beta-carotene. If they were, they couldn’t eat most fruits or vegetables. I have not heard of any instance of such an allergy, and I’m aware of such things due to work with vaccines. It is possible to get so much beta-carotene that one’s skin turns yellow-orange, but it is harmless, a cosmetic condition.
The Greenpeace article does close with a possibly valid point about the PR usefulness of golden rice to an industry that has not always behaved. The author may be correct on that front. But patents run out after 20 years, so the world should gain. That is the whole reason for the patent system in the first place, to protect inventions early so as to benefit society as a whole by disclosure. There is a problem with technology like this if it isn’t patented, because it takes significant money to roll it out to the public. Generally, if something isn’t patented, it’s impossible to raise capital. It wasn’t always this way. Fifty years ago there was robust government support for everything from agricultural machinery to crop breeding. This is no longer the case as various interest groups have worked to undermine this support.
So, what’s the science on Golden Rice?
Vitamin A requirement per day is 750 micrograms. But not all pro-vitamin A is absorbed, so you need more than that in the precursor form of beta-carotene. (Beta-carotene is pro-vitamin A.) Pro-vitamin A requires fat to absorb properly, and those in severe poverty are often eating low-fat. So excess intake is required if you are poor and don’t get much fat. You also need iron to split beta-carotene into vitamin A.
The current high producing strain of golden rice has 31 micrograms of pro-vitamin A per gram of rice. Rice consumption in Asia averages 103 kg/year. That is an average of 282 gram per day. If it was all golden rice, that would be 8742 micrograms per day. For those in poverty, rice consumption is 1/3rd of the average, about 31 grams of rice per day, which would give them 2914 micrograms of pro-vitamin A per day.
Read the full original article: Sorry Greenpeace, Golden Rice is a Win for Nutrition and Health