A golden age of rice?

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Last year, ACSH reported on progress involving new developments in Golden Rice. Developed by Ingo Potrykus of The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) about ten years ago, it portends to become the world s first-ever beta-carotene-rich grain. Now, a recent study has found that Golden Rice is just as effective and even better than supplements and many foods in supplying children and adults with their daily requirement for Vitamin A.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, tested Golden Rice against both spinach and supplements in providing Vitamin A to 68 six-to eight-year-olds in China. Based on blood tests taken over three weeks, researchers found that the golden rice was as effective as the capsules at giving kids a boost of Vitamin A. Furthermore, the rice worked even better than the natural beta-carotene found in spinach.

Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children, leading to about 350,000 cases of blindness worldwide each year; moreover, the lack of vitamin A leads to immune deficiencies and is responsible for thousands of preventable deaths among children each year. Therefore, it s important that the new Golden Rice be approved quickly, yet even though it has been around for over a decade, it has yet to be put to its intended use. And given that as many as 250 million children worldwide are Vitamin A deficient, it s puzzling why this is the case.

Yet there are a number of reasons Golden Rice faces opposition. The foremost, no doubt, is that the rice is a product of genetic engineering. This, not surprisingly, has caused so-called environmental activist groups to mindlessly oppose its use, regardless of the needless loss of health and life resulting.

This is truly unfortunate, says ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava, because Golden rice is a breakthrough and has the potential to reduce the global problem of vitamin A deficiency. Yet because it is a genetically modified food, it is faced with unfounded antipathy and fear by folks who have probably never known the devastating effects that vitamin A deficiency can have.