Golden Rice is a saffron-colored bioengineered rice that a lot of people are trying to make a case for. Greenpeace doesn’t support golden rice. Proponents of the non-GMO movement don’t like the idea of altering food in any way, shape or form. Purists don’t like the idea. A lot of people don’t support golden rice, and they say that the positive effects of it that its supporters use to market it are propaganda. A lot of the food that we buy at the supermarket is genetically modified, but not many know that they’re eating GM food almost every day.
“In fact, GMOs are present in 60 to 70 percent of foods on US supermarket shelves, according to Bill Freese at the Center for Food Safety; the vast majority of processed foods contain GMOs. One major exception is fresh fruits and veggies. The only GM produce you’re likely to find is the Hawaiian papaya, a small amount of zucchini and squash, and some sweet corn. No meat, fish, and poultry products approved for direct human consumption are bioengineered at this point, though most of the feed for livestock and fish is derived from GM corn, alfalfa, and other biotech grains. Only organic varieties of these animal products are guaranteed GMO-free feed.”
What exactly is golden rice? It’s rice grown with a natural insecticide, a bacterium called Bt, or Bacillus thuringiensis. It gets its bright yellow color from the high concentrations of beta-carotene in it. Its backers are promoting it by noting that the nutritional value with the added beta-carotene would make it more beneficial for people in developing countries. There is currently no approved GMO rice on the market. Golden rice would be one of the first. However, just because the rice can feed people in developing countries doesn’t necessarily mean that the food can be grown in all those countries themselves. This would not work to help those local economies.
“there’s a long way to go. . . Both the original Golden Rice, now called GR1, and GR2 were created with Japonica cultivars that are the scientist’s favorites but fare poorly in Asian fields. (See: http://fbae.org/2009/FBAE/website/news_tough-lessons-from-golden-rice.html)”
But how innocent is this Bt that is in the golden rice? Farmers have taken to growing cotton that’s been genetically altered by adding Bt to keep pests away. People have been using Bt as far back as the 1920’s, and it can be used in a spray form. A lot of organic farmers have been using it, apparently. But there’s the question of how suitable it really is for our food. It often depends on the source, and who they’re working for. We’re told that Bt is an insecticide that kills butterfly larvae. Yet other sources say that that stuff that the butterflies would consume in the field isn’t in concentrations toxic enough to kill them. Then why implement it if it’s not an insecticide? Is the point to kill the pests or just repel the pests?
Also, a toxin will still have toxic effects, won’t it? According to a document by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Beta-exotoxin and the other Bacillus toxins may contribute to the insecticidal toxicity of the bacterium to lepidopteran, dipteran, and coleopteran insects. Beta-exotoxin is known to be toxic to humans and almost all other forms of life and its presence is prohibited in B. thuringiensis microbial products. Engineering of plants to contain and express only the genes for δ-endotoxins avoids the problem of assessing the risks posed by these other toxins that may be produced in microbial preparations.”
Then there’s the question of just how much supplemental beta-carotene is really in the rice. This is something that needs to be studied in greater detail, and over a longitudinal study, according to the Permaculture Institute.
It’s important to remember that organic farming and non-GMO farming are not the same thing. GMO crops and non-GMO crops really shouldn’t coexist. The USDA is now aware of a certain problem: organic farmers do end up paying the price for GMO farms in that non-GMO and organic farmers have to mitigate the risks of contamination while GMO farmers do not. Organic farmers fall under harsher scrutiny, and often their crops get rejected by buyers. It’s suggested that they buy crop insurance to protect their interests, but they also end up paying higher premiums for this kind of insurance. Though the strict guidelines for what is considered organic require that food not be genetically modified in any way, there are loopholes.
Gene Hall, Public Relations Director for the Texas Farm Bureau, believes that golden rice is worth trying out because of its increased amount of Vitamin A. Economic survival is important to the very existence of farms, and golden rice could be an important new cornerstone in ensuring economic solvency for farms. He has a solid argument for it, but golden rice, since it’s something that could be ubiquitous if implemented, is something that should probably studied more to see the long-term effects of it on people, on farms, and on the economy in general. With all the water that rice requires, let’s hope that people think long and hard about growing it in Texas.