On Golden Rice

Image from goldenrice.org

Skimming through Grist yesterday, I found this piece by Nathanael Johnson particularly interesting. Golden rice is a controversial issue, wrapped up in another controversial issue. It brings to the fore all of the moral, ethical and environmental questions of the GM debate, coupled with other questions about global health and human rights. It’s a messy issue, which I definitely don’t think can be split into “good vs bad” – such a dichotomy is too simplistic for an idea that is anything but.

As Johnson notes, and like much of what I’ve read about Golden Rice suggests, this did not start out as some great-big-corporate-scary-Monsanto idea. Golden Rice was the brainchild of people genuinely trying to help improve the health and nutrition outcomes of those who desperately need it. This is a really key point – this is what makes Golden Rice different to all those situations where farmers have been sued into financial ruin because the wind blew the next farm’s Monsanto crops onto their own.

Will it help though? I’m not sure. Like Johnson, I honestly do think it’s worth a shot. In general, I’m very, very circumspect about GM for reasons that I’ve discussed previously – namely the risk of cross-contamination, damaging the genetics of non-GM crops, and, even more so, the risks involved in a company “owning” the genetics of our basic foods. In the case of Golden Rice though, I don’t feel that we, in the global North, have the right to stop research into any food product that may improve quality of life and health outcomes in the developing world. Yes, I would have enormous concerns if it were being developed on a purely profit-motive basis. But it’s not, which to my mind makes it a completely different ball game.

Who knows if it will work? Only time and more research will tell for sure. Will biotech companies try to claim it as their very own, grand, lifesaving gift to the world? I think it would be naive to think otherwise. Are there risks involved if it does work? Absolutely, yes! But I also think that there are risks involved in not looking at every possible solution to global malnutrition, and I also think it’s naive to ignore the fact that technology may be one of those solutions.

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