Genetically engineered products have been in the front seats of quarrels carried between corporations and environmental activists for as long as we can remember. There is something gravely unsettling about food that’s crafted between the walls of a laboratory with little to no connection to the natural order and normal evolution.

golden rice jar

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Genetically engineered products have been in the front seats of quarrels carried between corporations and environmental activists for as long as we can remember. There is something gravely unsettling about food that’s crafted between the walls of a laboratory with little to no connection to natural order and normal evolution.

In most of the cases, however, the dispute often ends up leaning in favor of the green activists, who manage to prove that a large portion of GE harvests are simple ways to mass-produce products that can magnetize copious amounts of money into their pockets. We’re so used to artificial products being proven unhealthy and malevolent that we can’t help but wonder why they even try anymore.

This is why the situation of the so-called “golden rice” is so uncanny and specific. This rice variety, a result of genetic engineering, was created for the sole purpose of providing Third World Countries with the necessary dose of beta-carotene (Vitamin A) that would save the lives of thousands of people. A GE product that was created with a humanitarian purpose? Well, that’s definitely one sure way to spark a controversy that, this time, seems to favor both sides.

vitamin A

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The Problem with Vitamin A Shortage

Shortened as VAD, Vitamin A deficiency is an issue that’s highly prevalent in developing countries, with little to no cases surfacing in First World Countries. An alarming first symptom is represented by nyctalopia, also known as night blindness. Those who suffer from this condition have trouble adjusting to dimly-lit environments and struggle to properly see in the darkness. In the case of VAD, it quickly escalates into xerophthalmia, keratomalacia, and it ends with complete blindness.

Considered to be a case of malnutrition, VAD takes the lives of roughly 250,000 to 500,000 children who inhabit poor countries on a yearly basis. In most of the cases, death follows the complete blindness in less than a week after the effect takes over.

Golden Rice and the Humanitarian Cause

The thing about golden rice is that it steals attention and dulls senses in the same way that gold does. Many people are blinded by the benefits it brings to solving the VAD issue and end up completely disregarding the less benevolent aftermaths that its creation can lead to. It’s tough to argue against this breed of GE rice because, in the end, it does exactly what it promised it would.

While some critics of genetically engineered crops argued that golden rice wasn’t providing the necessary dose of beta-carotene that would save lives, further advances and developments projected golden rice to stardom with how effective it is. Once the problems of beta-carotene losses after harvest and boiling were out of the way, there was nothing that could stop golden rice from aiding people in the way it was intended to.

In fact, golden rice received several prizes and accolades for its humanitarian purpose and the impact it had in the lives of those who had been battling Vitamin A deficiency for such a long time. It’s a quick and effective way to save lives, so of course, we can’t hold back on the praise it deserves. Credit’s given where credit’s due.

golden rice vs white rice

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Golden Rice and the Issues that Can Arise

True, golden rice hasn’t proven to be a health hazard. It fixes the whole VAD problem, without raining upon those who consume it, even more problems that need to be solved. But this isn’t all about health and how it can affect us directly. There are more implications at talk and, believe it or not, they’re actually worse than the likelihood of getting a small headache after shoveling in a bowl of golden rice.

The biggest con of the miraculous GE rice is that it threatens biodiversity and it promotes a spread and boost in GMO products that might not be as benevolent as golden rice is. It wasn’t the first solution to VAD, an affliction that’s been wreaking havoc among citizens of under-developed countries for decades. We already have alternatives and solutions that are backed by those of the likes of UNICEF, USAID, World Bank, and Greenpeace – food supplements, efficient and natural medicine, home stuff.

The point is, there is a way to free yourself from the clutches of VAD by living on a diverse diet. By forcing people to get their dose of instant Vitamin A through one product only, we might be slowly heading into a future where biodiversity is dead and we settle on eating only three or four aliments to get our daily doses of nourishment.

How Other Foods Are Affected

As already mentioned, other foods that provide solutions to the VAD issue could suffer a lot. Rather than promoting diet diversity, golden rice encourages a diet that gravitates around a single aliment. Moreover, it takes its toll on the good, ol’ white rice too.

If imported, golden rice is likely to accidentally end up contaminating white rice crops and, by the time we know it, golden rice will be everywhere and messing with our diets. It might even end up leading to an overdose of Vitamin A.

All things considered, here is the biggest problem – golden rice is a waste of money. Rather than pumping millions of dollars into the development of a single, genetically engineered product that promises to deal with just one issue, we could have further developed other natural means that can help with VAD.