If we could provide a food that would save the lives of millions of kids, we’d do it.
That’s the miracle of Golden Rice, a genetically modified crop that fights vitamin A deficiency—a malady that has killed an estimated 8 million children over the last dozen years, mostly in the developing world. The lucky ones who survive often go blind.
Here in the Philippines, the problem is so severe that the government distributes vitamin A capsules to children under the age of 5 as well as to pregnant women.
This effort has reduced vitamin A deficiency in my country. Yet more must be done: 15 percent of Filipino children continue to suffer from this deadly form of malnutrition, according to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute.
Golden Rice is a possible solution and as a farmer, a tool that I want available in my country. It generates extra amounts of beta-carotene, a compound that helps produce vitamin A. Just one cup of cooked Golden Rice can provide small children with more than half of their daily vitamin A needs. If enough farmers grow Golden Rice, we might finally be able to defeat the scourge of vitamin A deficiency.
When I think about Golden Rice, I think about it from two perspectives: as a mother and as a farmer.
Like so many Filipino mothers, I serve rice to my family all the time. It’s the most fundamental ingredient in Filipino cuisine.
I’m also a farmer who grows rice during our wet season, which runs from now to October. Most of what I harvest goes to consumers I’ll never meet—but a portion of it winds up in the rice bowls my family use at home.
So I want to make sure that everything we grow and eat is safe, nutritious, and sustainable.
Earlier this spring, I was invited to attend a workshop sponsored by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), a Philippines-based nonprofit independent research and training organization dedicated to reducing hunger and poverty through better rice farming and nutrition. One of its major priorities is to fight vitamin A deficiency through the widespread adoption of Golden Rice.
During my visit, I was impressed to learn that there are no hidden agendas behind Golden Rice. Agriculture is of course a big business, and companies are always trying to persuade me to buy their seeds or equipment. Most salesmen are fair and honest, but I still have to approach them with care and caution.
Golden Rice, however, is different. Its European inventors have granted free licenses to develop and grow Golden Rice on a not-for-profit basis. IRRI has worked to create local varieties of Golden Rice so that Filipino farmers can grow it and Filipino families can feed it to their children.
Many other kinds of genetically modified crops carry important advantages for farmers: The GM corn I grow on my farm each winter fights weeds and pests, allowing me to grow more food on less land and contribute to my country’s food security. Consumers enjoy abundance that’s affordable and nutritious, but they don’t usually recognize the role of technology.
Golden Rice, by contrast, is all about “biofortification.” The whole point is to help consumers by fighting malnutrition. It’s not merely safe—it’s positively beneficial. It’s ‘Healthy Rice”. The research and development that have gone into it represent an extraordinary act of altruism. Making Golden Rice available to farmers will improve the lives of millions of people almost immediately—and everyone will know it.
Tragically, we’ve seen massive resistance to Golden Rice, led by the ideological forces and special interests that despise biotechnology in agriculture. They fear Golden Rice because they know its adoption will convince the masses that GM crops are good for us. Last year, a group of protestors even attacked a field where the IRRI was testing Golden Rice—an act of vandalism against scientific inquiry whose ultimate victims are the children suffering from vitamin A deficiency.
We all want to eat safe and healthy food—and we want regulatory agencies to support these efforts with sensible, science-based rules.
The next rule they should adopt involves Golden Rice: Let the farmers grow it and let the children eat it.
Every day we wait condemns more innocent children to blindness and death.
Rosalie Ellasus is a first-generation farmer, growing corn and rice in San Jacinto, Philippines. Rosalie allows her farm to be used as a demonstration plot for smallholder farmers to visit and learn from. She is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).