Monday, February 25, 2013

GM food: Golden rice will save millions of people from vitamin A deficiency. - Slate Magazine

Finally, after a 12-year delay caused by opponents of genetically modified foods, so-called “golden rice” with vitamin A will be grown in the Philippines. Over those 12 years, about 8 million children worldwide died from vitamin A deficiency. Are anti-GM advocates not partly responsible?
The New York Times Magazine reported in 2001 that one would need to “eat 15 pounds of cooked golden rice a day” to get enough vitamin A. What was an exaggeration then is demonstrably wrong now. Two recent studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition show that just 50 grams (roughly two ounces) of golden rice can provide 60 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. They show that golden rice is even better than spinach in providing vitamin A to children.
To be sure, handing out vitamin pills or adding vitamin A to staple products can make a difference. But it is not a sustainable solution to vitamin A deficiency. And, while it is cost-effective, recent published estimates indicate that golden rice is much more so.
Supplementation programs costs $4,300 for every life they save in India, whereas fortification programs cost about $2,700 for each life saved. Both are great deals. But golden rice would cost just $100 for every life saved from vitamin A deficiency.
Most ironic is the self-fulfilling critique that many activists now use. Greenpeace calls golden rice a “failure,” because it “has been in development for almost 20 years and has still not made any impact on the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency.” But, as Ingo Potrykus, the scientist who developed golden rice, has made clear, that failure is due almost entirely to relentless opposition to GM foods—often by rich, well-meaning Westerners far removed from the risks of actual vitamin A deficiency.
Here it is worth noting that there have been no documented human health effects from GM foods. But many campaigners have claimed other effects. A common story, still repeated by Shiva, is that GM corn with Bt toxin kills Monarch butterflies. Severalpeer-reviewed studies, however, have effectively established that “the impact of Bt corn pollen from current commercial hybrids on monarch butterfly populations is negligible.”
Greenpeace and many others claim that GM foods merely enable big companies like Monsanto to wield near-monopoly power. But that puts the cart before the horse: The predominance of big companies partly reflects anti-GM activism, which has made the approval process so long and costly that only rich companies catering to First World farmers can afford to see it through.
Finally, it is often claimed that GM crops simply mean costlier seeds and less money for farmers. But farmers have a choice. More than 5 million cotton farmers in India have flocked to GM cotton, because it yields higher net incomes. Yes, the seeds are more expensive, but the rise in production offsets the additional cost.

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