Golden Rice was declared safe for consumption by Canada recently. This has huge implications for the rest of the world, where Golden Rice can be vital resource in tackling vitamin A deficiency and malnutrition.
Genetically modified (GM) crops are engineered to display traits that are otherwise absent or subdued in natural crops. For example, gene modification results in crops that are highly resistant to diseases and more accustomed to extreme weather conditions. Sometimes, these crops also contain increased nutritional value.
Golden Rice, also known as Provitamin A Biofortified Rice Event GR2E, has strikingly higher levels of Provitamin A than other commercially available rice varieties. The name may have been derived from its golden yellow color, but it is certainly more valuable to our food security than gold.
Being a powerful antioxidant, Vitamin A plays a key role in growth, reproduction, eyesight and immune system health. Vitamin A deficiency is more prevalent in developing countries, where it causes preventable childhood blindness and amplifies the risk of death from other common childhood illnesses such as diarrhea.
Golden Rice can certainly reduce the magnitude and frequency of Vitamin A deficiency as it acts as a Vitamin A supplement. The rice can thus act as a preventive element against the death and disease due to vitamin A deficiency in developing countries.
However, GM crops such as Golden Rice face constant opposition from anti-GM crusaders who accuse these crops of being dangerous to human health.
The claims of anti-GM groups are false and baseless. Particularly, their accusations on Golden Rice lack scientific credibility, besides acting as a major hurdle in the fight against malnutrition and global food insecurity.
On March 16, Health Canada—the department of the government of Canada with responsibility for national public health—approved the genetically engineered Golden Rice as safe for human consumption.
It was a pleasant coincidence that Golden Rice was approved just a week before the birthday of Norman Borlaug—the man who revolutionized the use of GM crops, eventually helping billions of people afford a daily meal and sustaining billions of lives to this day.
This approval comes after a robust scientific assessment done by scientists with expertise in molecular biology, microbiology, toxicology, chemistry, and nutrition.
The assessment complied with scientific principles approved internationally by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the regulatory bodies in the United States, the European Union, Australia, and Japan.
The assessment results showed that Golden Rice had the same nutritional property as other commercially available rice varieties, except for the increased provitamin A levels. Further, it displayed no new risk to human health and has no potential to create or amplify allergies.
Unlike Health Canada’s robust scientific assessment, the claims of anti-GM advocacy groups fall short of credibility, as they have been in the past.
The approval of Golden Rice by Health Canada is a lethal blow to one of the many myths that are propagated by anti-GM activists. Developing countries should seize the momentum by declaring Golden Rice safe for consumption in their respective countries.