View from the fence

Social, environmental and economic issues surrounding GM foods, and the latest news

Golden rice field trials destroyed


Earlier this month, activists in the Philippines destroyed a field trial of golden rice which was nearly ready to submit fortified rice to national regulators for safety approvals. The trial was from the Philippines Department of Agriculture.

Golden rice is fortified with Beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, and has been developed to try and tackle vitamin A deficiency. I remember reading about it in my school text book, but a decade on it is still in the development phase, partly as a result of activism.

The protestors, from Peasant Movement of the Philippines (KMP) and SIKWAL-GMO, believed that the trial was a danger to human health and biodiversity. A KMP spokesperson said malnutrition is caused by poverty and should to be addressed by support services, not genetically-modified crops.

A petition has since been started to speak out against the activists, and I have signed it. I am very interested in any problems associated with using golden rice to tackle vitamin A deficiency, but do not see destroying field trials as a productive way of dealing with these issues.

Vitamin A deficiency is considered a health problem in over half of the world’s countries, causing disruption to the immune system and increasing the severity of childhood diseases such as measles. It is essential for the retina, so deficiency can lead to blindness. Vitamin A is naturally found in leafy vegetables and a major cause of vitamin A deficiency is over-reliance on white rice.

Impressively, the Philippines has reduced vitamin A deficiency from 40% of the population in 2003 to 15% in 2008 through fortification of flour and products such as instant noodles. With 2 million people worldwide dying annually from vitamin A deficiency, we still haven’t solved the problem.

Challenges involve the expense of maintaining a continuous supply of supplements, and the health risks from an overdose of supplements. Being able to grow a crop which provides vitamin A year after year is therefore an attractive prospect.

A barrier which the scientists faced early on is that many of the techniques they used had been patented, but the businesses involved (including Syngenta) have agreed that the technology should be available free of charge to the world’s poorest farmers.

This is a story I’m sure I will be writing about, and I would be interested to hear from anyone who has specific points about challenges associated with golden rice – so much of it seems to be vague ‘agribusinesses are involved’ or ‘we have other ways of dealing with it’.

Author: Rebecca Nesbit

I am author of a popular science book 'Is that Fish in your Tomato?' exploring the fact and fiction of GM crops. In my work and leisure so far, I have trained bees to detect explosives, used a radar to study butterflies for my PhD, written a novel, taken the train from London to China, organised Biology Week, sold science jewellery on Etsy, and traveled to four continents with Nobel Laureates. Best off all, I've made lots of friends whose support I very much appreciate. Thank you! Please visit my website:

4 thoughts on “Golden rice field trials destroyed

  1. Rebecca thank so much for your good information on the issues of GM. as you say Challenges involve the expense of maintaining a continuous supply of supplements, and the health risks from an overdose of supplements. Being able to grow a crop which provides vitamin A year after year is therefore an attractive prospect.

    personally I do see I advantages and disadvantages in use of GM crops.
    indeed in GM technology has good advantages like:
    • GM modified plants become resistant and remains an affected by the herbicides.
    • Quick growth rate and improvement with crops with gene.
    • To improve nutritional content to fight malnutrition e.g. vitamin ‘A’ rice etc.
    • Improve plant resistance drought
    • Increase and improve food production size and quantity.
    • Increase income earnings etc.
    However we should not look at one side only as we make long term decisions which involve life on earth, to use GM foods we should look at the disadvantage side as well. To me the disadvantages to use GM foods outweigh the advantages for both human and plant life etc. the following are some of the disadvantages in using GM foods:

    • We have promotion of agricultural ‘supper weed’ leading to production of more strong toxic chemicals with toxic effects on nervous system of both human and animals.
    • Destruction of biodiversity through reduction of insects that depend on weeds and birds that depend on these insects are all knocked off or killed as a result of GM technology use.
    • People eating golden rice with vitamin ‘A’ will have excessive vitamin ‘A’ in their bodies. These people will suffer from vitamin ‘A’ toxicity disease or hypervitaminosis. There can be similar negative instances for using GM foods with medicinal value.
    • Pollution of honey to contain allergic or toxic effects of the gene technology for both humans and the bees is possible. And many more other disadvantages.

    Thanks so much Rebecca indeed we need to save our world for safety.

  2. Thank you Paul. It can seem hard to find people who are equally interested in the pros and cons on GM, so it is good to hear from someone who does!

    It is interesting for me that many of the disadvantages are specific to individual crops rather than all of GM.

  3. Pingback: GM is a distraction | View from the fence

  4. Pingback: Genetic modification and inequality | View from the fence

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