Improvement of food and health by genetically modified foods

Apart from beneficial agronomic, ecological and economic features, GM foods is hoped to improve the nutrition and health of people, in particular in poor regions of the world. „Golden Rice“ is a prominent example of a genetically modified food, which contains more iron and provitamin A (beta-carotene) compared to conventional rice types. It is supposed to counteract nutritional deficiencies and unbalanced diets in poor regions where rice is a staple food. The golden rice project originated in the 1990s and was supported by various foundations and companies. Today the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) mainly promotes this project. Small farmers with an annual turnover of up to 10,000 Dollars receive the seeds free of charge. Furthermore, they do not have to pay for licensing fees, and generating offspring and reseeding is allowed.

International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Online Version

In July 2016, over 100 Nobel laureates signed a petition demanding support for the cultivation of golden rice and other GM foods. In the petition, they encourage governments to make the commercial cultivation of genetically modified plants legal. In view of scientific studies that show the safety of genetically modified foods, the laureates asked that Greenpeace give up its protests against the cultivation of golden rice. Given the expected benefit in terms of balanced diets and improved health, in particular for impoverished populations, the laureates urge to allow the cultivation of GM plants.

Letter Supporting “Precision Agriculture (GMOs)”  Online Version

Some critics find fault with the intransparency of some agricultural corporations, particularly the lack of reliable empirical data. So far, studies have not sufficiently shown that provitamin A can be metabolized into Vitamin A and that its concentration is high enough even after storage and preparation. Critics also point out that the real problem is not the lack of Vitamin A in rice but consists in malnutrition generally, a problem that could not be solved by GM rice alone. Other strategies, which have already been successfully implemented in some poorer regions in Africa, are more promising, such as the distribution of vitamin A supplements, vitamin A enrichment of staple foods and expanding the cultivation of fruit and vegetable gardens. That is why some critics harbor the suspicion that the actual purpose of golden rice is not to promote humanitarian causes but rather the interests of lobbyists to increase the acceptance of GM foods in society.

Golden rice has been approved as food and feed in a number of countries, e.g. Australia and New Zealand (2017), Canada (2018), USA (2018), and the Philipines (2019). Authorities have come to the conclusion that golden rice does not pose any discernible risks to health and the environment.

Further information:

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2016): Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23395. Online Version

Manjeru, P. / van Biljon, A. / Labuschagne, M. ( 2019): The development and release of maize fortified with provitamin A carotenoids in developing countries. In: Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 59 (8), 1284–1293. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2017.1402751 Online Version

Napier, J. A. / Haslam, R. P. / Tsalavouta, M. / Sayanova, O. (2019): The challenges of delivering genetically modified crops with nutritional enhancement traits. In: Nature Plants 5, 563–567. doi: 10.1038/s41477-019-0430-z Online Version

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