vitamin A enriched rice

Geneticists give away Vitamin-A enriched rice freely to the third world.

The creators of a genetically engineered vitamin-A enriched “golden” rice Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer announced on the 16th May that they were doing a deal with agro-chemical corporation Astra-Zeneca. Astra-Zeneca will get to market the rice in rich countries, particularly Japan as a “functional food” and the technology will be given away freely to the third world.

The announcement was a carefully staged public relations exercise. The scientists are being portrayed as independent of the biotech industry; no mention was made of the close links between Ingo Potrykus and the biotech giant Novartis. Potrykus even publicly denounced patenting despite the fact that he admits that they have filed a patent application on the rice. He also has an interest in 30 plant-related patents, mostly belonging to Novartis. Novartis are in the process of merging their agricultural biotechnology operation with that of Astra-Zeneca to form a new company Syngenta.

Potrykus and his team are also developing an iron enriched rice and Monsanto are promising a vitamin-A enriched mustard, both of which will be “given” to third world countries. Several years of breeding work in Third world agricultural research institutes will be needed before the enriched crops will reach farmers. There is no guarantee that the three alien genes used in the vitamin-A rice, two from a daffodil and one from a bacterium, will successfully incorporate into other strains of rice or produce viable plants in the field.

Most breeding work is likely to take place at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based in the Philippines. IRRI developed many of the Green Revolution rice strains, and have already began testing their first transgenic rice which is engineered to be resistant to bacterial blight.

At least 40% of the worldÂ’s population suffer malnutrition caused by vitamin and mineral deficences, especially in iron, vitamin A, iodine, zinc and selenium. The World Health Organisation estimates that 2.8 million children under five currently have severe vitamin-A deficiency, known as xerophthalmia, that causes permanent blindness in 500,000 children a year.

Vitamin-A is available in animal products and from dark green leafy vegetables, carrots, pumpkins and mangoes. The introduction of monoculture cropping and reliance on herbicides destroys the abundant wild plants once harvested from rice fields.

The research into the GE vitamin-A enriched rice was largely funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. As Vandana Shiva points out, this is “the agency which had launched the chemical agriculture in Asia through the Green Revolution which led to erosion of biodiversity and of diverse sources of nutrition for the poor”

There are potential health dangers of vitamin-A enriched foods. These foods may cause people to have excess vitamin A, known as hypervitaminosis A, which can cause many symptoms of illness.

Asia receives 80% of its daily calorie intake from rice. Genetically engineered rice strains will make a lot of money for those who own the patented genes, but do nothing to alleviate the hunger of millions who lack the means to buy, produce or gather enough food.


“Genetically Engineered Vitamin-A Rice: A Blind Approach To Blindness Prevention” by Dr.Vandana Shiva

“The “Golden Rice” – A Big Illusion?” by Florianne Koechlin,of the Blauen-Institut

“Engineering Solutions To Malnutrition”, Seedling March 2000, online magazine of Genetic Resource Action International (GRAIN)