THE objection that experts and food safety campaigners have raised to Golden rice, the variety which is said to be rich in Vitamin A, converted from beta carotene, appears to be worth pondering for the government, especially when the government is almost ready to make the commercial release of the rice variety. Discussants at the programme that the Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labour Federation and the National Women Farmers and Workers’ Association organised in Dhaka on Thursday further said that contrary to the claim that multinational companies and marketers make, the variety of the genetically modified rice contains very low level of Vitamin A. Besides, the rice variety cannot hold beta carotene, which converts into Vitamin A, for long, even six months, after harvest. Experts and activists at the discussion, therefore, called all that the marketers and multinational companies say ‘a sheer propaganda’ and called for a ban on the commercial release of the rice variety. A research, published in the British Journal of Food Chemistry in April, says that the rice cannot hold the beta carotene for long unless it is kept in a refrigerated, vacuum condition, which is almost absent in Bangladesh.
All this suggests that the rice variety is highly unlikely to benefit the poor the way it is projected to. Studies also show that Asian countries are abundant in natural sources containing beta carotene. Hundred grams of the best quality Golden rice can have 2,281 micrograms of beta carotene which is roughly the amount found in almost all green leafy vegetables. The lowest amount of beta carotene that 100 grams of green leafy vegetable can provide is 2,199 micrograms and 100 grams of carrots 8,300 micrograms. Golden rice can, moreover, only become an effective source of Vitamin A when it is taken with food containing fat, which is required for beta carotene to convert into Vitamin A. The intended targeted consumers — the poor, that is, in developing countries — can hardly afford fat in their diets. While all these studies contradict the marketers’ claim that the crop would help fight Vitamin A deficiency in the poor sections in developing world, the government should review the short- and, long-term impact of the crop on health and environment which are still unknown.
The government, under the circumstances, must rethink the commercial release of the genetically modified variety of rice, considering both the benefits and hazards. There should be no scope for the government and agencies dealing with agriculture and the environment to buy into the lofty words that multinational companies have so far made Golden rice.
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