THE agriculture minister on January 31 said that golden rice was to be commercially released soon. But the authorities should have considered the studies that have showed that vitamin A, converted from beta carotene, is very low in genetically modified golden rice and that the rice is also unable to hold the biochemical element for long after harvest. Unless preserved in a refrigerated condition in vacuum packaging as paddy, golden rice loses up to 84 per cent of its beta carotene in six months, as research shows. The degradation of beta carotene level, as New Age reported on Thursday, gets faster with processing and the degradation is the highest in polished golden rice, a research published in the British journal Food Chemistry says. The research notes that rice is always eaten after processing and it is in this state that rice is stored in Asian countries. High temperature and humidity also accelerate the rate of degradation of beta carotene. Besides, cooking can destroy up to 25 per cent of beta carotene.
The national committee on biosafety approved five genetically modified agricultural crops, including rice, potato and cotton, for confined trial farming after the commercial farming of Bt brinjal. But the authorities need to note that besides the recent findings, a biotechnology professor in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University also said that beta carotene was generally considered a highly stable biochemical element but now it was clear that beta carotene gets degraded rapidly. Such findings show that golden rice campaign to help to fight vitamin A deficiency would not work. Green activists also campaign that Asian countries are abundant in natural sources containing beta carotene. They are particularly against golden rice and other genetically modified crops and say that scientists are unaware of the harmful impact of such crops on public health. Even the food and health regulators the developed countries have found beta carotene concentration in golden rice to be very low, refusing to accept it as a nutritious grain. All these genetically modified crops were originally developed by the US-based seed giant Monsanto and BARI received the technology from India’s Mahyco that is affiliated to Monsanto.
It is unacceptable that when GM crops and foods based on them are barred from entering the US and EU markets and the farming of these crops are banned in India and the Philippines, the government is serving the interest of Monsanto and Mahyco at the expense of Bangladesh’s poor population. Conscious sections of society need to mount pressure on the government to rethink its harmful move to cultivate these crops, including golden rice.