GMWatch, 30 March 2015



he “miracle” cure has been “coming soon” for a decade and a half! Jonathan Matthews reports

Charles Margulis of the Centre for Environmental Health has been following the GMO golden rice project for many years and has kept a collection of quotes (listed below), documenting a decade and a half’s worth of failed promises of the crop’s imminent arrival. This has made him wonder whether golden rice should be considered vaporware – something that’s announced with great fanfare to the media and the public but which never actually becomes available.

Patrick Moore offered a glass of glyphosateThe most recent fanfare comes from Patrick Moore (right) – now notorious for the interview in which he refused to drink the Roundup herbicide he claims is safe to drink by the quart! – with his Allow Golden Rice Now campaign. The name of the campaign is itself a lie – the “Now” implies that golden rice is already available for use and that it is a proven “cure” for Vitamin A Deficiency, so all we have to do is remove any unnecessary obstacles. But none of this is true.

Despite the cover of TIME magazine proclaiming a decade and a half ago, “This rice could save a million kids a year” and the project having been launched as far back as 1985, golden rice still is not ready, as is clear from the revealing collection of quotes below.

And it’s important to emphasise that this delay is entirely down to over-promising and failure to deliver and not, as the likes of Patrick Moore like to claim, due to pushback from golden rice’s critics. The New York Times reporter Amy Harmon, who has reported sympathetically on golden rice, confirms that she has never seen any convincing evidence activism has significantly delayed the production of Golden Rice.

Meanwhile in the Philippines, one of the main target countries for golden rice, dramatic declines in Vitamin A deficiency have been achieved using already available non-GMO methods. And as the final quote below from UNICEF makes plain, methods of tackling VAD have been available throughout the period in which we have been told to imminently expect the arrival of golden rice.

Imagine if all the multi-million dollar budgets and PR energy that have been lavished on golden rice had gone instead into making these simple proven approaches more widely available. How many children’s lives could have been dramatically improved or saved?

As the World Food Prize winner Hans Herren has lamented, “We already know today that most of the problems that are to be addressed via golden rice and other GMOs can be resolved in a matter of days, with the right political will.”

Finally, this excellent video shows how people in the Philippines are responding critically to golden rice.

Isn’t it about time politicians and the mainstream media started listening to voices like theirs, rather than to GMO lobbyists like Patrick Moore and their vaporware promises?

Quotes on GMO Golden Rice: 15 years of failure

Collected by Charles Margulis (@kvetchinguru on Twitter) – edits/additions by GMWatch

Aug 2000
AstraZeneca [now Syngenta] speculates that it “could have vitamin A rice in farmers’ fields as early as 2003.”

Nov 2000
“If everything goes well, within two to three years, golden rice varieties will be made available free to farmers earning less than $10,000 a year from the crop.”

Feb 2003
“When Golden Rice finally gets a commercial release in 2007, it will come free to all those in the developing countries who earn less than $10,000 a year.”

“Before the second generation of golden rice [the first never emerged] is commercially produced, it must first be approved by the countries where it is to be planted, which could take several more years.”

“Syngenta is making the rice available for free to research centres across Asia, who will, if they are given the go-ahead by their governments, begin field trials – probably within the next five years.”

“Golden rice is likely to be permitted between years 2011 and 2012 should field tests yield positive results.”

“It was supposed to prevent blindness and death from vitamin A deficiency in millions of children. But almost a decade after its invention, golden rice is still stuck in the lab… The first field trial of golden rice in Asia started only this month. Its potential to prevent the ravages of vitamin A deficiency has yet to be tested, and even by the most optimistic projections, no farmer will plant the rice before 2011.”

“Scientists say they have seen the future of genetically modified foods… In a few months, golden rice – normal rice that has been genetically modified to provide vitamin A to counter blindness and other diseases in children in the developing world – will be given to farmers in the Philippines for planting in paddy fields. Thirty years after scientists first revealed they had created the world’s first GM crop, hopes that their potential to ease global malnutrition problems may be realised at last.”

“This article [see quote above] was amended on 13 March 2013. Originally it said that golden rice would be given to farmers in the Philippines “in a few months”. It is still undergoing a registration process and may not be released until next year at the earliest.”

“The first round of MLTs [multi-location field trials] was conducted … in 2012-13 to assess how well this version of Golden Rice would perform in different locations in the Philippines. Preliminary results were mixed… The initial results indicate that more research is needed, with greater focus on increasing yield… the developments described above will result in a delay in the timeline.”

“Golden Rice will only be made broadly available to farmers and consumers if it is: (a) successfully developed into rice varieties that retain the same yield, pest resistance, and grain quality – agronomic and eating traits acceptable to farmers and consumers – as current popular rice varieties; (b) deemed safe and approved by national regulators; and (c) shown to improve vitamin A status under community conditions.”

UNICEF (2001)
“Delivery of two high-dose vitamin A capsules a year to children under five prevents vitamin A deficiency.”