Golden Rice, Open Innovation and Sustainable Global Food Security


Over the past 15 years, the tale of Golden Rice (GR: rice genetically engineered to express carotenoids in grain endosperm) has been told and retold many times, in many contexts by numerous advocates, stakeholders, opponents, and academics. In a recent issue of The Economist, the esteemed Lord Taverne made abundantly clear that ‘‘Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have blocked the commercial cultivation of Golden Rice, a food which could have prevented millions of children in Asia going blind from Vitamin A deficiency.’’ From a humanitarian standpoint, GR broadly exemplifies how advanced agricultural biotechnology (agbiotech) can contribute to sustainable global food security by alleviating chronic hunger, poverty, and malnutrition (and more specifically, in the case of GR, disorders related to vitamin A deficiency [VAD] such as blindness); GR has even received the personal blessing of His Holiness Pope Francis. Activists against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) portray GR as an apocalyptic menace that will usher in catastrophic global consequences (e.g., exacerbate malnutrition and undermine food security), and use it as a rallying cry to alert the world to the presumed potential dangers and risk to our safety that it and agbiotech products to follow portend. It is therefore not surprising that GR has been analyzed and discussed in the context of regulation of agbiotech crops, with over a decade of scrupulously cautious regulatory delays in deployment. These delays, incidentally, have most likely generated a significant cost, both monetary and in human suffering (attributable to preventable VAD blindness).

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Industrial Biotechnology

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Invited contribution.