It’s an article of faith among many environmentalists that genetically modified (GM) foods are bad. Why? Apparently because they came out a laboratory and science is bad (never mind that virtually all the foods we already eat were already genetically modified, by painstaking selective breeding by our ancestors over thousands of years). Of course, refusing to even consider new disease- and pest-resistant strains, or more nutritious versions, of staple crops is likely to have consequences, and indeed it has. In fact millions of children have died and huge numbers have gone blind because of the opposition to GM, according to the Guardian, pointing to one new strain in particular — Golden Rice.
- Golden Rice, so called because of its pleasing saffron color, was developed two decades ago to provide a variant of normal white rice that is rich in Vitamin A, in order to prevent pediatric blindness and death resulting from this nutritional deficiency. Scientists inserted a gene responsible for the synthesis of betacarotene into the ordinary rice genome, resulting in the color change.
- Roughly a third of children under the age of 5 globally suffer from Vitamin A deficiency, killing around 2,000 children per day. The deficiency also causes blindness.
- Opposition to GM foods have prevented adoption of Golden Rice in most of the countries it was intended to help, meaning millions of children have perished in the interim, and will continue to do so as long as the bans remain, according to the scientists who developed the special strain.
- Opposition came from environmental groups like Greenpeace as well as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which went into effect in 2003. The Protocol’s Principle 15 blocks introduction of anything which might possibly pose a threat to human health — which somehow applies to Golden Rice under the doctrine of “guilty until proven innocent.” Go figure. Sorry kids!