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Golden Rice Opponents Should Be Held Accountable for Health Problems Linked to Vitamin A Deficiency

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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By 2002, Golden Rice was technically ready to go. Animal testing had found no health risks. Syngenta, which had figured out how to insert the Vitamin A–producing gene from carrots into rice, had handed all financial interests over to a non-profit organization, so there would be no resistance to the life-saving technology from GMO opponents who resist genetic modification because big biotech companies profit from it. Except for the regulatory approval process, Golden Rice was ready to start saving millions of lives and preventing tens of millions of cases of blindness in people around the world who suffer from Vitamin A deficiency.

Golden Rice grain compared to white rice grain in screenhouse of Golden Rice plants. / Credit: IRRI via Flickr

It’s still not in use anywhere, however, because of the opposition to GM technology. Now two agricultural economists, one from the Technical University of Munich, the other from the University of California, Berkeley, have quantified the price of that opposition, in human health, and the numbers are truly frightening.

Their study, published in the journal Environment and Development Economics, estimates that the delayed application of Golden Rice in India alone has cost 1,424,000 life years since 2002. That odd sounding metric – not just lives but ‘life years’ – accounts not only for those who died, but also for the blindness and other health disabilities that Vitamin A deficiency causes. The majority of those who went blind or died because they did not have access to Golden Rice were children.

These are real deaths, real disability, real suffering, not the phantom fears about the human health effects of Golden Rice thrown around by opponents, none of which have held up to objective scientific scrutiny. It is absolutely fair to charge that opposition to this particular application of genetically modified food has contributed to the deaths of and injuries to millions of people. The opponents of Golden Rice who have caused this harm should be held accountable.

That includes Greenpeace, which in its values statement promises, “we are committed to nonviolence.” Only their non-violent opposition to Golden Rice contributes directly to real human death and suffering. It includes the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility, which claims the credibility of scientific expertise, and then denies or distorts scientific evidence in order to oppose GMOs. It includes the U.S. Center for Food Safety and the Sierra Club and several environmental groups who deny and distort the scientific evidence on GM foods every bit as much as they complain the deniers of climate change science do. It includes the Non-GMO Project, started by natural food retailers who oppose a technology that just happens to threaten their profits.

Society needs groups like Greenpeace and other environmental organizations to hold big companies accountable when they put their profits before our health, as they too often do. But society also has the right to hold advocates accountable when they let their passions blind them to the facts and, in pursuit of their values, put us at risk. Let’s be absolutely clear. That is precisely what opposition to genetic modification of food is doing, as the study of the Golden Rice delay in India makes sobering clear.

Credit: IRRI via Flickr

And Golden Rice is just one example. There are several other applications of GM technology that could contribute to food security and reduce hunger and starvation. Skeptics like the Union of Concerned Scientists criticize GM technology for not having fulfilled this promise. But that’s because opposition has prevented these products from coming to the market in the first place. It’s pretty tough to keep a promise you’re not allowed to try to keep in the first place. Opposition to several GMO applications, based on fears that don’t stand up against evidence from extensive safety testing, is denying people food and nutrition, and doing real harm.

The whole GMO issue is really just one example of a far more profound threat to your health and mine. The perception of risk is inescapably subjective, a matter of not just the facts, but how we feel about those facts. As pioneering risk perception psychologist Paul Slovic has said, “risk is a feeling.” So societal arguments over risk issues like Golden Rice and GMOs, or guns or climate change or vaccines, are not mostly about the evidence, though we wield the facts as our weapons. They are mostly about how we feel, and our values, and which group’s values win, not what will objectively do the most people the most good. That’s a dumb and dangerous way to make public risk management decisions.

When advocates get so passionate in the fight for their values that they potentially impose harm on others, it puts us all at risk, and we have the right to call attention to those potential harms and hold those advocates accountable. And this is much broader than just GMOs:

  • Delay on dealing with climate change exposes us all to much greater risk. We should hold responsible those whose ideology-driven denial of climate change is responsible for some of that risk.
  • Resistance to anything to make it harder for bad guys to get guns puts us all at risk. Society should hold responsible the paranoid arch-conservatism that has created resistance to any prudent gun control and contributed to that risk.
  • Parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids put others in their communities at risk. They certainly should be held accountable for this, and in some places, that’s beginning. Several states are trying to pass laws making it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinating their kids.

To hold advocacy groups accountable, people could refuse to belong to or financially support these groups, and thus avoid personally contributing to the harm. They could belong to the groups but protest certain positions from within. They could chose to stand up to these groups in public meetings and respectfully challenge them to answer for the negative consequences and tradeoffs of what these groups espouse. A more skeptical press could challenge these groups about the harm that some of their positions can cause. Scientists can provide hard evidence about the negative impacts of the positions of these groups, as this new economic study does.

Scientists can also hold advocates accountable by demanding reasoned debate, in public forums, as GMO researchers did in 2012 in the U.K. When anti-GMO groups threatened to trash field trials of GM wheat, researchers invited them to debate the issue first, in public, with this challenge to open-mindedness:

“You have described genetically modified crops as ‘not properly tested’. Yet when tests are carried out you are planning to destroy them before any useful information can be obtained. We do not see how preventing the acquisition of knowledge is a defensible position in an age of reason.”

Anti-GMO protestors, who claimed they were just trying to “Take Back the Flour”, first accepted and then refused. The British press and many in the public held them accountable, rejecting the advocates’ closed-mindedness.

Such efforts need to continue, and expand, on GMOs and any other emotional risk issue. Our values must always have a place in these debates. But when those values cause people to become so closed-minded and absolute that they deny or distort the evidence, and refuse to acknowledge the harmful consequences that our values can sometimes produce, it is fair for society to hold those advocates accountable for pursuing things so stridently that they are putting the larger community at greater risk.

Disclosure statement: I’ve done general lecturing on the psychology of risk perception, focusing at least in part on agricultural issues, for Bayer Crop Science and the European Crop Protection Association. I’ve presented the same material, for pay, to the EPA in Kansas, Society of Toxicology and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the U.N. Before I was a consultant, as part of my job at Harvard School of Public Health, I gave similar presentations at DuPont and Dow.

David Ropeik About the Author: David Ropeik is an Instructor at the Harvard Extension School and author of 'How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match the Facts'. Follow on Twitter @dropeik.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Comments 61 Comments

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  1. 1. mem from somerville 8:43 am 03/15/2014

    I am with Rich Roberts (Nobel Prize winner), who called for this:
    “The green parties are playing politics. About one-and-a-half [million] to two million children are affected by Vitamin A deficiency. It’s a crime against humanity … If I can get support from a philanthropist, I will file a case in the international court of justice.’’

    I’d quit my job in an instant to help get this case to the Court of Justice.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Marc Levesque 10:14 am 03/15/2014

    “By 2002, Golden Rice was technically ready to go. Animal testing had found no health risks [...] ready to start saving millions of lives and preventing tens of millions of cases of blindness in people around the world who suffer from Vitamin A deficiency”

    *Technically* ready to go?

    By 2002 GR1 based versions of golden rice were still producing unexpectatively low levels of vitamin A making them of doubful use to alleviate deficiency.

    It was only by around 2005 that a GR2 based version had a vitamin A content up to expectations, 20 to 30 times higher than previous GR1 versions.

    Link to this
  3. 3. RodAdams 11:01 am 03/15/2014


    Anti-technology activists seem to be most successful when they are fighting technologies that threaten the current market domination of vested interests.

    For example, nuclear energy growth would make fossil fuels, wind turbines and solar panels worth less. Not worthless, mind you, but the increased energy supply and the improved optionality would reduce energy market prices substantially.

    Genetically modified products are often superior to the existing products; allowing them to compete on a level playing field would result in a decreasing market share for the existing inferior products.

    Greenpeace-style activism campaigns are not cheap, it is important to think about “qui bono” (who benefits) in order to begin an investigation to “follow the money.”

    That kind of research can begin to reveal the deep pocket perpetrators of anti-technology campaigns that harm most of us for the benefit of the select few.

    I’ve been documenting “smoking gun” research at Atomic Insights for quite a few years. (‘Smoking gun’ is a category on the site that refers to evidence of antinuclear activity from people who have financial interests in coal, oil, natural gas, wind turbines, solar panels, biofuels or geothermal energy.)

    It has been interesting to help people understand the sources of the real power behind the war on atomic energy.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights

    Link to this
  4. 4. ironjustice 11:59 am 03/15/2014

    Does one count the number of farmer suicides due to the use of GM seeds?
    “Every 30 minutes an Indian farmer commits suicide as result of GM seeds”
    I didn’t think so. As soon as ‘scientists’ begin to appear in longterm lockup for their actions, then, maybe, they can talk about others and their ‘respect’ for human life. They should appear in court in China.
    “GM crop use makes minor pests major problem”
    I wonder if they would hang?

    Link to this
  5. 5. mem from somerville 12:20 pm 03/15/2014

    @ironjustice: See, now, here’s exactly the problem. The kind of misinformation you are flogging here is, in fact, more harmful to farmers. We have the data to show that this suicide claim is false. (be sure to read the “long piece” linked in there.)

    So if you blame the wrong thing–just like folks blame vaccines for autism–you don’t address the real issues. You could ban the seeds tomorrow and you won’t have done a damn thing to help the farmers.

    Link to this
  6. 6. ironjustice 1:24 pm 03/15/2014

    “He went on to say that he had never in his career encountered a genuine case of farmer suicide”

    One could say it all comes down to interpretation? No suicides whatsoever?

    Link to this
  7. 7. Carlyle 4:51 pm 03/15/2014

    I agree David. Time to hold the blowtorch to the belly of these activists.

    Link to this
  8. 8. kebil 9:20 pm 03/15/2014

    The article cites the number of “life years” lost in India due to the delay in implementing Golden Rice, and says that “Life years” accounts for blindness, quality of life, etc. This is not exactly true. Life years would be the number of years of life lost alone. What I believe the author means is either QALY’s (Quality of Life Adjusted Years – commonly used in health economics, pharmacoeconomics, epidemiology) or DALY’s (Disability of Life Adjusted Years – preferred by WHO, and used in many of the same areas as QALY’s, but here the emphasis is on disability more the quality of life). There is also something called “Healthy Life Years”, which I am not as familiar with. Of course, I could be wrong, but I do research work on pharmacoepidemiology and have read a blizzard of studies using QALY’s and DALY’s, but have never come across “Life Years”. If I am wrong, however, I would like to be corrected. Has anybody else come across “Life Years”?

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  9. 9. FlexibleArrangement 6:21 am 03/16/2014

    @5. ironjustice

    “… One could say it all comes down to interpretation? No suicides whatsoever?”

    I note with some amusement that you did not respond to the proposition that the “Every 30 minutes an Indian farmer commits suicide as result of GM seeds” claim is false.

    Why did you not respond? Is it because there is insufficient evidence to support the suicide claim when viewed calmly and dispassionately?

    Link to this
  10. 10. luxornow 10:39 am 03/16/2014

    It is important not to make this only a GMO argument.

    The issue is nutrition, and if Vitamin A is needed, there are other ways to get it as well. Golden rice is not the exclusive solution.

    Many kinds of edible greens are rich in vitamins and carotenoids, much richer than the amounts in the golden rice.

    Getting better agriculture support for growing greens in as many localities as possible will save lives while the GMO debate continues.

    Link to this
  11. 11. FarmerGuy 12:27 pm 03/16/2014

    “Getting better agriculture support for growing greens in as many localities as possible will save lives while the GMO debate continues.”

    The people affected’s entire infrastructure and rural culture revolves around the cultivation of rice. They are not going to remove rice paddies to grow leafy greens. The technology is available and will be given away for FREE if Greenpeace would stop holding this process up in courts that are easily swayed by their propaganda and money.

    There is no scientific debate about GMO, only a political one.

    Link to this
  12. 12. David Cummings 6:26 pm 03/16/2014

    Who is blocking golden rice in India? Greenpeace? That doesn’t seem likely.

    It’s got to be the Indian Government. So why are they blocking it and what are they saying about it?

    Link to this
  13. 13. Marc Levesque 6:28 pm 03/16/2014


    Blaming Green Peace or ‘activists’ is not going to help. You might as well blame the GMO industries’ hype, exagerations, and unscientific claims.

    Multiple solutions to vitamin a deficiency are available. Extreme poverty, and the malnutrition that follows, are the biggest causes. The research presented in the above article is of little scientific value, many unrealistic assumptions are made, and some of them, like the assumption that the Golden rice version available in 2002 would have been a viable route to alleviate deficiency is false.

    You can read the research presented in the article and follow the links I gave in my previous comment.

    Link to this
  14. 14. earthlover 8:18 pm 03/16/2014

    “When Public Relations replaces Science

    by Dr. Vandana Shiva

    “Golden Rice”: A technology for creating Vitamin A deficiency.

    Golden rice has been heralded as the miracle cure for malnutrition and hunger of which 800m members of
    the human community suffer.

    Herbicide resistant and toxin producing genetically engineered plants can be objectionable because of their
    ecological and social costs. But who could possibly object to rice engineered to produce vitamin A, a
    deficiency found in nearly 3 million children, largely in the Third World?

    As remarked by Mary Lou Guerinot, the author of the Commentary on Vitamin A rice in Science, one
    can only hope that this application of plant genetic engineering to ameliorate human misery without regard
    to short term profit will restore this technology to political acceptability.

    Unfortunately, Vitamin A rice is a hoax, and will bring further dispute to plant genetic engineering where
    public relations exercises seem to have replaced science in promotion of untested, unproven and
    unnecessary technology.

    The problem is that vitamin A rice will not remove vitamin A deficiency (VAD). It will seriously
    aggravate it. It is a technology that fails in its promise.

    Currently, it is not even known how much vitamin JA the genetically engineered rice will produce. The
    goal is 33.3% micrograms/100g of rice. Even if this goal is reached after a few years, it will be totally
    ineffective in removing VAD.

    Since the daily average requirement of vitamin A is 750 micrograms of vitamin A and 1 serving contains
    30g of rice according to dry weight basis, vitamin A rice would only provide 9.9 micrograms which is
    1.32% of the required allowance. Even taking the 100g figure of daily consumption of rice used in the
    technology transfer paper would only provide 4.4% of the RDA.

    In order to meet the full needs of 750 micrograms of vitamin A from rice, an adult would have to
    consume 2 kg 272g of rice per day. This implies that one family member would consume the entire
    family ration of 10 kg. from the PDS in 4 days to meet vitaminA needs through “Golden rice”.

    This is a recipe for creating hunger and malnutrition, not solving it.

    Besides creating vitamin A deficiency, vitamin A rice will also create deficiency in other micronutrients
    and nutrients. Raw milled rice has a low content of Fat (0.5g/100g). Since fat is necessary for vitamin A
    uptake, this will aggravate vitamin A deficiency. It also has only 6.8g/100g of protein, which means less
    carrier molecules. It has only 0.7g/100g of iron, which plays a vital role in the conversion of Betacarotene
    (precursor of vitamin A found in plant sources) to vitamin A.
    Superior Alternatives exist and are effective.

    A far more efficient route to removing vitamin A deficiency is biodiversity conservation and propagation
    of naturally vitamin A rich plants in agriculture and diets.

    Table 1 gives sources rich in vitamin A used commonly in Indian foods.
    Source Hindi name/ Content (microgram/100g)
    (Amaranth leaves) Chauli saag=266-1,166 -
    (Coriander leaves) – Dhania=1,166-1,333
    (Cabbage) Bandh gobi=217
    (Curry leaves)-Curry patta=1,333
    (Drumstick leaves)-Saijan patta1=283
    (Fenugreek leaves)-Methi-ka-saag=450
    (Radish leaves)-Mooli-ka-saag=750
    (Spinach)-Palak saag=600
    (Pumpkin (yellow))-Kaddu=100-120
    (Mango (ripe))-Aam=500
    (Tomato (ripe))-Tamatar=32
    (Milk (cow, buffalo))-Doodh=50-60
    (Egg (hen))-Anda=300-400
    (Liver (Goat, sheep))-Kalegi=6,600 – 10,000
    Cod liver oil=10,000 – 100,000

    In spite of the diversity of plants evolved and bred for their rich vitamin A content, a report of the Major
    Science Academies of the World – Royal Society, U.K., National Academy of Sciences of the USA, The
    Third World Academy of Science, Indian National Science Academy, Mexican Academy of Sciences,
    Chinese Academy of Sciences, Brazilian Academy of Sciences – on Transgenic Plants and World
    Agriculture has stated, Vitamin A deficiency causes half a million children to become partially or totally
    blind each year.

    Traditional breeding methods have been unsuccessful in producing crops containing a high vitamin A
    concentration and most national authorities rely on expensive and complicated supplementation programs
    to address the problem. Researchers have introduced three new genes into rice, two from daffodils and
    one from a microorganism. The transgenic rice exhibits an increased production of betacarotene as a
    precursor to vitamin A and the seed in yellow in colour. Such yellow, or golden rice, may be a useful tool
    to help treat the problem of vitamin A deficiency in young children living in the tropics.

    It appears as if the world’s top scientists suffer a more severe form of blindness than children in poor
    countries. The statement that “traditional breeding has been unsuccessful in producing crops high in
    vitamin A” is not true given the diversity of plants and crops that Third World farmers, especially women
    have bred and used which are rich sources of vitamin A such as coriander, amaranth, carrot, pumpkin,
    mango, jackfruit.

    It is also untrue that vitamin A rice will lead to increased production of betacarotene. Even if the target
    of 33.3 microgram of vitamin A in 100g of rice is achieved, it will be only 2.8% of betacarotene we can
    obtain from amaranth leaves 2.4% of betacarotene obtained from coriander leaves, curry leaves and
    drumstick leaves.
    Even the World Bank has admitted that rediscovering and use of local plants and conservation of vitamin
    A rich green leafy vegetables and fruits have dramatically reduced VAD threatened children over the past
    20 years in very cheap and efficient ways. Women in Bengal use more than 200 varieties of field greens.
    Over a 3 million people have benefited greatly from a food based project for removing VAD by increasing
    vitamin A availability through home gardens. The higher the diversity crops the better the uptake of
    pro-vitamin A.

    The reason there is vitamin A deficiency in India in spite of the rich biodiversity a base and indigenous
    knowledge base in India is because the Green Revolution technologies wiped out biodiversity by
    converting mixed cropping systems to monocultures of wheat and rice and by spreading the use of
    herbicides which destroy field greens.”

    It is sad to see science selling out for corporate profits. And to accuse those who want to preserve that biodiversity in order to save lives murderers while they lie to protect their own profits is the lowest of lows.

    Link to this
  15. 15. ironjustice 10:13 pm 03/16/2014

    “I note with some amusement that you did not respond”

    I thought I had. I left, in quotes, the ‘take’ of one of the people directly involved in the decision of whether there were increased farmer suicides? He didn’t even find one, contrary to the assertion there are thousands. So, interpretation of the evidence, he found none, others, same evidence, found thousands. That’s why I pointed it out, what I considered the answer to your assertion there are no increased suicides. So, as an analogy, Alberta cows were not falling down, according to the sources in Alberta. But using logic the cops were able to nail them because everybody else had downer cows. Now, one can say all the farmers suicides are due to not being able to handle the ‘wealth’ or due to his drunkeness, but, those who use simple logic and see lending money to someone who cannot pay it back, at 800% interest which results in his wife and kids having to work for all their lives to pay it back, THAT caused his suicide, the golden rice scenario killed him, indirectly.

    Link to this
  16. 16. Heteromeles 2:36 pm 03/17/2014

    I’d add that it’s interesting that real concerns around crops that are engineered to be pesticide-resistant or to express natural pesticides like BT have been plowed, willy-nilly into the fight over golden rice.

    I’d also note that (per Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums and other research), solving food shortages isn’t as simple as changing the crops or even fiddling with Indian Law. Much of the problem of rural poverty relates directly to issues with globalization and policies by the World Bank, IMF, and western governments to force borrower countries to industrialize their agriculture, to assume ruinous international loans, and to dedicate much of their economies to paying off the interest on these loans, rather than invest it in things like sanitation, health, or improving farming conditions. While I’m ambivalent about the ethics of golden rice, I doubt that, even if it is planted, it will improve lives as much as its backers hope. Famine is as much a political problem as a supply and demand problem.

    Link to this
  17. 17. Retpro1 2:43 pm 03/17/2014

    Articles in Scientific American and Consumer Reports both state that some strains of rice contain arsenic.

    Link to this
  18. 18. greenhome123 2:53 pm 03/17/2014

    I am not against golden rice, but if one is concerned about reducing vitamin A deficiency around the world then there are far more affordable, efficient, and effective ways of doing that than golden rice. For instance, one could fly over areas with high rate of vitamin A deficiency and parachute millions of pill bottles full of vitamin A tablets, and leaflets describing the importance of vitamin A, and instructions for growing ones own home garden. My problem with the golden rice is that it does not solve the root problem, and only masks it. The problem is that millions of people are so poor that all they can afford to eat is rice. The golden rice will prevent their vitamin A deficiency, but these people are still only eating rice, and they are still most likely deficient in other vitamins like B12, etc. Also, I think it is wrong to assume that Syngenta has no financial interest in the golden rice, and that they are giving it away out of the goodness of their heart. I would not be surprised if the non-porfit organization that Syngenta gave their golden rice to was somehow financially tied to Syngenta behind the scenes.

    Link to this
  19. 19. bungay lad 5:14 pm 03/17/2014

    Mankind has practiced selective breeding of plant and animals to include us, for centuries. GMOs are nothing more than extension of that work. Whether Yellow Rice or another organism is developed with GMO technology or traditional selective breeding technology, there are risks. Evolution itself is selective breeding. As a society we must have appropriate guidelines to minimize risk. However, we must be free to utilize all the methods known and yet to be derived to further develop organisms needed for the enhancement and very survival of our species and habitat. There is a substantial difference between calculated risk and unsubstantiated fear. At times, groups like Greenpeace exploit fear for political purposes. We need guidelines to limit exploitation of unsubstantiated fears for political gain as well.

    Link to this
  20. 20. j_kedar 5:57 pm 03/17/2014

    Have a heart David! And cut the xxxx out nutritonal value of an idiotic GM experiment. There is more vitamin A and D and n number of fun for kids to boot in mango, milk. Sitting in Switzerland and Harvard you haven’t a clue about nutritional requirements of Indian kids. You and your GM friends can make your millions finding other poor suckers. Rice is part of diet for carbohydrate, pulses is for protein, etc. etc. stuff is fruits and vegetables.Happy patenting mango reinforced with starch.

    Link to this
  21. 21. wjohnfaust 6:21 pm 03/17/2014

    So would you like to count the number of mistakes we have made (unintended consequences) by the rapid introduction of technological “advance?”

    If golden rice is needed to solve a serious problem like vitamim A deficiency, shouldn’t we be asking why this deficiency exists? I don’t think the root cause is the absence of golden rice from the planet. Maybe we should focus on the root cause.

    Link to this
  22. 22. j_kedar 6:47 pm 03/17/2014

    Tamilnadu, is the state in India that has the best mid day meals for school kids in India where the focus is on a balanced diet. Hopefully they will bung in fresh Mangoes and vitamin whatever deficiency will be history

    Link to this
  23. 23. Saijanai 7:01 pm 03/17/2014

    The very first sentence of this PR piece is wrong.

    Golden Rice I was introduced in 1999 but it wasn’t until 2005 that GR II, with 23x the beta-carotene content of GR I, was introduced

    GR II has the highest beta-carotene absorption rate of any known food, so unless GR I had 23x the absorption rate of GR II, we can safely assume that 23 times 1/2 cup rice , or 11.5 cups rice, would be needed to provide the 60% of the MDR per 1/2 cup of rice claimed for GR II in the best-case scenario.

    the timeline available on The Rice Institute’s own website says that between 2005 and 2010, researchers worked to hybridize the GR II “gene insertion event” with existing climate-specific strains of rice, so that it would be a viable food crop for target audiences. So, it wasn’t until 2010 that regulatory and safety issues became an issue blocking the distribution of a viable food crop based on GR II.

    The Helen Keller Institute explicitly says that it will wait until safety-testing is done before putting its weight behind promoting GR II around the world, so it isn’t just governmental agencies and wild-eyed anti-GMO forces that are blocking its widespread acceptance.

    This blog rant and the industry PR “study” it cites, are, well, public relations masquerading as Science.

    GR II may well prove of benefit to many around the world, but the rhetoric in this article is every bit as non-scientific as the anti-GMO rhetoric it attacks.

    Link to this
  24. 24. FarmerGuy 8:21 pm 03/17/2014


    “Blaming Green Peace or ‘activists’ is not going to help.”

    Greenpeace is the sole reason this technology is held up in SE Asian courts. Who else would I blame?

    “Extreme poverty, and the malnutrition that follows, are the biggest causes.”

    What an astute observation…. You see, Marc, the thing is that its easier to give people a self-replicating technology that only requires soil, sun, and rain rather than try to solve all the economical problems of over a billion people.

    “You can read the research presented in the article and follow the links I gave in my previous comment.”

    Ive seen no other comment from you but look forward to your links.

    Link to this
  25. 25. FarmerGuy 8:29 pm 03/17/2014


    ” Famine is as much a political problem as a supply and demand problem”

    These people are not suffering from famine, they are suffering from a single vitamin deficiency.


    “there are far more affordable, efficient, and effective ways of doing that than golden rice. For instance, one could fly over areas with high rate of vitamin A deficiency and parachute millions of pill bottles full of vitamin A tablets, and leaflets describing the importance of vitamin A, and instructions for growing ones own home garden.”

    I really dont even know where to begin with this statement. Giving a population seeds for free which will self regenerate, especially in an area set up to grow that seed, is going to make a little more sense than flying pills and leaflets to a billion people….
    They dont need instructions on how to garden, dear. Im afraid they dont have a Lowe’s down the street to get seeds and supplies at and they certainly are not lazy. Their infrastructure is built upon rice and any person not basing their decision on ideology can see how obvious this solution is.

    Link to this
  26. 26. FarmerGuy 8:37 pm 03/17/2014


    Your post made absolutely no sense. try again when not intoxicated.


    “So would you like to count the number of mistakes we have made (unintended consequences) by the rapid introduction of technological “advance?””

    We have been studying transgenics for over 40 years and feeding them to humans for over 20 with zero instances of negative health consequences. Please define “rapid” introduction.

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  27. 27. mistascott 2:26 am 03/18/2014


    How can Golden Rice be tested when opponents keep destroying the test sites? Sounds like a great game plan: wait until it is thoroughly tested, but sabotage the testing. Nevermind the 30+ years of GM research that already shows no human health impacts.

    Link to this
  28. 28. Jerzy v. 3.0. 6:06 am 03/18/2014

    I think such ‘guest’ posts are a disgrace to ‘scientific’ site.

    They just reinforce image of scientists as cheap PR spokesmen of business groups.

    I guess ‘Scientific’ American will then produce more cries and whimpers, why American public doesn’t trust it?

    Link to this
  29. 29. JanetHudgins 12:13 pm 03/18/2014

    This is not credible.
    “It’s still not in use anywhere, however, because of the opposition to GM technology.” No back up, no paper trail, no logic. Don’t believe it and I think someone here, in this space, is playing politics.
    It would take more than the general opposition to GMOs that this piece is talking about to stop production when, after all, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of diddled food has been produced en masse all over the world and for far less honourable reasons than one vitamin.

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  30. 30. adrianfk 12:25 pm 03/18/2014

    For thousands of years, man has been cross-breeding animals and plants to ensure survival of the species. I see no difference between the past and now, where we have a deeper scientific understanding of our natural world. Why shouldn’t we save lives and our species with new technologies? I understand and agree that no corporation should benefit from human suffering, or perpetuate suffering just for financial reward. I applaud those who stand up and fight for justice in this matter. That said, to my mind, one must have a sensible balanced attitude towards one’s beliefs, and that you should question your own stance regularly to ensure that you are not becoming a zealot. These groups, while honourable in their intentions, have become fanatical in their endeavours and need to take a step back and look at what they are really fighting for.

    Link to this
  31. 31. wjohnfaust 10:29 pm 03/18/2014

    There is at least one way to detect, with good probability, an industry flack. Look at the history of their comments. Most of the time, the entire history will focus on the industry they represent and nearly all promote that industry.

    For example, look at Farmer Guy’s history on DISQUS (i.e., search on “DISQUS Farmer Guy”) and scroll through the comments — about 583 of them. A random review indicates they are almost totally focused on GMOs and related topics. Furthermore, they all promote the GMO industry and guarantee the science-determined safety of the products. Of course, this isn’t “proof” Farmer Guy is a flack. He could simply be a sincere and naive commenter with an intense focus. You’ll have to decide.

    Why bother? Well, if you’ve ever engaged such flacks in the past, you realize that this is not sincere dialogue and you may not want to waste your time.

    Link to this
  32. 32. Jerzy v. 3.0. 8:29 am 03/19/2014

    The problem is when science magazine itself writes like ‘industry flack’.

    70 years ago lots of scientists were employed in the war industry, including building nuclear bombs. Did scientific magazines produce masses of articles how good and useful are nukes, and more countries should build more and more diverse nukes?

    Link to this
  33. 33. FarmerGuy 11:51 am 03/19/2014


    The author does not need a “paper trail” to substantiate a commonly known and understood FACT to anyone who bothers to pay attention to this story. Youve got to be joking. Greenpeace is the main obstructionist to Golden Rice in developing countries, you can easily confirm this on their website.

    Link to this
  34. 34. FarmerGuy 11:57 am 03/19/2014

    John Faust:

    I do discuss GMO technology a lot on the internet, because I happen to know quite a bit about it, on top of being a farmer and practitioner of the technology. In fact, I would be willing to bet that i know FAR more than you do about it (even though you call me naive).

    I am an agricultural manufacturing business owner and innovator of sustainable, bio-based products, along with being a farmer. My name is Lawson Gary and I am from Greenwood, MS. Please look me up on LinkedIn.Id be willing to offer you a farm tour and a lesson on agriculture/science any time you’d like.

    In the meantime, I suggest you check your facts and try not getting your information from earth blogs.

    Link to this
  35. 35. FarmerGuy 12:01 pm 03/19/2014


    Im sorry to break the news to you that the vast majority of scientists support GMO technology, as they rely on fact-based evidence to make decisions. As soon as scientists begins basing decisions on histrionics and emotional rhetoric, your movement should get lots of press in science-based magazines. Until then, maybe you should try sourcing your info from more credible sources.

    Link to this
  36. 36. Jerzy v. 3.0. 4:42 am 03/20/2014

    Sorry to break news to you, but majority of scientists don’t support GMO technology. Majority of scientists don’t work with GMO and have no knowledge or interest talking about it. Go away with your cheap advertisements ‘scientists say that our shampoo produces 50% more shining hair’.

    Link to this
  37. 37. larkalt 6:21 am 03/20/2014

    I’m concerned about GMO’s because many people have food allergies that don’t cause anaphylaxis etc. These food allergies can be to many different proteins, not just the common allergens.
    GMO’s should be labelled so people know what they’re getting and someone with a carrot allergy can be aware that the golden rice might cause them an allergic reaction.
    Such concerns shouldn’t stop golden rice from preventing blindness in countries where people live on rice.
    But neither should such concerns be used to excuse companies from labeling GMO’s with the plants of origin.
    People’s assessment of risk is indeed very distorted. It’s one of the major faults in human collective actions. This applies to nuclear power as well, which has been quantitatively far less risky than other power sources – but somehow a rare death from nuclear radiation outweighs thousands of deaths from coal in people’s minds.

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  38. 38. larkalt 6:46 am 03/20/2014

    It seems like a misguided patch to promote golden rice. When people are short of vitamin A, they are probably short of vegetables in general, and short of other nutrients in the vegetables that go along with vitamin A.
    What they really need is more vegetables to go along with their rice.

    Link to this
  39. 39. MichaelGG 2:33 pm 03/20/2014

    “So societal arguments over risk issues like Golden Rice and GMOs, or guns or climate change or vaccines, are not mostly about the evidence, though we wield the facts as our weapons.”

    Bingo! Now let’s hold you to the same standard.

    “Delay on dealing with climate change exposes us all to much greater risk.”

    You could at least TRY to wield a fact as a weapon.

    “We should hold responsible those whose ideology-driven denial of climate change is responsible for some of that risk.”

    We? Who is “we”? How many of you are in there? How about let “us” hold “accountable” those whose ideology-driven fear of climate change is responsible for hundreds of billions of dollars of wasteful government spending.

    By what way, what exactly is “accountable”? Prison camps for everyone that doesn’t accept what “we” declare is the truth, facts optional?

    “Resistance to anything to make it harder for bad guys to get guns puts us all at risk.”

    Yup, so it does. Parallel to this is that making it harder for GOOD guys to get guns ALSO puts society at risk. The bad guys will always have guns. Your laws only affect good guys, the ones that obey laws in the first place.

    “Society should hold responsible the paranoid arch-conservatism that has created resistance to any prudent gun control and contributed to that risk.”

    Okay, hold me responsible, not that I have any idea what you think you mean by it. I suspect your idea of “prudent” is probably not my idea. To me, gun control is a steady aim on a legitimate target and until then not even produced or brandished.

    The problem that I see is that danger exists in any kind of social mechanism that would allow a despot, even just a mayor of a city, to take advantage of such laws to impose or enable crime on a city (“Chicago” comes to my mind).

    “Parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids put others in their communities at risk.”

    That they do.

    “They certainly should be held accountable for this, and in some places, that’s beginning.”

    But what does it MEAN? Accounting is just that — “counting” — blaming someone for a thing that person may well be proud of. If you aren’t going to DO anything but blame, well, the “left” does plenty of that already. So perhaps you are going to go all activist or eco-terrorist. The left does plenty of that, too.

    Link to this
  40. 40. MichaelGG 2:41 pm 03/20/2014

    I must warn you that you have deviated from obligatory left wing group-think.

    You seem to have correct thinking on global warming, gun control and vaccination so it’s about time for you to get onboard with anti-GMO. Never mind that genetic engineering is probably the greatest advance in biology in the past 30 or 40 years, solving food problems and making possible advances in medicine heretofore only science fiction.

    But ya gotta stick with the religion of the left. As you have stated, don’t let facts get in the way — after all, you didn’t let facts get in the way of your views on global warming or gun control.

    Link to this
  41. 41. MRA090 10:33 pm 03/20/2014

    There is so much misinformation with so many major scientific issues, and I think the problem is a lack of understanding of the science. I’ve actually created a blog for the purpose of explaining to people the real science behind issues such as GMO’s, organic foods, global warming, evolution, etc. If you’re interested, take a look:

    Link to this
  42. 42. jgrosay 9:42 am 03/21/2014

    The effects of Carotene intake in prevention of diseases is complex, even some report noxious effects. Is Golden rice the best way for preventing Vit-A deficit related diseases? Probably nobody can answer this, but for sure, there are other approaches for Carotene and Vit A fortification, and for a more balanced nutrition; among it, the diversification of foods available to people, a diet made of several types of products, not just based on rice as main ingredient, would give lots of benefits; educating rural areas on ways to diversify their food would not be too complex.
    The proposal of some is starting a government-level campaign to promote and spread the Golden Rice as a main crop, but: Could this be done just by making Golden Rice seeds available for farmers, and allowing them to choose?
    Taking decissions for others is always dangerous, as the one deciding would be responsible of everything that can happen.
    When dealing with things such as the ‘millions of persons being blinded because of lack of Vit-A’, or ‘the thousands of persons that die every day by hunger’, the doubt about the trustability and accuracy of these figures is immediate, and actual facts are the only ones that can be considered in defining a problem; speculations and propaganda must better be taken out of the Public Health Sciences.

    Some MedLine/EntrezPubMed references follow, search with the keywords: ‘Beta Carotene Vitamin A’ yielded 2751 abstracts, reading all the titles won’t take too much time.
    PMID 21738614; PMID 20635633; PMID 21957049; PMID 24453512; PMID 21868478; PMID 22071710; PMID 22528540; PMID 22742601; PMID 22854406; PMID 24513222; PMID 23955382; PMID 20706590; PMID 21545547; PMID 23343622; PMID 20980645; PMID 20810977.
    To access these abstracts, just write ‘PMID + the abstract number’ in the search box of any search engine, and press ‘Enter’, but thousands of articles about the subject can be found with search words alternative to the ones pointed.

    Link to this
  43. 43. NoTyranny 6:00 pm 03/21/2014

    And How many thousands did Bayer willfully murder by shipping factor VIII contaminated with the AIDS virus to Africa after the FDA slapped their hands here in the states? If the GMOs are safe why has Monsanto prevented truly independent testing of their seeds? You call for accountability while advocating the murder of millions of unborn through abortion. Thank you for proving yourself to be hypocrite, a sellout and a spokesperson for the international corporate community that does desire to kill any that refuse to live on their knees and worship at their holy alter of murder by the lies of “science” for the sake of the almighty “god” called profit. Just another signpost this nation is marching into a repeat of Nazi Germany. Obey and agree with your masters or be sent to the death camps.

    Link to this
  44. 44. thlej 6:39 pm 03/21/2014

    I haven’t studied Golden Rice, so I’m not “for” or “against” it. I have concerns about corporate willingness to put profits before safety (in cars, drugs, food, etc.). There are bits in your article which suggest bias which cause me to be cautious about what you say in Golden Rice’s support. For instance, you wrote, “GMO opponents who resist genetic modification because big biotech companies profit from it”. Even fairly nutty GMO opponents don’t oppose every non-GMO food which is sold for profit. They don’t oppose GMO because they’re sold for profit, but because corporations can put profits ahead of safety. Rightly or wrongly they perceive a greater safety risk from GMO’s than other foods, thus focusing their profit vs. safety concerns there. Some readers, such as myself, might be more swayed by your articles if you avoided this sort of thing. I was also left asking myself, why Golden Rice had been generally unused for 10+ years after what you present as thorough scientific testing – according to you because of anti-GMO efforts – yet various other GMO’s are in wide use. If the anti-GMO movement hasn’t stopped these others, what stopped Golden Rice?

    Link to this
  45. 45. JourneytotheWest 9:09 pm 03/21/2014

    How did these countries survive, before they ate nothing but white rice, or what are the healthy people from the same demographic doing differently?

    Link to this
  46. 46. SallyOh 11:32 pm 03/21/2014

    Wow. Hard to believe this article is in a science magazine. Talk about lowering the bar. GM foods are poison. The article’s author might want to read some studies. Start with, lots of good leads in there.

    Link to this
  47. 47. Marc Levesque 12:04 pm 03/22/2014


    “Ive seen no other comment from you but look forward to your links.”

    Thanks for pointing that out. I don’t know why my comment was removed for 3 or 4 days, but it’s back up now (it is the second comment following the article, posted at 10:14 am on the Saturday the 15th of March 2014).

    Link to this
  48. 48. FarmerGuy 3:35 pm 03/22/2014


    “Sorry to break news to you, but majority of scientists don’t support GMO technology.”

    Sorry to break the news to you but gmo technology is on e of the most studied subjects in science.

    Short list of scientific organizations that support gmo:

    Royal Society
    UK FSA

    Now, please remind us which scientists are anti gmo. Please do not dare post anything about Gilles Seralini unless you want this discussion to turn impolite.

    I await your thorough response.

    Link to this
  49. 49. FarmerGuy 4:12 pm 03/22/2014

    Perusing through the last few comments, I find it infuriatingly frustrating that my fellow spoiled fat rich western brethren can actually be such non-critical thinkers.

    History will remember the anti-gmo movement as one of the most irrational, destructive movements in our history.

    Link to this
  50. 50. FarmerGuy 4:20 pm 03/22/2014

    Sally oh:

    You perfectly illustrate the problem with our society. A biased documentary is not a credible source of information, EVER.

    Kindly exit the echo chamber and you will find a wonderful place called reality.

    Link to this
  51. 51. FarmerGuy 4:23 pm 03/22/2014

    No tyranny:

    ” If the GMOs are safe why has Monsanto prevented truly independent testing of their seeds?”

    There are thousands of studies on gmo seeds. Have you ever even attempted to look or are you just here to spread misinformation?

    Link to this
  52. 52. FarmerGuy 4:27 pm 03/22/2014


    I still see no comment. Not that it matters, because there is nothing you can post that will ever refute the sensibility and effectiveness of true golden rice campaign. Hopefully sci am is blocking your links to whatever WordPress blog you get your information from.

    Try exiting the echo chamber.

    Link to this
  53. 53. Marc Levesque 5:48 pm 03/22/2014


    “I still see no comment”

    You could try this link if you still can’t see it:

    Or if that doesn’t work, here is my original comment:

    “By 2002, Golden Rice was technically ready to go. Animal testing had found no health risks [...] ready to start saving millions of lives and preventing tens of millions of cases of blindness in people around the world who suffer from Vitamin A deficiency”

    *Technically* ready to go?

    By 2002 GR1 based versions of golden rice were still producing expectatively low levels of vitamin A making them of doubtful use to alleviate deficiency.

    It was only by around 2005 that a GR2 based version had a vitamin A content up to expectations, 20 to 30 times higher than previous GR1 versions.

    Link to this
  54. 54. Marc Levesque 6:27 pm 03/22/2014


    “By 2002 GR1 based versions of golden rice were still producing expectatively low levels of vitamin A making them of doubtful use to alleviate deficiency.”

    Correction: replace ‘expectatively’ with ‘unexpectedly’.

    Link to this
  55. 55. lettersandnumbersonly 3:13 pm 12/16/2014

    Could they not just eat more carrots?

    Link to this
  56. 56. 6038BG 2:50 am 12/30/2014

    That´s what came to my mind first.

    Apparently, they couldn´t because it was not be so lucrative.
    They can transfer to “non-profit” as much as they want, still, it´s about the money :) not people.

    “The world hunger problem”, it were hybrids then we desperately needed to solve it, today it´s GM. Bollocks.

    We need to transform our lives, not to procreate dramatically, to reassess our priorities..return to the nature´s rules, respect it. And everything will be just fine.

    Link to this
  57. 57. JosephKohnMD 9:15 pm 01/5/2015

    How about diversified local organic food production? It’s not like fixing Vitamin A deficiency will fix all the other nutritional deficiencies, oh, but how can “they” patent it? Farkwads!

    Link to this
  58. 58. JosephKohnMD 9:16 pm 01/5/2015

    Oh, and let’s hold corporations accountable for all the devastation and pollution they have created, and THEY GET TO CLEAN UP THEIR MESSES.

    Link to this
  59. 59. RayAnon 11:51 am 01/20/2015

    It is true that there are influential groups which demand counterproductive politics out of irrational fears. The GMO hysteria and anti-vaccination craze are good examples of that – just as climate change alarmism and hoplophobia.

    So how exactly is David Ropeik planning to live up to his own standards? What ways does he have in mind to hold himself accountable for the harm he is imposing on others? What if faith in prohibition is no less a symptom of scientific illiteracy than faith in Creationism? What measures has he taken to realize that, and how does he plan to make amends for that afterwards?

    Or was this entire article written under the assumption that he could not possibly be guilty of clinging to emotion-driven, anti-scientific superstition? Thereby setting him free of the obligation to ensure his beliefs are falsifiable, let alone the duty to provide any evidence in the first place?

    I strongly recommend to question what distinguishes a proper scientist from the average quack. No, it is *not* the feeling of being right…

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  60. 60. LisaGM 3:39 pm 01/27/2015

    Mr. .Ropeik’s commentary is filled with factual inaccuracies from the very first sentence. As is the economics paper Mr. Ropeik cites as calculating all those “lost life years”.

    But worse than this is the despicable attempt to cause divisiveness over an issue of great humanitarian importance: blindness and death due to lack of Vit A.

    As of now we still have no varieties of Golden Rice that will grow and provide an acceptable yield for the farmers we expect to plant it. India and the Philippines have made great strides in shrinking the % of their populations with Vit A deficiency during the many years during which Golden Rice has been in development. And those nations are well able to grow all the Vit A rich plants needed to wipe it out altogether – but for the poverty and dysfunctional economy/government that keeps this food away from those who need it.

    Golden Rice was a well-meant goal. But at this time, 100 million dollars and 20 years later – the attempt to justify the ongoing delays by blaming anti-GMO activists seems rather desperate. Where is the evidence that any of their activities actually contributed to the fact that we’re still trying to engineer suitable varieties?

    Engineering this sort of change in a plant is very difficult. We’ve learned so much from Golden Rice, and other crops are being fortified now. I do have some concern that modifying rice in a country like the Philippines, where a percentage of the population actually has a high level of blood retinol, will end up causing problems. Vit A can be stored in the body and it’s possible to get too much.

    Africa needs Golden Rice, but it will probably reach those areas in need only through distribution by humanitarian groups which now send white rice. That means that the rice will be purchased with donated or public money – from farmers who will likely be earning more than 10K$ from its sale – and will therefore have to pay royalties on the rice. So, as with subsidized GE commodities in the US, biotech companies will once again be earning profits from public monies (the aid organization pays what the farmer asks, who will need to ask enough to compensate the patent holders on Golden Rice – who’ve said they’ll only ask for payments from farmers who earn more than 10K$ from their plantings.)

    The biotech industry has a lot riding on the success of Golden Rice – as do those who need the Vit A if and when Golden Rice can provide it. We’re all eager to make this work. But it’s absolutely wrong for Mr. Ropeik to stir up division between the pro- and the anti-GMO and make false claims about who or what’s responsible for the fact that there are still too many people dying or blind from lack of Vit A. It seems he’s actually encouraging us all to blame those who ask questions about GMOs or Golden Rice – to blame them for the deaths and blindness. I could as easily blame Mr. Ropeik for not encouraging everyone to donate to Helen Keller International these past 20 years – an organization which supports Golden Rice development but meanwhile has saved lives and eyes with fortification programs throughout the world. (or have you actually done that Mr. Ropeik?)

    Shame on you Mr. Ropeik. And thank you for your disclaimer. I think your motivations are clear. I think you’re more interested in helping the public image of the biotech industry than you are in the facts about Golden Rice and those who might benefit from it once it’s able to be grown. I would encourage you to learn more about the science upon which you comment. You may know a lot about risk, but you apparently know very little about science and medicine.

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  61. 61. LisaGM 3:58 pm 01/27/2015

    Sorry – I may have gotten a little worked up myself there near the end. I know that Greenpeace isn’t just “asking questions” about Golden Rice. And I don’t approve of the destruction of research plots. I like to see cooler heads prevail – my own included.

    Link to this

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