Health Canada’s decision to approve Golden Rice as safe for sale in Canada is the right move, despite complaints by some who are questioning why the government department is even looking at the genetically modified food.
The announcement came last month, after Heath Canada concluded that Golden Rice “did not pose a greater risk to human health than rice varieties currently available on the Canadian market.”
This is despite the fact that Golden Rice, a GM food that is enhanced with vitamin A, is not intended for sale in Canada. Its market is developing countries where white rice is a staple in the diet.
The World Health Organization says some 124 million people have a chronic vitamin A deficiency because of their diet. Up to two million people die each year of vitamin A deficiency and up to half a million children a year go blind.
This suffering could be alleviated quickly with the introduction of Golden Rice into farms in those areas.
Ideally, people would eat a more balanced diet with leafy vegetables and fruits, but that isn’t happening in many places, and it won’t happen for many years, even with the best efforts.
Golden Rice isn’t the entire solution, but consuming about one cup a day would help alleviate the vitamin A deficiency.
It is the logical thing to do, but opponents — most notably Greenpeace — are campaigning against its introduction into developing countries on flimsy arguments, chiefly that Golden Rice could be contaminated with other GMOs and that the initiative is a ploy for GMO producing companies to get a foothold in the developing world.
They also say that a food supplement program combined with more diversity in farming would be a better long-term solution.
Fine, but it’s not happening. This is subsistence farming. Supplement programs are expensive. And diversification in farming is not as easy — culturally and practically — as opponents say.
The real issue with Golden Rice is that it’s a GMO, which Greenpeace and other opponents despise so much that they are willing to watch millions of people suffer and die rather than give an inch to science.
In 2016, 107 Nobel laureates in the areas of medicine, chemistry, physics and economics published a letter beseeching Greenpeace to stop fighting the introduction of Golden Rice in the developing world, arguing the organization’s campaign is “a crime against humanity.”
The letter notes that Golden Rice “has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by a vitamin A deficiency, which has the greatest impact on the poorest people in Africa and southeast Asia.”
Golden Rice was developed in the 1990s by two German scientists, who introduced a gene from corn into rice DNA, giving it a golden hue. It has been designated for humanitarian use, meaning that anyone who earns less than $10,000 a year need pay no royalties and can plant the seed again in following years.
The opposition to Golden Rice has fomented political unwillingness to accept it in developing countries, so it appears that supporters are now turning to developed countries, whose food security system is well established. Canada is one of those countries. Australia and New Zealand have also approved Golden Rice.
Health Canada’s decision is a responsible humanitarian gesture that should be applauded.
Greenpeace and others who deny those suffering from vitamin A deficiency a chance to live in health and dignity are engaged in a cruel idealistic folly.
Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.