The global issue of food security and hunger is one that is gaining increasing importance with the effects of climate change. Hunger related problems are a major factor in millions of child deaths in the subcontinent and Africa each year. Other health problems may often be present (short of death), including stunting, impaired cognitive development, anxiety and aggression. The issue is particularly important to marginalized groups, including the impoverished and children.
Food security is defined as a “means that all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life” (IFPRI). More than 820 million people do not have enough food to eat and many are forced to consume a diet made up predominantly of conventional rice (FAO). In more developed countries, we have the luxury of healthy food choices and varied diets which provide us with all the micronutrients our body needs. In many developing states, a significant amount of the population suffers from micronutrient deficiencies as they are not meeting their dietary needs. Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is an example of one of these deficiencies that becomes a problem when humans are forced to survive largely on a diet of conventional rice. VAD is very common among people in countries that struggle with food security and leads to millions of child deaths and cases of blindness every year. There are very limited solutions to this problem, most of which are unrealistic as government institutions and NGOs begin to get involved when humanitarian crisis’ gain traction. In 2018 the Stop Golden Rice! Network held a protest outside the Philippines Department of Agriculture which increased the delay in deployment of Golden Rice in the Philippines (Cornell). Syngenta is one of the few corporations that are innovating and pioneering genetically modified (GM) crops to solve this issue through development of Golden Rice.
Golden Rice and political barriers
Golden Rice is a GM crop that combats VAD and also offers many of the benefits that genetically modified foods can attain. The increased Vitamin A (hence the term ‘golden’) content in Golden Rice helps people that suffer from VAD consume the proper micronutrients they need. This can save lives. I was able to interview two experts in the field: a food systems specialist from the non-governmental organization GRAIN (www.grain.org), which helps improve smallholder farmer capacity, and an ex-Syngenta employee who is now part of the Golden Rice Project (www.goldenrice.org).
While interviewing Dr. Adrian Dubock, Project Manager of Golden Rice, I learned that the product has been available since 2003 for countries to grow, but many states refuse to allow GM crops in their food market and establish political barriers that are difficult to overcome. Many government institutions believe multinational corporations (like Syngenta) are trying to make a profit and ignore the benefits that GM foods provide which has been preventing the products from being available to small farmers. Syngenta has responded to this claim and stated that government institutions can give rice to farmers free of cost and in the future, farmers are also untroubled by any herbicide or weather protection costs they may have when growing conventional rice (Golden Rice Project). Despite the offer of free rice, government institutions continue to delay its deployment without a valid reason.
The future of Golden Rice
Most recently, Bangladesh has loosened their grip on GM crops and allowed Golden Rice to enter their food market which will hopefully encourage other countries to follow suit. Regardless, there is very little awareness being raised for food security and a major lack of support to push the solutions to market. It is very rare to see a problem as global as food security have an attainable, realistic solution but receive no support from governmental institutions that exist to protect the rights of their people. In fact, this may violate the social contract that governments have with their populations. The political issue outlines the urgency of world hunger and food security which can hopefully become a problem of the past in years to come.
“Golden Rice is part of the solution.” The Golden Rice Project, http://www.goldenrice.org/. Accessed 10 Aug. 2020.
“Food security.” International Food Policy Research Institute, http://www.ifpri.org/topic/food-security#:~:text=Food%20security%2C%20as%20defined%20by,an%20active%20and%20healthy%20life. Accessed 7 Aug. 2020.
Lynas, Mark. “Anti-GMO activists convene to target Golden Rice.” Alliance for
Science, Cornell, 4 Apr. 2018, allianceforscience.cornell.edu/blog/2018/
04/anti-gmo-activists-convene-target-golden-rice/. Accessed 4 Sept. 2020.
“The State of Food Security in the World.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States, FAO, 2019, http://www.fao.org/state-of-food-security-nutrition. Accessed 6 Aug. 2020.