GM Vitamin-A enriched rice
Minerva notes that consumers have concluded that introduction of
genetically modified (GM) foods is motivated solely by profit.1 She
suggests that the tarnished reputation of GM food manufacturers may be
helped by development of vitamin-A precursor enriched rice and its
purported free distribution to needy areas. I cannot share Minerva's
Firstly, international agencies agree that world hunger and malnutrition
are above all due to poverty and failure to distribute equitably the
world's enormous food surpluses . Patented crops do not solve, and may
aggravate, these problems.
Secondly, is this GM rice really an advance? In India, rakta shali or red
rice is a naturally occurring variety that is intrinsically rich in
vitamin A. Interestingly, the Vedic system of medicine has for millennia
considered it the most nutritious type of rice. Unfortunately, due to
commercial pressures, red rice has been increasingly supplanted by less
nutritious varieties. The advantage of a patented GM crop is profit for
its manufacturer. In return, consumers are effectively deprived of their
common biological heritage.
Thirdly, is the new rice safe? No-one can predict whether unforeseen
hazards will appear as a result of genetic modification. As with drugs,
we may not discover unpredictable adverse effects until millions have been
exposed. Is it not more responsible to grow and distribute
naturally-occurring vitamin A-rich rice, rather than embark on the vast
uncontrolled experiment with our diet and environment that the GM crop
Fourthly, to what extent will distribution be truly 'free'? Who will
decide which communities 'need it most'? For how long will it remain free
and under what conditions? Will they end up as captive markets to whom
prices can be dictated, as has happened with earlier GM products?
Moreover, supplying this rice free to communities or governments does not
ensure it will be affordable to the poorest and neediest consumers. As
doctors, we can confirm that 'there is no such thing as a free lunch'.
One is reminded of the free distribution of equipment and information to
promote bottle-feeding in developing countries. This profit-led promotion
of 'scientific' formula feeding-to the detriment of breast-feeding-has
contributed to countless avoidable infant deaths. The powerful
multinationals behind that scandal are prominent among those seeking to
bypass any credible safety testing for GM foods and establish their
products as an unavoidable part of the human diet-an obvious advantage in
the recession-proof food industry.
Roger A. Chalmers
1. Minerva. BMJ 2000;320:324.
Current Position: general practitioner undertaking NHS locum work in
Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
Competing interest: None.
Competing interests: No competing interests