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On Your Table Blog

June 19, 2018

What if a GMO could save your child from blindness?

It actually can

What if a GMO could save your child from blindness?

While blindness due to a vitamin A deficiency is not a problem in the United States where people have an abundance of food, it is in developing countries where rice is a diet staple.

Enter Golden Rice, a genetically engineered version of rice that contains high levels of beta carotene, the precursor to vitamin A.

You’d think it would be embraced as a health benefit.

Unfortunately, no.

In a paper written by Richard J. Roberts and published in the Journal of Innovation & Knowledge May-August 2018 edition, Greenpeace is cited as a major detractor in the acceptance of GMOs worldwide and goes back to a time when Monsanto tried to introduce GM crops into Europe. Greenpeace mounted a campaign against GMOs that was widely successful.

"It ignored the science available at the time and has continued to ignore the science to this day, even though we now know that GMOs pose no unusual risks. Greenpeace continues to ignore the science, ignore the potential benefits from this technology and is still trying to spread word everywhere about the dangers of GMOs.”

Roberts organized more than 100 Nobel Laureates to write a letter to Greenpeace, leaders of the United Nations and governments around the world on June 29, 2016. The letter stated in part, “We urge Greenpeace and its supporters to re-examine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology, recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies and abandon their campaign against GMOS in general and Golden Rice in particular.” The list of supporting Nobel Laureates has grown to 129.

In 2001, the World Health Organization1 estimated that each year, half a million new cases of blindness occur in Asia, and 70% of those cases are due to vitamin A deficiency. Even more troubling, most children who have a vitamin A deficiency enough to cause blindness often die.

According to a 2009 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Golden Rice contains enough beta-carotene to effectively be converted to vitamin A in humans. The Genetic Literacy Project reported in February that Golden Rice has the potential to decrease vitamin A deficiency by 60% in India alone.

Still, misinformation campaigns persist. And you just have to wonder why. After all, if you knew eating Golden Rice could save your child from blindness, wouldn’t you feed it to him or her?

1 Corneal blindness: a global perspective John P. Whitcher, M. Srinivasan, & Madan P. Upadhyay, page 217