What looks good on the outside…
The newest panacea to ease the suffering of the poor seems to be golden rice, genetically modified to be super-charged with beta-carotene. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, a nutrient essential to healthy eyesight and for warding off infection, among other things. Vitamin A deficiency is common in poor countries, where access to beta-carotene rich fruits and veggies is extremely limited due to, ironically, the loss of crop diversity largely stemming from the imposition of monoculture regimes like rice, soy, and maize.
So GM golden rice packed with beta-carotene looks like a savory solution to vitamin A deficiency, not true? Indeed, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded the GM golden rice project – led by a former researcher at Monsanto – to the tune of $20 million. Yet perhaps only physicians and dietitians are widely aware that beta-carotene is fat-soluble, meaning in order for the body to convert beta-carotene to vitamin A it requires a certain level of fat – from animals, for example – in the diet. Alas, this fat is severely lacking in the diets of many in poor countries. Without this partnership with fat in the diet, unrealistic amounts of the golden rice would have to be consumed daily – perhaps as much as 16 pounds for an adult – in order for enough vitamin A to be converted from beta-carotene.
There is great concern that the effect of the golden rice project will be yet another monoculture GM crop thrust upon the farmers of poor countries that fails to live up to its promise. Instead it could very well push the very people it purports to help into higher risk of starvation by further compromising biodiversity and driving farmers deeper into debt to multinational corporations like Monsanto.
What the Gates Foundation may not have mentioned in its promotion of golden rice is the fact it just invested in 500,000 shares, or roughly $23 million, of Monsanto stock. Whose interests are being served?
Genuine solutions to world hunger could be the polar opposite of the monocrop mantra chanted by wealthy nations and their monstrous agrichemical offspring. Another GM crop may prove lucrative for the already wealthy, but it will likely leave a bitter taste in the mouths of the poor and hungry. Promotion of regionally appropriate, biologically diverse, and self-sustaining agricultural practices that contribute to a balanced diet within a just ecological system might just be the regime change necessary to turn that savory-looking meal into nourishing and delicious bounty.