"Golden-Rice" was genetically engineered to produce precursors of vitamin A, so-called carotenoids, to improve vitamin A consumption. The kernels themselves, are yellow in colour. Naturally, no carotenoids are produced in the rice grains.
The genetically engineered rice is supposedly meant to combat vitamin A deficiency, which is a serious problem in some developing countries. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is currently examining the nutritional quality of the rice that was developed with the help of the Swiss company, Syngenta, more than ten years ago.
What is the problem?
Despite some stakeholders claiming otherwise, this transgenic rice has never been tested for its true potential to combat vitamin A deficiency. Furthermore, no detailed data are available on the risks to health and the environment. Once released, the transgenic plants can spread their gene constructs into populations of weedy rice as well as into regionally cultivated varieties.
As a 2017 publication shows, the spread of these transgenes could have substantial negative impacts. When the plants were crossed with the Indian variety Swarna, the resulting plants showed signs of extensive disturbance in their growth. The researchers identified several reasons for this, not least, because the new gene constructs interfere with the plant’s own gene for producing growth hormones. Moreover, the additional gene constructs were not, as intended, active solely in the kernels, but also in the leaves. This led to a substantial reduction in the content of chlorophyll that is essential for vital functions in the plants.
These unintended effects were not detected in earlier investigations, and it was assumed that the genetically engineered plants used in these trials would be genetically stable.
The introduction of "Golden-Rice" is being driven by a campaign instigated by a number of proponents. They accuse environmental organisations of causing the deaths of millions of children because they are trying to prevent the rice from being marketed. However, even the International Rice Research IRRI website states that there is still a lack of data needed to make a judgement on the nutritional quality of the rice. There is also a lack of data on risk assessment. Indeed, the accusations made by “Golden-Rice” campaign have no substantive basis at all. As yet, there are no varieties available for commercial cultivation.
The biotech industry is hoping to improve the acceptance of transgenic plants once "Golden-Rice" is grown in the fields.