Lentis/Golden Rice


Global Vitamin A Deficiency

Rice is a staple food and an important part of society for more than half of the world's population. Small, subsidence farmers are still mostly responsible for rice production, and though 40,000 varieties of rice can be found around the globe, more than 90% of rice worldwide is produced and consumed in Asia.[1]

While rice may be filling and high in calories, it lacks micronutrients such as Vitamin A and its precursor, beta-carotene. The best sources of Vitamin A and beta-carotene are micronutrient-rich foods such as leafy greens, starchy vegetables, and meat-based proteins. For this reason, rice is supposed to be eaten as a side dish, complimentary to a balanced diet. Access to a balanced diet, however, is not common in many areas in Africa and Southeast Asia, specifically India, Bangladesh, and the Phillipines. In these places Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) is a very serious issue, causing childhood blindness and reducing the ability to fight disease.[2] VAD affects 250 million children and 19 million pregnant women globally.[2]

A Potential Solution: Golden RiceEdit

Golden Rice

Initial ImplementationEdit

In 1999, a group of European scientists led by Dr. Ingo Potrykus genetically engineered rice to contain beta-carotene.[3] They modified the rice by inserting bacteria and daffodil and maize genes into it and named it Golden Rice (GR1) due to the golden color of its grains. Because rice is consumed as a main food source in developing countries that cannot afford a balanced diet, these scientists proposed that Golden Rice could alleviate the problem of Vitamin A Deficiency around the globe.[1]

Time Magazine dubbed Golden Rice “Grains of Hope,” in 2000 and claimed that this rice could save one million kids per year; however, these claims were mere speculations, as the effectiveness of Golden Rice had yet to be evaluated. Though the creation of Golden Rice was met with praise, it was also met with criticism, as it illuminated the global debate surrounding GM crops that first began in the mid-1990’s. On one end of the spectrum, Golden Rice was seen as “a technological leap forward that will bestow incalculable benefits on the world and its people.” On the other end, the GM crop was seen as a “perilous step down a slippery slope that will lead to ecological and agricultural ruin." [2]

Syngenta Logo

Early Failures with ImplementationEdit

When Potrykus patented Golden Rice in 2000, he assigned his rights over the technology to Syngenta under the condition that Golden Rice seeds would be given to poor farmers in developing countries free of charge. Syngenta agreed to finance their efforts in exchange for commercial marketing rights in affluent countries.[4] This agreement immediately caused protests due to the fact that Asian farmers would be getting unproven genetically modified rice while Syngenta profited.[5] While Potrykus saw this deal as the best way to get Golden Rice into the hands of poor farmers, corporations felt that the deal was an unethical marketing ploy by Syngenta to sell a new product.

Golden Rice 2 (GR2)Edit

After its initial development, Golden Rice did not contain high enough levels of beta-carotene to be an effective source of Vitamin A. Recognizing the need to improve upon their breakthrough product, Syngenta quickly developed Golden Rice 2 (GR2), containing 23 times higher levels of beta-carotene.[6] Syngenta also stressed that GR2 is meant to compliment, not replace, other efforts to address VAD.

Golden Rice TodayEdit

IRRI Founding Principles

Current Development of Golden RiceEdit

Current Developers of Golden Rice:[7]

Under the global leadership of the IRRI, these organizations develop varieties of Golden Rice suitable for local farmers. These varieties are field tested to ensure they meet international food standards and retain the qualities of the original grain, such as yield and pest resistance. After field trials, these organizations plan to conduct a nutrition study evaluating the efficacy of Golden Rice in combating vitamin A deficiency. These studies are on hold until Golden Rice has received further regulatory and institutional review board approval.[8]

Regulatory ApprovalEdit

The most recent version of Golden Rice, GR2E, has met food safety standards for three global regulatory agencies in 2018: [9]

The USFDA stated that "GR2E rice is not materially different in composition, safety, or other relevant parameters" from other existing rice-derived food, "except for the intended β-carotene change.[10] FSANZ and Health Canada also concluded that GR2E is safe for human consumption.[11][12] While these approvals are significant advancements in the technology's 20 year history, Golden Rice is still not publicly available for farmers.

Concerns with the TechnologyEdit

Beta-Carotene LevelsEdit

Despite two decades of development, organizations such as GRAIN and MADGE are still concerned with the beta-carotene levels in Golden Rice. Both reference a 2017 study that found that beta-carotene levels in Golden Rice can degrade to 60% of original levels in 3 weeks in storage and to 13% in 10 weeks of storage.[13] MADGE also points out that based on the study, one would have to eat 4kg of Golden Rice to achieve the same levels of vitamin A in a single carrot.[14] It is important to note that this study was conducted in part by the IRRI.

Distrust of Corporate IntentionsEdit

Although the manifest function of Golden Rice is to combat vitamin A deficiency, many believe the latent function for its development is to pave the way for the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) foods. Skeptics from an early stage have believed that Golden Rice was a public relations stunt by agricultural biotechnology firms to normalize the concept of GM foods for future profits.[15]

More recently, a study was conducted to capture the opinions of NGOs with regards to plant genome editing. The NGOs included:[16]

The study concluded that these organizations were aligned in the belief that genome editing increases corporate power and limits the choice of the consumer. They also believe that corporations have leveraged confusing terminology and crisis framings to advance their agendas.[16]

Greenpeace - Golden Rice's Most Prominent CriticEdit

Greenpeace, a global campaigning organization, claims that Golden Rice has wasted millions of dollars in its 20+ years of development that could have been spent on other practical VAD solutions. [17] They further claim that Golden Rice is "environmentally irresponsible and could compromise food, nutrition, and financial security." [17] Lastly, Greenpeace asserts that "Corporations are overhyping ‘Golden’ rice to pave the way for global approval of other more profitable genetically engineered crops," and that the only true solution to malnutrition is "a diverse healthy diet." [18]

Greenpeace Logo

Support for the TechnologyEdit

Scientists Advocate for Golden RiceEdit

Despite criticism, the scientific community has shown substantial support for Golden Rice. A 2009 study conducted by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that Golden Rice was as effective as supplements and more effective than natural spinach in providing vitamin A.[19] In 2016 a group of Nobel Laureates signed a letter calling upon Greenpeace to "to cease and desist in its campaign against Golden Rice specifically, and crops and foods improved through biotechnology in general," and advising governments to reject this campaign.[20] The letter has now been signed by 151 Nobel Laureates.

Developers Advocate for Golden RiceEdit

The IRRI still claims that Golden Rice "has the potential to be a suitable complementary intervention to address vitamin A deficiency." They also negate claims from the US FDA about low beta-carotene levels by stating that in target countries, where rice consumption is between 200 to 300 g per day, Golden Rice provides significant amounts vitamin A. The IRRI also believes that Golden Rice is an equitable solution to all farmers and does not pose any serious environmental or health risks.[8]

Aftermath: Spread of Global Anti-GMO CampaignsEdit

Anti-GMO Fear AppealsEdit

As the public speculation of the safety of consuming GMO foods grows, corporations have capitalized by creating premium "Non-GMO" food products. Non-GMO verified products exceed $19 Billion in sales annually and are the fastest growing segment of grocery stores in the US.[21] The explosive growth of sales of "Non-GMO" labeled foods has led to extreme advertising against GMO foods.[22] These fear appeal campaigns emphasize the uncertain effects of consuming GMO foods, and portray purchasing premium non-GMO alternatives as a healthy decision. A 2016 poll found that only 37 percent of the public thought that consuming GMO foods is generally safe, compared to 88 percent of scientists.[23] This discrepancy represents the largest gap in trust of all other major scientific controversies, including climate change, childhood vaccination, and evolution.[23]

The Non-GMO ProjectEdit

The The Non-GMO Project, a nonprofit organization founded in 2007, aims to protect "a Non-GMO food supply through consumer education." [24] Food manufacturers, growers, and distributors partner with the Non-GMO Project to obtain the "Non-GMO Project Verified" label on their products. After obtaining what the Non-GMO Project refers to as "North America's Most Trusted Seal for GMO Avoidance," companies sell non-GMO verified products at a premium price.[24] Opponents of the Non-GMO Project criticize the extension of the verification seal on products where GMOs are never used, meaning all brands of that product are technically "non-GMO." [25] Randy Krotz, CEO of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, asserts that the Non-GMO Project has a business model based on "fear and lack of information." [25] He explains that many farmers use GMO crops because of the environmental and sustainability benefits, and he claims that Non-GMO Project attacks "those who dedicate their lives to bring healthy choices to Americans." [25]

non-GMO label on Jif Peanut Butter

Mandatory GMO Food LabelingEdit

Public demands for transparency of food ingredients have sparked controversy regarding mandatory labeling laws for GMO foods.[26] Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at the Center for Food Safety, equates the absence of GMO labels to a betrayal of "public trust by denying Americans the right to know how their food is produced." [26] Conversely, farmers and food companies are among the biggest supporters of relaxed labeling laws.[26] They argue that uniform labeling across all types of GMO products is actually misleading consumers, as different types of GMOs carry very different risks.[27] They cite the complete disappearance of GMO foods in Europe starting in 1999, when mandatory labeling laws worried corporations and caused them to remove nearly all GMO products from shelves.[27] The absence of GMO products in the US would place the biggest burden on the lower class; Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants found that labeling and the subsequent decline in GMOs would increase the average annual food bill of a family of four by $400.[28]


Is Golden Rice a doomed technology developed for the benefit of profit-seeking corporations? Or Is it a case study of how conflicting opinions and unfalsifiable campaigns can destroy a beneficial advancement?

Regardless of the true cause of golden rice's difficult implementation, the reality is that the once dubbed "Grains of Hope" have fallen short of their promising expectations.[2] Nearly two decades after the original Time Magazine article, Golden Rice has not gained regulatory approval in target countries India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines; furthermore it will not be made public until "all necessary permits have been received.[1][7] Golden Rice sets a clear precedent for the challenges of implementing biotechnology into a skeptical society, and further research could explore how agricultural biotech companies are aiming to gain the trust of the public.

As the world population continues to grow, it is estimated that global food demand will increase by over 70% by 2050.[29] Agricultural biotechnology will play a crucial role in fighting world hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity in the coming decades.[30] The failure of implementing golden rice and the subsequent spread of anti-GMO campaigns illustrate how different groups' agendas can distract from the original goal of a product and its creators. As President Jimmy Carter said: "Responsible biotechnology is not the enemy. Starvation is." [2]


  1. a b c GRAIN. (2018, November 21). Don't get fooled again! Unmasking two decades of lies about Golden Rice. https://www.grain.org/en/article/6067-don-t-get-fooled-again-unmasking-two-decades-of-lies-about-golden-rice.
  2. a b c d e Nash/Zurich, J. M. (2000, July 23). Grains Of Hope. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,50576,00.html.
  3. Ye, X., Al-Babili, S., Klöti, A., Zhang, J., Lucca, P., Beyer, P., Potrykus, I. (2000). Engineering the provitamin A (beta-carotene) biosynthetic pathway into (carotenoid-free) rice endosperm. Science, 287(5451), 303-305. doi:10.1126/science.287.5451.303. PMID 10634784
  4. Goldenrice.org (2015). The Golden Rice project wins the patents for humanity award 2015. http://www.goldenrice.org/
  5. IATP. (n.d.). The Golden Rice Deal. https://www.iatp.org/news/the-golden-rice-deal.
  6. Paine et al. (2005). Improving the nutritional value of Golden Rice through increased pro-vitamin A content. Nature Biotechnology, 23(4), 482–7. doi:10.1038/nbt1082. PMID 15793573.
  7. a b IRRI (2019). Golden rice. https://www.irri.org/golden-rice
  8. a b IRRI (2019). Golden rice faqs. https://www.irri.org/golden-rice-faqs
  9. IRRI (2018). Golden rice meets food safety standards in three global leading regulatory agencies. https://www.irri.org/news-and-events/news/golden-rice-meets-food-safety-standards-three-global-leading-regulatory-0
  10. Keefe, D.M. (2018). RE: Biotechnology notification file No. BNF 000158. https://www.fda.gov/media/113719/download
  11. FSANZ (2017). Approval report - application A1138 food derived from provitamin A rice line GR2E.https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/code/applications/Documents/A1138%20Approval%20report.pdf
  12. Health Canada (2016). Provitamin A biofortified rice event GR2E (Golden Rice). https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/genetically-modified-foods-other-novel-foods/approved-products/golden-rice-gr2e.html
  13. Schaub et al 2017. Nonenzymatic β-Carotene Degradation in Provitamin A-Biofortified Crop Plants. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2017, 65 (31), pp 6588–6598. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.7b01693
  14. MADGE (2018). An open letter on GM golden rice in Australia.https://www.madge.org.au/open-letter-gm-golden-rice-australia
  15. https://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/the-way-we-live-now-the-great-yellow-hype/
  16. a b Helliwell, R., Hartley, S. & Pierce, W. (2019). NGO perspectives on the social and ethical dimensions of plant genome-editing. Agriculture and Human Values, 36(4), 779-791. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-019-09956-9
  17. a b Greenpeace (2015). Golden Rice. https://www.greenpeace.org/archive-international/en/campaigns/agriculture/problem/Greenpeace-and-Golden-Rice/
  18. Greenpeace International (2016). Nobel laureates sign letter on Greenpeace 'Golden' rice position - statement. https://www.greenpeace.org/international/press-release/6866/nobel-laureates-sign-letter-on-greenpeace-golden-rice-position-statement/
  19. Tang et al. (2009). Golden Rice is an effective source of vitamin A. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(6), 1776-1783. 10.3945/ajcn.2008.27119. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2682994/
  20. Nobel Laureates (2016). To the leaders of Greenpeace, the United Nations and Governments around the world.https://www.supportprecisionagriculture.org/nobel-laureate-gmo- letter_rjr.html
  21. Senapathy, K. (2017, November 20). The Anti-GMO Movement Has A Social Justice Problem. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kavinsenapathy/2017/11/20/the-anti-gmo-movement-has-a-social-justice-problem/#309211e23a54
  22. Nestle Removes GMO Ingredients From Baby Food In South Africa,Not USA. (n.d.). https://arizonaenergy.org/News_14/News_Sep14/NestleRemovesGMO.html.
  23. a b Public and Scientists' Views on Science and Society. (2019, August 8). https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2015/01/29/public-and-scientists-views-on-science-and-society/.
  24. a b Non-GMO Project. (2019). About. https://www.nongmoproject.org/about/
  25. a b c Krotz, R. (2017, July 10). The Non-GMO Project: Creating fake news at the grocery store. https://www.agweek.com/opinion/4294420-non-gmo-project-creating-fake-news-grocery-store.
  26. a b c USDA outlines first-ever rule for GMO labeling, sees implementation in 2020. (2018, December 20). https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-gmo-labeling/usda-outlines-first-ever-rule-for-gmo-labeling-sees-implementation-in-2020-idUSKCN1OJ2TF.
  27. a b Kaste, M. (2013, October 16). So What Happens If The Movement To Label GMOs Succeeds? https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/10/16/235525984/so-what-happens-if-the-movement-to-label-gmos-succeeds.
  28. Scientific America.(2013, September 1). Labels for GMO Foods Are a Bad Idea. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/labels-for-gmo-foods-are-a-bad-idea/.
  29. High_Level Expert Forum. (2009). Global Agriculture towards 2050. http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/Issues_papers/HLEF2050_Global_Agriculture.pdf
  30. Forman-Cook, W. (2016, March 1). Biotech critical for meeting future food demand, experts say. https://www.agri-pulse.com/articles/6636-biotech-critical-for-meeting-future-food-demand-experts-say.