March 16, 2001
Stifle your enthusiasm. Greenpeace points out that to meet their daily minimum requirement from eating genetically modified "Golden Rice" that contains elevated amounts of beta carotene -- a nutrient that is the building block for vitamin A -- adults must eat 9 kg of the stuff each day. And kids should wolf down 6 kg -- though some U.S. researchers say twice that amount might actually be beneficial. Five European and U.S. companies developed the Swisspatented grain, which they are heavily promoting as the first "morally correct" GM food. In the rice's defense, Swapan K. Datta, a biotechnologist at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, points out that the grain's benefit is meant to be supplemental, not be the sole source of a person's beta carotene. Still, without sufficient dietary protein and fat, golden rice's value is negligible. India will eventually import the grain's seed -- after all parties sign a technology transfer agreement. The hope is that it will provide at least some benefit to the 400 million children in India suffering from vitamin A deficiency -- which can lead to poor eyesight and a weak immune system.
Critics say a better way for kids to get their vitamin A is through a more easily distributed daily dose of beta carotene in pill form.