Genetically Modified Rice
The increasing global population renders food sustainability at the brink of collapsing. With an expected population of over 9 billion by 2050, more forests will be cleared to harbor agriculture. The already agriculturally rich regions are quickly being depleted of minerals, since there are more needs for food than ever before (Enserink 470). This further leads to a bigger concern over drops in nutritional value of some of the food cultivated on these lands and those who consume it gradually become malnourished. In order to ensure that the diminishing land use and overall food security is upheld despite the increased population, scientists have embarked on research to improve the current crops to produce more nutritional food and more production per hectare through biotechnology (Domingo 723). Among the most advanced branches of biotechnology are genetically modified crops. Scientists alter the genetic composition of the seed providing it with more superior attributes than the natural crops. The attributes range from increased nutritional value of specific minerals and vitamins in the food, resistance to calamities and biological factors such as pests and diseases, to increased production volume per unit area. One of the main successes in genetically modification if crops is the Golden Rice, which has proven that biotechnology, through genetically modified crops, may be the solution to food security in the world today and in the future (Domingo 726).
Genetically Modified Rice - Golden Rice
One of the most advanced researches in creation of genetically modified food crops is the golden rice. It was developed through synthetic engineering of the edible parts of the rice grains, thus increasing the levels of vitamin A (Tang et al. 1777). The objective of this research was to reduce the number of children under five who die from the lack of vitamin A. Due to the modified rice, there would no longer be a shortage of vitamin A in these areas, which would result in better health and fewer malnutrition deaths. The modified rice grain has an addition of 3 beta-carotene genes to the normal rice seed (Domingo 730). Naturally, rice cannot produce beta carotene in its endosperm, which is the edible part, but rather in the leaves where photosynthesis takes place. The biotechnological advancements, however, changed this property and introduced it into the endosperm, so that the substance can be availed to people who consume the rice. Since its first discovery, the rice has been improved to increase the levels of beta-carotene by up to 23 times. This is a big scientific win, since it provides the solution to Vitamin A deficiency, which affects millions of children and pregnant women (Enserink 470). The number of countries that have had Vitamin A supplement programs shows the gravity of the issue.
Advantages of Using Golden Rice
Source of Adequate Vitamin A
One of the most ailing issues in the world is the deficiency of important nutrients such as iodine, iron, Vitamin A and zinc (Tang et al. 1780). It increases both the possibility of getting a disease and immature deaths especially for children below five years of age and pregnant women (Tang et al. 1778). The sources of these nutrients include fruits and vegetables as well as animal products. They can also be acquired from staple crops such as yams and sweet potatoes. However, these staple crops are seasonal and are not available on the market all year long (Kaplan, 2002). The introduction of the low-cost rice, which costs as much as any other rice, is a big step towards ensuring that there is adequate amount of vitamin A available to the whole population.
More Health Solutions
Golden rice has low fat and low sodium. These elements are important in ensuring that blood pressure and cholesterol levels in the body remain low. Increased levels of sodium are harmful since they could lead to edema, which could potentially lead to blood pressure. Furthermore, the rice is free from fats, hence low cholesterol levels. Overall, golden rice could have many solutions to health related issues. Other benefits include the reduction of gastrointestinal distress by ensuring easy digestion. It further helps restore intestinal mucus, in case of colitis or gastroenteritis.
Rice is available and acceptable across many cultures and backgrounds. Even poor nations that are prone to vitamin A deficiencies have access to rice and it would be easy to sell it to them, as it remains top in their menus (Domingo 733). Unlike staple crops that are not available all over the world and cannot be stored over the season, golden rice would provide a solution to the provision of vitamin A-rich food throughout the year (Harmon, 2013). Normal rice does not contain any vitamin A, but the use of golden rice eliminates the issue. It is also easy to eat by people of all ages, including children and the aged due to its tenderness and ease of digestion (Enserink 470).
Golden rice is reported to use less input, especially pesticides. Pesticide use is harmful to the health of consumers because they come with many complications. While the effects of individual pesticides to the consumer is known, the effects of their interactions are still unknown. Consequently, there may be more harm that white rice brings to humanity other than just their lack of adequate Vitamin A. The use of golden rice is therefore welcome news. It uses fewer pesticides and eliminates the threats of the effects of pesticides. This also comes with other benefits. Farmers who would plant the crop are expected to be poor. The use of golden rice on their farms would consequently solve a big economic problem because they would spend less on pesticides, but still have big quantities of harvest per acre.
Challenges Facing Golden Rice
Despite many positive campaigns and outreaches that proponents and scientists have fronted to popularize golden rice, it has faced rebellion and has not yet penetrated either the market or its target areas (Harmon). In Philippines, for example, rioters invaded a farm where the rice was being grown as they protested that the rice would hurt them in the long run (Harmon). They claimed that golden rice was a plot to deteriorate their health, so that pharmaceutical industry players would reap a lot of profits from their poor health. The disturbances continued even after the Pope gave his personal blessings towards the consumption of the grains. However, it was conspicuous that the Roman Catholic Church did not issue a supportive statement. Philippines is one of the areas that require urgent provision of vitamin A, and is also dominated by Roman Catholics. In the past, scientists have provided many authentification messages, explaining that there were no side effects in taking golden rice (Harmon). However, all these efforts have been met with hostility even in countries that would benefit as their population suffers from Vitamin A deficiency. Eventually, the product that was seen as one that could save the world from hunger and malnutrition has been demonized and depopularised to be denied any room to spread to other parts of the world (Kaplan). Strong sentiments regarding the negative environmental implications of the golden rice have been on the rise and most people are still not convinced that it will finally provide a solution to the current global food situation (Enserink 470). The opponents also argue that the acceptance of the genetically modified rice would lead to other forms of genetic modifications which could be disastrous since most of the effects are unknown (Mew et al. 368). Despite all the campaigns discrediting the rice, opponents to its consumption do not provide tangible scientific evidence over its effects (Harmon, 2013).
Furthermore, opponents argue that there is malice in the way golden rice is being produced because the resources used in the process are enough to empower communities globally into planting more of the staple foods (Mew et al. 368). They also claim that the production of golden rice by several organizations will create a strong body that will control the prices for basic food commodities at the expense of the poor people. The rice is seen as a plant to create complete control over the food market by a few oligarchs who would squeeze out everything from the poor farmers and malnourished communities.
Food security seems to be one of the most nagging issues in the present and future of humanity. Provision of the necessary minerals and nutrients adds up to the equation because people might have access to food, which leaves them full but malnourished. Overall, they are left with little ability to fight diseases and strength to remain economically and socially productive. The rebellion that golden rice is facing today shows the extent of rejection through which new technologies, which could save the world, would face in the future. Instead of provoking the arguments, researchers, both opposing and proposing the use of golden rice, should intensify their research and ensure that the product is safe and would not have future negative health and environmental implications (Enserink 470). Whether it is accepted or rejected, the glaring truth is that the world needs more sources of food and nutrients away from the mainstream sources, which are increasingly getting overwhelmed by the rapidly increasing population. Science is the only way out to save the world.