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If Golden Rice could speak, it would probably tell its story through the
voices of Dr. Ingo Potrykus, Dr. Peter Beyer and Adrian Dubock. Now, The
Syngenta Foundation website is offering a rare opportunity to hear each one
of their stories, and how they took Golden Rice from the drawing board to
reality, May 2005 by Robert Derham, Checkbiotech .
Last year, designated by the United Nation as the Year of Rice, The
Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture asked the two inventors of
Golden Rice, Drs. Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer, to talk about their
discovery and about its future. In addition, The Syngenta Foundation also
invited Adrian Dubock to talk about Syngenta?s role in the Golden Rice
project (click here for the video presentations).
A Concept is Born
The story starts in the early 1990?s, at the Swiss Federal Institute for
Technology, Zurich with a unique idea from Dr. Ingo Potrykus. He saw that
millions world-wide suffered from blindness and other diseases related to
vitamin A deficiencies. He knew that the areas most affected relied on rice
in their diet, and thus embarked on a journey to develop rice that would
produce pro-vitamin A, or beta-carotene, on its own, which the human body
can then use to produce vitamin A.
In an editorial to the scientific journal Plant Physiology , Dr. Potrykus
noted, ?In the short history of GMO research, ?Golden Rice? is unique in
having been embraced by the public-at-large. The reason for this, I believe,
lies in its emotional appeal ? people are truly concerned about the fate of
blind children, and they are willing to support a technology that offers the
children at risk the opportunity to avoid blindness.?
Armed with the understanding of genetic engineering, Dr. Potrykus teamed up
with Dr. Beyer at the University of Freiburg. Dr. Beyer brought the
essential understanding of the genetics and biochemistry of pro-vitamin A,
or beta-carotene, production in plants that would help ensure the project?s
During his video presentation, Dr. Beyer suggests, ?Micronutrient
deficiencies are a major problem throughout the developing world, among
others vitamin A.?
?Poverty reasons may lead to a predominant consumption of staple foods like
rice, and as a consequence people will suffer from vitamin A deficiencies,
because rice does not contain any beta-carotene.?
Dr. Beyer presents a case for producing biofortified crops, such as Golden
Rice, due to the cost of intervention strategies that are intended to
prevent micronutrient deficiencies. In most cases, this comes in the form of
vitamin supplementation, industrial fortification (fortified food products,
such as cereal and milk) or education.
Yet, Dr. Beyer notes that all supplementation programs have their
limitations and suggests that ?we would like to have plants do the
biofortification themselves,? because it would solve the root of the
problem. If developing countries could be given seeds that would grow Golden
Rice, vitamin A supplementation dependency would essentially be done away
Being the father of the project, in Dr. Potrykus? video presentation, he
conveys a sense of urgency. This is quite understandable when considering
that millions suffer from vitamin A deficiencies.
He starts his presentation with an acknowledgement to Syngenta, where he
highlights, ?I would like to extend my warmest regards to Syngenta for their
He continues by adding, without Syngenta?s help and direction, biofortified
rice would have remained a ?scientific curiosity, but it would not have
contributed to solve vitamin A deficiency. We public scientists would have
not been able to make this possible.?
Dr. Potrykus? frustrations are further complicated by what he labels
?roadblocks.? Two that stand at the forefront are the web of regulatory
rules and propaganda surrounding genetically modified crops.
?The roadblocks that we are faced with are not what we expected in the
beginning, mainly the extreme regulatory roadblocks. If it continues the
technology will not benefit the poor.?
He further expresses his dissatisfaction with many groups that seek to
defame Golden Rice. ?The propaganda from groups is simply not true,? which
was Dr. Potrykus? response to some NGOs who claim that an average diet of
rice cannot be supplemented with Golden Rice to meet the human daily
recommended allowances (RDA) for vitamin A.
In defense of his enhanced rice, Dr. Potrykus shows that from a diet of 200
grams of Golden Rice (SGR1), it would be possible to reach the RDA for women
and approximately 85% for children. Yet, with a new Golden Rice variety
(SGR2) that contains an estimated 10 times as much beta-carotene as the
first variety of Golden Rice, he argues that false and detrimental
propaganda against Golden Rice ?is simply not true.?
A photograph shown during the video presentation clearly depicts the
increase in pigmentation from normal rice (white) to SGR1 (golden) to SGR2
(dark orange). After showing the photo, Dr. Potrykus also hints at other
transgenic rice varieties, yet to come, that will have even higher amounts
of beta-carotene than SGR2.
Where Public meets Private
Often accused of having a hidden agenda, in his presentation Adrian Dubock
quickly lays to rest any false propaganda surrounding Syngenta?s current
participation in the Golden Rice project.
?Today Syngenta has no commercial interest in Golden Rice, but as you can
see the support for the humanitarian project continues.?
Dubock addresses the concern that some have regarding public-private
ventures, such as Golden Rice. Where many applaud the growing trend, there
is an equally vocal audience that disapproves.
Yet, Dubock numerates the weaknesses of the public sector and the private
sector, and notes how the strengths of each partner cancel out the
Equally contested is the notion of patents and licenses. Dubock thoroughly
explains the licensing agreement that Syngenta, Dr. Potrykus and Dr. Beyer
drew up for Golden Rice. The agreement clearly explains that Golden Rice
will be made freely available to poor farmers, who can trade Golden Rice
locally ? thus ending the concern that genetically engineered crops run the
risk of creating dependency for farmers.
He further explains how licensing agreements facilitate regulatory
submissions, increase outside participation, define publication policies
with regards to research and over all, they simply provide clarity for all
The Syngenta Foundation invites everyone to watch the videos and hear what
Golden Rice has to say through its spokespeople. The videos will provide
answers to the following questions:
Why Golden Rice
What daily intake of Golden Rice is estimated to help reduce VAD
Who owns Golden Rice
Can farmers freely reuse seed
What is the taste of Golden Rice
Are there cultural issues with eating colored rice
What are the environmental effects
When and where will Golden Rice become available
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