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Interview With Professor Potrykus, Inventor of Golden Rice 400

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the better-living-through-genetic-engineering dept.
crabel writes "According to WHO, 127 millions of pre-school children worldwide suffer from vitamin A deficiency, causing some 500,000 cases of irreversible blindness every year. This deficiency is responsible for 600,000 deaths among children under the age of 5. Golden Rice might be a solution to this problem. The only problem? It's GMO. In an interview inventor Potrykus, now close to 80 years old, answers questions about the current state of approval, which might happen in the next couple of months."
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Interview With Professor Potrykus, Inventor of Golden Rice

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @03:08AM (#44805563)

    It being a GMO isn't a problem, unless you're a Luddite.

  • by kruach aum (1934852) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @03:09AM (#44805567)

    Ignorance and fear are the problem.

  • by rossz (67331) <ogre.geekbiker@net> on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @03:18AM (#44805589) Homepage Journal

    Idiots who shop at Whole Foods would rather a child go blind due to vitamin deficiency rather than allow an evil GMO food to be used. Their suggestion of "they should eat more vegetables" ignores the simple fact that they need the special rice because they don't have access to the fucking vegetables.

    Tons of food have been destroyed in Africa because of this ignorance. It's better that people starve rather than risk ingesting a GMO food. What. The. Fuck?

  • I can't imagine (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @03:23AM (#44805611)

    600k more children living... I bet they're some place that is already suffering a child shortage right? Great, so you fix their death by problem 1 and lead them right into death by problems 2 through 100.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @03:36AM (#44805653)

    Are you really that surprised? Africa's seen this sort of insanity before. Better let AIDS spread like wildfire than allow sinful condoms to be used.

    Newsflash: people are idiots and idiot people will believe whatever any authority figure will tell them under certain conditions. The good feeling they get thinking they're acting on behalf of a deity (in one case) or that they're acting to rid the planet of toxic evil food (in the other case) is all they need.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @03:42AM (#44805679)

    Ignorance and fear are the problem.

    GMO could be a problem depending on how it is done and how it is deployed. Ignorance and fear prevent any meaningful discussion of the matter. Calling for more research into the risks and then trampling experimental crop fields doesn't help either.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @04:15AM (#44805795)

    We tinkered around with our food system and 2/3 of the population is over-weight and 1/3 is obese. We suffer from heart disease, diabetes and related problems in epidemic proportions.

    Heart disease, diabetes and related problems are usually related to overweight. Golden Rice is about malnutrition.

    Maybe the solution isn't genetically modifying rice but something simpler as finding the right vegetables to grow alongside the rice that supplies the missing vitamin.

    That's what Greenpeace et al. recommends. Doesn't work. People need their land for rice.

    Plus, vitamin A in excess is toxic and causes liver damage. Maybe we fix childhood blindness but instead give teenage cirrhosis.

    Golden Rice doesn't contain vitamin A. It is enriched with -carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. Overconsumption is not a problem. (If you eat really *alot* your skin becomes orange, but this wellknown condition is benign)

    Just because we can genetically modify plants doesn't mean we should go around looking for problems to solve with it, especially that can have large possibly unknown consequences.

    Agree. It's better to put our trust in arbitrary fears and let a couple of million children go blind.

  • by hawkinspeter (831501) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @04:38AM (#44805897)
    That's a false dichotomy - there's more than one way to skin a cat. How about we encourage them to grow more sweet potatoes (which naturally have a high vitamin A content) rather than forcing them to grow cash crops to export in a futile attempt to pay back their international debts?
  • GMO won't fix this (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dutchwhizzman (817898) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @04:44AM (#44805915)
    You can artificially put vitamin A in (expensive, copyrighted) rice, but you won't fix the poverty that is the cause of all this. Once these people will (maybe, if they can afford it) have access to rice with vitamin A in it, the next deficiency will kill the "new" survivors. Fix their poverty, not their lack of vitamin A in their food. They will take care of the vitamin A without having to resort to GMO rice. Spending money on this sort of food modification won't pay for anyone but the copyright holders. It's not even about the "risks" of GMO, it's about the futility of trying to solve poverty with it.
  • by kf6auf (719514) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @04:55AM (#44805957)

    It's not entirely the fault of the populace that they are ignorant. Have you tried finding out in what way GMO foods at your local supermarket have been modified?

    Heck, if the agriculture companies had started using genetic engineering to make crops healthier, they would have been far more likely to be accepted. But they started by making crops more watery (and thus less nutritious), making it so farmers can blanket entire US states with herbicides without affecting the desired crops, and introducing pesticides that AFAIK are just assumed to be safe. So a broad brush was used, and because of the agriculture companies it was the bad brush instead of the good one.

  • by rycamor (194164) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @05:05AM (#44806003)

    No kidding. The anti-Luddites are just as bad as the Luddites when it comes to this stuff. There is a whole spectrum of food available without needing to rely on someone's patented experiment.

    With sweet potato, it's not just vitamin A. they have about the highest concentration and spectrum of vitamins you will find in any common crop. And it's freaking easy to grow. The problem is not lack of technology, but lack of simple knowledge and willingness to apply it.

    Another crop that is ridiculously easy to grow in temperate and tropical zones is the moringa tree, which produces copious edible leaves and seed pods, with a near-miraculous nutritional profile. Unfortunately, try to get poor Africans to grow it and eat it and they will often turn up their noses in disgust, calling it "poor people food". Sweet potato often receives the same low-brow snobbery in the USA, actually.

    The problem of nutrition is always more cultural than anything else. Look at the USA itself, where abundant nutritious food is available, yet the average American gets most of his calories from high-fructose corn syrup (delivered to your gullet in many sneaky ways). And when you add up HFCS and highly-processed grains, that probably accounts for a good 85% of the calories eaten in this country.

    So yes, "golden rice" might solve a problem, in the sense that it would fool culturally-bound people who are unwilling to forego rice as their staple food. But it's hardly the only way. And I do remain highly suspicious of the long-term risk/benefit scenario with GMOs.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @05:10AM (#44806017)

    Posting anon to avoid removing mods

    Syngenta != Monstano;
    Swiss Federal Institute of Technology != Monsanto;
    University of Freiburg != Monsanto;

    In this case, even Monsanto (Potrykus has spearheaded an effort to have golden rice distributed for free to subsistence farmers. Free licenses for developing countries were granted quickly due to the positive publicity that golden rice received, particularly in Time magazine in July 2000. Golden rice was said to be the first recombinant DNA tech crop that was unarguably beneficial. Monsanto Company was one of the first companies to grant free licences.

    The cutoff between humanitarian and commercial use was set at US$10,000. Therefore, as long as a farmer or subsequent user of golden rice genetics does not make more than $10,000 per year, no royalties need to be paid. In addition, farmers are permitted to keep and replant seed. [ Courtesy of Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]]) != Monsanto;

    STFU with your (and every other persons) rant about Monsanto in this thread. Not everyone is the devil incarnate Monsanto, not even Monsanto all the time.

  • by Joce640k (829181) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @05:29AM (#44806075) Homepage

    It's a cool thing, but some of us aren't playing games when it comes to our health.

    Why would GMO affect your health? Do you have any idea what percentage of 'natural' plants are nasty, poisonous, cancer-inducing, etc.?

    eg. Potatoes. When they turn green in sunlight it's because they're making a deadly poison to protect themselves. It can cause illness, birth defects and even death. There's no way a potato would get FDA approval if it was introduced in our diets today.

    Tomatoes have it, too. You know potatoes and tomatoes are members of the nightshade family, right? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solanine [wikipedia.org]

    I hope you're totally paranoid about potatoes and ask to inspect them before cooking if you're in a restaurant. Peeling away the green skin doesn't remove it (the green is only chlorophyll, not the Solanine) and it's not affected by heat. You do, ask, right?

    Oh, wait...people have been eating them for more than 100 years so it doesn't count.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @05:33AM (#44806089)

    Ignorance and fear are the problem.

    GMO could be a problem depending on how it is done and how it is deployed. Ignorance and fear prevent any meaningful discussion of the matter. Calling for more research into the risks and then trampling experimental crop fields doesn't help either.

    Monsanto Marketeers would call that "anti-advertising".

    Most of the ignorance and fear you speak of stems directly from the mistrust in the very companies controlling GMOs, who go so far as to prevent any such labeling on any food to merely identify it as containing their own product. Perhaps if certain companies were a bit more open and honest instead of wanting to secure profits in any way possible, the ignorance and fear could be quelled.

  • by hawkinspeter (831501) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @05:57AM (#44806137)
    I was mainly thinking about Africa, rather than the Philippines, but the same situation exists there as well.

    It's not the rice that is forcing them to grow cash crops, but it's their external debt that forces them to grow cash crops for export which then leads to local consumers being unable to afford the crops that are grown within their own country.

    Ownership of the seeds from a crop is vitally important to people who are trying to feed themselves as they may not be able to purchase the seeds for the next season if they have a bad season. If they switch away from traditional crops (that they can keep the seed from) to GMO crops, they'd better have kept enough seed for switching back again if they fall on hard times.
  • by daem0n1x (748565) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @06:39AM (#44806231)

    The real problem is this kind of complicated, expensive and dangerous "solution" when simply introducing other crops that naturally provide vitamin D would fix the issue.

    Reminds me of that old joke about the US spending millions of dollars to develop a pen which can write in space, and the Soviet cosmonauts simply using a pencil.

  • by N1AK (864906) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @07:04AM (#44806311) Homepage

    So yes, "golden rice" might solve a problem, in the sense that it would fool culturally-bound people who are unwilling to forego rice as their staple food. But it's hardly the only way. And I do remain highly suspicious of the long-term risk/benefit scenario with GMOs.

    It would solve the problem of insufficient vitamin A and virtually instantly; I really can't see how that point is debatable, even by people who think it is a bad idea for other reasons.

    There are dozens of possible solutions, virtually all of which have been available for decades now. They aren't being applied. Moving people to 'golden rice' is a trivial change comparative to trying to change the diet of hundreds of millions of people, the crops of millions of farmers and the supply chain for millions of tonnes of food.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @07:13AM (#44806337)

    If the idea is to help people, then forgo the patent entirely. cede it to the public. retract the patent.

    If the idea is to make money from people's hunger, then keep the patents.

  • by N1AK (864906) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @07:17AM (#44806349) Homepage
    I find it interesting that you think changing agricultural practice and diet across a gigantic swathe of the globe is 'simple'.

    If Norman Borlaug had tried to introduce more efficient crops instead of developing dwarf wheat he would not have saved hundreds of millions of lives and been awarded one of the most appropriate nobel peace prizes for his work.

    Golden rice is licensed freely to small farmers and they are free to re-use seed so there's no typical lock-in risk.

    We know the modifications that have been made to the rice. We know the nutritional and organic content of the rice produced. There's no credible reason to believe that golden rice will have negative health consequences; but we know for damn sure that people are dying and going blind now.
  • by somersault (912633) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @07:43AM (#44806447) Homepage Journal

    Nobody's trying to make money from people's hunger. That would be evil! These guys are trying to make money from people's blindness. Big difference.

    Tongue out of cheek.. everyone is "making money from people's hunger", or lack of clothing, or lack of computers, etc. Stop trying to make it sound wrong. Researchers need to eat too.

  • by the plant doctor (842044) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:14AM (#44806581)

    So in your world, blindness and other consequences of nutritional deficiency is in no way a driver of poverty?

    Poverty and well-being are inextricably linked. It's a vicious cycle. If you can start breaking into it at any point it's helpful. Golden Rice is just one entry point into this cycle.

  • by BrokenHalo (565198) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @09:53AM (#44807393)

    We know, but there are so many people out there that think either "GMO = HCFS" or "GMO = Unhealthy" or, my favorite, "GMO = Monsanto" as if they were the only company that uses GMO techniques.

    As a biotech graduate, I get very tired of the hysterical drivel we hear about GMOs (OK, for those who are too damn lazy to Google it: genetically modified organisms). It's as if the last thing we want is an informed debate.

    But the same people still expect to reap the benefit of GMOs, from new drugs for treatment of disease to the sweeteners in their diet Coke.

  • by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @11:41AM (#44808589) Journal

    I'm sure you can find better examples than this. India is currently using non-GMO, manure-fertilized crop and sustainable growing practices to break world records for crop yield (overall and per land area) in rice, wheat, and potato. That means, yes, they're beating all of our advanced, scientific magic where we use chemical pesticides and herbicides followed by GMO crops and chemical fertilizers... just by shoveling horse shit into the land.

    Usually arguments about how farmers are doing it wrong end out with people telling me--with no farming experience of their own--that they don't know what the hell they're talking about BUT since the high-dollar farmers in America are so smart they must know what they're doing and it's probably impossible to grow an appreciable amount of food without using chemical pesticides and fertilizers. The last guy cited the Green Revolution (scientific advancements in crop growth that basically saved the world from starvation by inventing new growing techniques centered around chemical fertilizers and modernized industrial practices), but I'm fairly certain that "X happened and Y fixed it, therefor only Y works" is a logical fallacy.

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