Genetically modified (GM) foods fall under the category of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These are organisms that have been changed (or modified) from their natural conditions, usually created through cross-breeding processes (GMO). The focus of this report is on genetically engineered rice and the stance that in spite of some positive aspects of this product, it is not a safe food alternative to naturally grown rice.
Globally, commercially sold rice is not currently genetically modified, as this has not yet been approved by the FDA. The prospect of GM rice is still under research; however, proponents believed that genetically engineered rice is potentially safe for farming and consumption (IRRI).
Pros of GM Rice Production
Rice is one of the world’s most important staple foods and is grown in both tropical and subtropical regions of the world. At least 90 percent of the world’s rice production is in Southeast Asia, China, and India (GMO). There is no question that rice is an integral part of the world’s food supply and without it, food production would be negatively affected.
Current research is focused on cultivating genetically engineered rice that is herbicide-resistant, vitamin-fortified, and allergen-free (GMO). These are some of the pros of GM rice production.
Herbicide-Resistant GM Rice
GM rice is engineered for resistance to herbicides which makes crop weed control easier. Rice breeding often results in high-yielding cultivations of robust crops requiring little or no herbicide. This opens up possibilities for rice crops being tolerant to drought and resistant to pathogens from viruses, bacteria, and fungus (GMO).
Vitamin-Fortified GM Rice
The nutritional value of rice is altered in the process of genetic engineering to increase the vitamin A content in rice, which can reduce vitamin deficiencies around the world. Golden Rice is GM rice that is currently distributed in developing countries to small-scale farmers. Golden Rice is fortified with iron and beta carotein for conversion into vitamin A (GMO). Research findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009 shows Golden Rice provides 50% to 60% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A. Further testing in this area is focused on Golden Rice as a dietary supplement that may reduce preventable health issues, such as night blindness, caused by vitamin A deficiencies. It is estimated that over 200 million people around the world are deficient in vitamin A (Wood).
Allergen-Free GM Rice
Current research in Japan focuses on cultivating rice with less allergens by attempting to repress gene activity leading to AS-Albumin, an allergen. In a food allergen, such as rice, the affected person has some type of allergic reaction to food constituents, additives, residues, or microbial toxins (GMO). Altering gene activity in rice is possible by understanding and manipulating its genetic code stored in its DNA (IRRI).
The Downside of GM Rice
In 2006, testing on a shipment of rice produced by Riceland Foods in Arkansas revealed genetically engineered rice was mixed in with non-genetically engineered commerical rice. The genetically engineered rice in this shipment contained a strain not approved for humans to consume. The rice was contaminated and shipped out and sold in popular brands such as Uncle Ben’s, Rice Krispies, and Gerber (Gunther). This could have made millions of people sick by them unknowingly ingesting tainted rice and rice products. Food that is not fit for human consumption is a potential health hazard to humans and could potentially kill off people in the process. This would be similar to the example by Jonathan Schell that assumed if most people on earth were killed in a nuclear holocaust and the few million who survived were exposed to a substance released into the environment that left everyone sterile, this would cause the human race to die off because of the inability to reproduce (Schell 624). The contaminated rice produce by Riceland Foods had to be recalled.
News about food recalls occur almost daily such as with chickens, eggs, veal, beef, milk, and cheese. Investigations reveal information about tainted animal feed being distributed that have adverse immunological, neurological, and behavioral effects on fetuses, infants, and young children (Steingraber 936)
Moreover, food products not fit for human consumption often show adverse affects when they are exposed to laboratory animals and this sometimes results in reduced fertility, endometriosis, birth defects, liver damage, altered genital development, stunted growth, thyrioid defects, learning deficits, and decreased immune cell responsiveness (Steingraber 938).
Related to this issue, a 2007 report reveals that the United States sold unapproved genetically engineered rice to Mexico. When the Mexican government discovered the contaminated rice was sold to the country, they stopped the entry of U.S. rice into Mexico (Greenpeace). It appears that there are some legitimate fears about the consumption of genetically engineered rice in countries outside of the U.S.
Against GM Rice
According to a recent study, the genetically engineered rice called Golden Rice, which is fortified with beta-carotene to boost vitamin A in the diet, does not prevent blindness as studies previously indicated (Serrano). Additionally, opposition to Golden Rice raises arguments that it may hinder existing vitamin A supplementation programs, such as for people in developing countries. However, one of the larger issues addressed by opponents of Golden Rice is the fact that the public has a right to know when and how it is distributed so that they can decide for themselves (Mayer). This has not always been the case as previously noted. People should be informed if they are purchasing genetically modified food products. According to Cronon (636), everyone has a pattern of energy concentration that is crucial to eating and may not be able to tolerate altered foods.
Based on the information in this research, genetically engineered rice may have unexpected side effects and unpredictable reactions to humans who may be adverse to the chemical compounds found in genetically engineered food products. In addition, disclosure seems to be a problem with genetically engineered rice. Perhaps there should be required disclosure on labels of GM rice products so that consumers are made aware of possibly consuming this product.
In the future, the world must certainly evolve toward the use of altered foods; however, this is something that requires more research and development initiatives to assure the safety of the public. As it shows in this research, current genetically engineered rice may not be a safe and viable alternative to naturally grown commercial rice.
Cronon, W. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. Hill and Wang, 2003. Print. 28 June 2013.
GMO. Crops – Rice. 4 December 2008. Web. 27 June 2013. <http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/grocery_shopping/crops/24.genetically_modified_rice.html>.
Greenpeace. “U.S. Sells Mexico Unapproved GE Rice.” Greenpeace Update Summer 2007: 12. Print. 28 June 2013.
Gunther, M. “Attack of the Mutant Rice.” Fortune 156.1 (2007): 74-80. Print. 28 June 2013.
IRRI. Genetically Modified (GM) Rice. n.d. Web. 27 June 2013. <http://irri.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=itemlist&task=category&id=866:genetically-modified-rice-gm-at-irri&lang=en>.
Mayer, J. E. “The Golden Rice Controversy: Useless Science or Unfounded Criticism?” BioScience 55.9 (2005): 726-727. Print. 28 June 2013.
Schell, J. The Fate of the Earth. 1st. Alfred A. Knopf, 1982. Print. 28 June 2013.
Serrano, I. “Silence isn’t golden.” New Scientist 217.2898 (2013): 4-5. Print.
Steingraber, S. Having Faith . Berkley Trade, 2003. Print. 28 June 2013.
Wood, M. “Golden Rice-2 Shines in Nutrition Study.” Agricultural Research 58.5 (2010): 6-7. Print. 27 June 2013.