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Alexander J. Stein

Economist interested in agriculture, food, nutrition, health, technology, sustainability, economic development & poverty alleviation worldwide. This is a personal account; posts are not necessarily endorsements. More at www.AJStein.de
Jul 24 '14

Stunting: The Cruel Curse of Malnutrition in Nepal - IPS (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Global Nutrition

Durga Ghimire had her first child at the age of 18 and the second at 21. As a young mother, Durga didn’t really understand the importance of taking care of her own health during pregnancy. “I didn’t realise it would have an impact on my baby” … It is late in the afternoon and she is waiting expectantly for her two older daughters to return from school. One is nine and the other is six, but they look much smaller than their actual age.

“They are smaller in height and build and teachers at school say their learning process is also much slower”… She is worried that the girls are stunted, and is trying to ensure her third child gets proper care… UNICEF explains stunting as chronic under-nutrition during critical periods of growth and development between the ages of 0-59 months. The consequences of stunting are irreversible and in Nepal the condition affects 41 percent of children under the age of five…

“Reducing stunting among children increases their chances of reaching their full development potential, which in turn will have a long-term impact on families’, communities’ and the country’s ability to thrive.”

Child health and nutrition experts argue that, while poverty is directly related to inadequate intake of food, it is not the sole indicator of malnutrition or increased stunting… the immediate causes include poor nutrient intake, particularly early in life. Fifty percent of stunting happens during pregnancy and the rest after infants are born.

“When we are talking about nutrient-rich food […] we are talking about ensuring that children get enough of it even before they are born” … Thus it is incumbent on expecting mothers to follow a careful diet 

In preparation for her daughter’s feeding time, Ghimire mixes together a bowl of homemade leeto, a porridge containing one-part whole grains such as millet or wheat and two-parts pulses such as beans or soy.

“I was only using grains to make the leeto before I was taught to make it properly by the health workers… I had no idea that simple things like washing my hands properly could have such a long term effect on my daughter’s health”… Even seemingly common infections like diarrhoea can, in the first two years, put a child at greater risk of stunting…

Experts recognise the need to fight simultaneously on multiple fronts. “Our work in nutrition has proven again and again that a single approach to stunting doesn’t work because the causes are so many – it really has to be tackled in a coordinated way”… In 2009 the government conducted the Nutrition Assessment and Gap Analysis (NAGA), which recommended building a multi-sector nutrition architecture to address the gaps in health and nutrition programmes. 

“The NAGA study stated clearly that nutrition was not the responsibility of one department”… Thus, in 2012, five ministries in Nepal came together with the NPC and development partners to form the Multi-Sector Nutrition Plan (MSNP)… Interventions include biannual vitamin D and folic acid supplements for expectant mothers, deworming for children, prenatal care, and life skills for adolescent girls. On the agricultural front, ministries aim to increase the availability of food at the community level through homestead food production, access to clean and cheap energy sources such a biogas and improved cooking stoves, and the education of men to share household loads… 

The World Bank has estimated that malnutrition can cause productivity losses of as much as 10 percent of lifetime earnings among the affected, and cause a reduction of up to three percent of a country’s GDP… 

http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/stunting-the-cruel-curse-of-malnutrition-in-nepal/


See on ipsnews.net

Jul 24 '14

Senator, nutrition experts support research on healthier rice - IRRI (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Rice is the largest part of the Filipino diet and healthier versions of the staple can go a long way in helping solve key health concerns, as well as improve public health in general… Villar, chair of the Philippine Senate’s Committee on Agriculture and Food, also said that “IRRI’s Healthier Rice Program plays an important role in fighting the prevalence of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies among Filipinos” … In line with the approach promoted by global nutrition experts advocating a toolkit approach of interventions, Villar said that… “there is also a need to encourage Filipinos to eat more vegetables” … 

“Rice science can contribute to closing gaps in nutrition, in the Philippines and in other rice-consuming countries,” said… IRRI’s deputy director general… “We remain committed to the fight against micronutrient deficiency through our healthier rice program.”

IRRI is developing rice varieties that have higher levels of iron, zinc, and beta-carotene. These rice varieties can complement current strategies to reduce micronutrient deficiencies. The Institute supports the efforts of the Philippine government… to end malnutrition in the Philippines and in other rice-consuming countries.

http://irri.org/news/media-releases/senator-nutrition-experts-support-research-on-healthier-rice


See on irri.org

Jul 24 '14

Genetic Technology and Food Security - Rosso (2014) - Am J Comparat Law

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

In the United States and globally, producers cultivate millions of hectares of genetically modified crops. In the United States, the USDA, EPA, and FDA govern authorization of GMOs under federal laws and agency regulations. Because food produced from GMOs is not considered materially different from conventional food, federal laws require no special labels. To address consumer concerns, states are considering label requirements. Tort remedies are available to redress damage from GMOs, but litigation has not focused on harm from GM food. GM technology is controversial, and many nations have imposed regulatory barriers or prohibitions. In the coming decades, however, GM crops may help to satisfy global demand for food and to meet the challenges of climate change… 

http://dx.doi.org/10.5131/AJCL.2013.0025

Full PDF: http://ascl.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Journal-Supplement-Reports-2014-pdf.pdf


See on comparativelaw.metapress.com

Jul 24 '14

Understanding public attitudes to science - Skinner & Shah (2014) - Significance

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

What does a medical records database in England have to do with genetically modified crops or climate change? Gideon Skinner andJayesh Navin Shah of Ipsos MORI summarise a comprehensive new study on people’s attitudes to science and scientists in the UK, and the lessons for policy-makers and researchers. 


In January of this year, the National Health Service in England announced plans to upload the medical data held by GPs and hospitals to a single repository… to improve information sharing across the service… after some vocal opposition and public confusion about the scheme, the project was delayed for six months to allow more time for debate and discussion with patients and GPs.

At a time when revelations about mass surveillance programmes and phone hacking are hot news, this response might have been expected; that it was not is perhaps an indication that we have failed to learn the lessons of seemingly unrelated but similarly “hot button” issues like genetically modified (GM) crops or climate change – topics where the weight of scientific opinion is not always reflected in the public discourse.

Why do these disconnects occur between scientific knowledge and public understanding? Sometimes it is to do with levels of trust (or the lack of it); other times it may come down to the inability of scientists to communicate in ways that resonate with people… 

While attempts to “educate” the public on the scientific facts around an issue may flounder, that does not mean that scientists and researchers should stop talking to the public about their work. In fact, people want to engage directly with scientists and researchers more often. The PAS 2014 survey finds seven in ten agreeing that “scientists should listen more to what ordinary people think” (69%) and that they should “spend more time discussing the social and ethical implications of their research with the public” (68%). Half (53%) think scientists “should be rewarded for communicating their research to the public”.

The PAS studies suggest that the key to successful science communication is to understand that there are multiple “publics”. While people want to engage, not everyone will do so in the same way, or through the same channels. It is, therefore, worth policy-makers and researchers reflecting on whom they are aiming to engage and how. While some people will relish the technical details, others are more interested in the social and ethical implications of the work.

While UK public attitudes to science are overwhelmingly positive, this does not reduce the need for dialogue with the public. Regardless of whether the issues at hand are GM crops or big data, people want to hear more from the scientists and researchers working in these areas. While the public may already support various scientific and technological changes in principle, there are many concerns beneath this, and these are partly driven by confusion over how scientists and researchers go about their work, and what their intentions are. Scientists and researchers need to communicate these points, and need to tailor their communication for different audiences – very few people will engage with the hard scientific facts alone.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1740-9713.2014.00748.x


See on onlinelibrary.wiley.com

Jul 23 '14

Leverage points for improving global food security and the environment - West & al (2014) - Science

See on Scoop.it - Food Policy

Achieving sustainable global food security is one of humanity’s contemporary challenges. Here we present an analysis identifying key “global leverage points” that offer the best opportunities to improve both global food security and environmental sustainability. We find that a relatively small set of places and actions could provide enough new calories to meet the basic needs for more than 3 billion people, address many environmental impacts with global consequences, and focus food waste reduction on the commodities with the greatest impact on food security. These leverage points in the global food system can help guide how nongovernmental organizations, foundations, governments, citizens’ groups, and businesses prioritize actions… 


We focused our analysis on 17 key global crops… composing the 16 highest-calorie–producing crops consumed as food, as well as cotton, because of its intensive water and nutrient use. These 17 crops cover 58% of the global cropland area harvested and produce 86% of the world’s crop calories. They also account for most resource use on croplands: 95% of irrigated area, 92% of irrigation water consumption, and ~70% of all nitrogen and phosphorus application… 


Increasing yields in low-performing areas by closing the yield gap to 50% of attainable yields could increase total production by 358 megatons per year… which is enough calories to meet the basic needs of ~850 million people… Targeting reductions in fertilizer use to a small set of crops and countries could… have a large effect on global nitrogen and phosphorus pollution… 


If current crop production used for animal feed and other nonfood uses (including biofuels) were targeted for direct consumption, ~70% more calories would become available, potentially providing enough calories to meet the basic needs of an additional 4 billion people. The human-edible crop calories that do not end up in the food system are referred to as the “diet gap” … Maize represents the largest potential gain, accounting for 41% of the global diet gap. Maize in the United States accounts for 19% of the global diet gap, which is enough calories for 760 million people… 


Curbing consumer waste of major food crops (i.e., wheat, rice, and vegetables) and meats (i.e., beef, pork, and poultry) in [the United States, China, and India] alone could feed ~413 million people per year if the feed calories embodied in meat are included… 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1246067


See on sciencemag.org

Jul 23 '14

Fertilizer subsidies and food self-sufficiency in Indonesia - Warr & Yusuf (2014) - Ag Econ

See on Scoop.it - Food Policy

Indonesia is a net importer of almost all of its staple foods. National self-sufficiency in food, especially the main staple, rice, is a core objective of economic policy. Poverty reduction is also a core policy objective.

Since the 1970s, Indonesia has used agricultural input subsidies, especially on fertilizer, to stimulate agricultural production, largely in pursuit of the goal of rice self-sufficiency. More recently, it has also used output protection, especially in rice, for the same purpose.

This article utilizes a multisectoral, multihousehold general equilibrium model of the Indonesian economy to study the trade-offs between the goals of self-sufficiency and poverty reduction when two alternative means are used to achieve them: a fertilizer subsidy, on the one hand, and output protection, on the other. It does this by analyzing the aggregate and distributional effects of these two sets of policies and by comparing their effects with nonintervention.

The analysis shows that, in terms of its effects on poverty, a fertilizer subsidy can be a more effective instrument for achieving the goal of rice self-sufficiency than final product import restrictions.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/agec.12107


See on onlinelibrary.wiley.com

Jul 23 '14

Africa’s GM-phobia hinders agricultural development - Trust (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

The “dysfunctional” debate surrounding genetically modified crops is stifling agricultural development in Africa… According to a new report published by the London-based think tank Chatham House, continual field trials have resulted in a “convenient deadlock”.

Governments appease supporters of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by accommodating their research, yet also placate opponents because no new technology actually gains final approval.

The report noted that genetic modification (GM) is seen as highly controversial in the wider public debate, but less so by scientists and donors.

Only three sub-Saharan countries - Burkina Faso, Sudan and South Africa - have commercialised GM crop varieties, which were initially developed for American rather than African farmers.

Markets in Africa are far smaller than those in European and North America, reducing incentives for agricultural innovation… There is also a lack of technical expertise, and access to credit is limited. This makes it tough to implement long-term policies.

Those who wish to see GMOs used more widely in Africa must be politically astute and focus on a few “best-bet” countries… The wider context is “typified by misinformation, polarised public discourse and dysfunctional and opportunistic politics”

The first GM crops grown in India, Bt cotton seeds… have now been adopted by over 90 percent of India’s cotton farmers… a similar situation could arise in Africa if a GM seed emerges that sufficiently mobilises demand among farmers, pushing them to share it… 


http://www.trust.org/item/20140721170653-0qmo6/


Original report: http://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/trial-agricultural-biotechnology-africa


See on trust.org

Jul 23 '14

US-EU trade talks sour amid chlorine chicken fears - Washington Post (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Visions of chlorine-drenched chickens and the prospect of genetically modified [food] invading dinner tables across the European Union are proving serious impediments to the signing of a sweeping free trade agreement between the United States and the 28-country bloc… Suspicions toward the U.S. following a spying scandal and electoral considerations on both sides of the Atlantic have also not helped to foster progress… 

The two sides can’t even agree on chicken meat — the EU bans U.S. poultry imports because chickens there are rinsed with chlorine to kill germs after slaughter. “If our chickens are going to be excluded from their market because of this false prejudice, that’s a big issue,” said Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics… 


Just as thorny is Europe’s refusal to allow the import of hormone-treated beef and genetically modified crops. Fears of “Frankenfood” remain a key concern of consumer groups… EU officials reject those claims against the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership as “scaremongering,” “There is nothing dangerous in TTIP,” Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht told European lawmakers this week… 


In an ironic twist, opposition has grown in Germany, the country that stands to benefit most from the deal… There’s also increasing suspicion toward America after spying revelations that reportedly included wire-tapping Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone by the National Security Agency. A recent poll for German public broadcaster ARD found 55 percent thought TTIP would be negative for Europeans…

http://www.washingtonpost.com/bf224f62-0e6e-11e4-b0dd-edc009ac1f9d_story.html



See on washingtonpost.com

Jul 23 '14

GEAC clears import of GM soyabean oil - Business Standard (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

India’s biotech regulator Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has given green signal for the import of Genetically Modified (GM) soybean oil. 

"Three applications for import of GM Soybean oil were permitted as highly processed food like oil do not contain detectable DNA or Proteins"… GEAC said, adding that more than 70 countries are importing GM soybean and canola oil.

The statutory body, which held its 121st meeting on Friday, also permitted confined field trials of 13 GM crops, including rice, brinjal, chickpea, mustard and cotton, out of the 15 cases it considered… 

During the GEAC meeting, three cases of pharmaceuticals were also considered of which two were deferred and one case pertaining to revalidation of the GEAC nod was permitted… 

An official said all GM crops field trials are subject to stringent norms which are as per the international standards. India has so far only allowed commercial growth of BT cotton… 

Sources said that the moratorium continues for BT brinjal and the only commercial release at present is cotton, which is grown on around 11 million hectares in the country. The decision on commercialisation of BT brinjal is yet to by taken by the government, the sources said.

http://www.business-standard.com/article/markets/geac-clears-import-of-gm-soyabean-oil-114072000113_1.html


See on business-standard.com

Jul 22 '14

The Real Price of Steak - Weizmann Sci (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Food Policy

New research reveals the comparative environmental costs of livestock-based foods… Eating beef is bad for the environment, but do we know its real cost? Are the other animal or animal-derived foods better or worse? New research… compared the environmental costs of various foods and came up with some surprisingly clear results…  [The researchers] asked which types of animal based-food should one consume, environmentally speaking. Though many studies have addressed parts of the issue, none has done a thorough, comparative study that gives a multi-perspective picture of the environmental costs of food derived from animals.
 The team looked at the five main sources of protein in the American diet: dairy, beef, poultry, pork and eggs. Their idea was to calculate the environmental inputs – the costs – per nutritional unit: a calorie or gram of protein. The main challenge the team faced was to devise accurate, faithful input values. For example, cattle grazing on arid land in the western half of the US use enormous amounts of land, but relatively little irrigation water. Cattle in feedlots, on the other hand, eat mostly corn, which requires less land, but much more irrigation and nitrogen fertilizer…   Using the US for this study is ideal… because much of the data quality is high, enabling… to include, for example, figures on import-export imbalances that add to the cost. The environmental inputs the team considered included land use, irrigation water, greenhouse gas emissions, and nitrogen fertilizer use. Each of these costs is a complex environmental system. For example, land use, in addition to tying up this valuable resource in agriculture, is the main cause of biodiversity loss. Nitrogen fertilizer creates water pollution in natural waterways. When the numbers were in, including those for the environmental costs of different kinds of feed (pasture, roughage such as hay, and concentrates such as corn), the team developed equations that yielded values for the environmental cost – per calorie and then per unit of protein, for each food.
The calculations showed that the biggest culprit, by far, is beef. That was no surprise… The surprise was in the size of the gap: In total, eating beef is more costly to the environment by an order of magnitude – about ten times on average – than other animal-derived foods… Cattle require on average 28 times more land and 11 times more irrigation water, are responsible for releasing 5 times more greenhouse gases, and consume 6 times as much nitrogen, as eggs or poultry. Poultry, pork, eggs and dairy all came out fairly similar. That was also  surprising, because dairy production is often thought to be relatively environmentally benign. But the research shows that the price of irrigating and fertilizing the crops fed to milk cows – as well as the relative inefficiency of cows in comparison to other livestock – jacks up the cost significantly…  This study could have a number of implications. In addition to helping individuals make better choices about their diet, it should hopefully help inform agricultural policy. And the tool the team has created for analyzing the environmental costs of agriculture can be expanded and refined…  http://wis-wander.weizmann.ac.il/the-real-price-of-steak Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1402183111 ;
See on wis-wander.weizmann.ac.il

Jul 22 '14

Climate: Meat turns up the heat - Carnegie Sci (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Food Policy

Eating meat contributes to climate change, due to greenhouse gasses emitted by livestock. New research finds that livestock emissions are on the rise and that beef cattle are responsible for far more greenhouse gas emissions than other types of animals… 

Carbon dioxide is the most-prevalent gas when it comes to climate change. It is released by vehicles, industry, and forest removal and comprises the greatest portion of greenhouse gas totals. But methane and nitrous oxide are also greenhouse gasses and account for approximately 28 percent of global warming activity.

Methane and nitrous oxide are released, in part, by livestock. Animals release methane as a result of microorganisms that are involved in their digestive processes and nitrous oxide from decomposing manure. These two gasses are responsible for a quarter of these non-carbon dioxide gas emissions and 9 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions overall…

The research team… estimated the greenhouse gas emissions related to livestock… over a nearly half a century and found that livestock emissions increased by 51 percent… They found a stark difference between livestock-related emissions in the developing world, which accounts for most of this increase, and that released by developed countries. This [difference] is expected to increase further… as demand for meat, dairy products, and eggs is predicted… to double by 2050. By contrast, developed countries reached maximum livestock emissions in the 1970s and have been in decline since that time.

“The developing world is getting better at reducing greenhouse emissions caused by each animal, but this improvement is not keeping up with the increasing demand for meat… As a result, greenhouse gas emissions from livestock keep going up and up in much of the developing world.”

Breaking it down by animal, beef and dairy cattle comprised 74 percent of livestock-related greenhouse gas emissions, 54 percent coming from beef cattle and 17 percent from dairy cattle. Part of this is due to the abundance of cows, but it is also because cattle emit greater quantities of methane and nitrous oxide than other animals. Sheep comprised 9 percent, buffalo 7 percent, pigs 5 percent, and goats 4 percent.

“That tasty hamburger is the real culprit… It might be better for the environment if we all became vegetarians, but a lot of improvement could come from eating pork or chicken instead of beef.”

https://carnegiescience.edu/news/climate_meat_turns_heat

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10584-014-1197-x


See on carnegiescience.edu

Jul 22 '14

Eating meat: Constants and changes - Smil (2014) - Global Food Sec

See on Scoop.it - Food Policy

Expanding the current practices of meat production would worsen its already considerable environmental consequences but more environmentally sensitive ways of meat production are possible. Although they could not match the current levels of meat supply, they could provide nutritionally adequate levels worldwide. This would mean a break with historical trends but such a shift is already underway in many affluent countries and demographic and economic factors are likely to strengthen it in decades ahead.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2014.06.001


See on sciencedirect.com

Jul 22 '14

Water Resources and Food Security - Ringler & Zhu (2014) - Agronomy J

See on Scoop.it - Food Policy

Agricultural water use includes a continuum from purely rainfed to fully irrigated systems. Growing pressures on limited water supplies from domestic, industrial, and environmental uses will likely lead to a decline in water availability for food production. Similarly, income growth and urbanization lead to dietary shifts that require more water resources per calorie consumed, putting further pressures on water supplies. As a result, semiarid and arid countries continue to increase net imports of food. Crop water use for sugarcane, maize, soybean, and fruits are expected to grow over time, whereas water use for wheat and rice are expected to decline after 2030.

These projections include substantial improvements in water use efficiency at the field, farm, and river basin scale over the coming decades in response to growing water scarcity. If these efficiency improvements are not achieved, future crop water demands would be even larger. Although water resources are a key limiting factor for future food security, policy and investment options to reduce agricultural water use exist on both the water supply and demand side; but political will and ingenuity are needed for their implementation… 

Water is essential for agricultural production and irrigation has been crucial for global food security and has contributed to significant crop yield increases and saved large land areas from deforestation. At the same time, the future of irrigation and all crop water uses are threatened… Food production will need to increase by an estimated 70% between 2005 and 2050 to meet growing food demands. However, under business-as-usual, this can only be achieved at higher food prices, reducing access to food for the poorest.

Much of the growth in water use for food production will be driven by the rapidly growing middle class in much of Asia, Latin America, and parts of Africa… per capita consumption of vegetables, meat products, milk, and sugars is increasing while consumption of cassava, rice, and maize as food is declining. At the same time, maize is increasingly used as animal feed with a much larger total water footprint compared with direct consumption of cereals… 

Key avenues to reduce the pressure on growing water scarcity for food production include increased water use efficiency at the field, irrigation system, and basin scale through regulatory measures, better institutions and management practices, and economic incentives. Although water pricing has been highly successful for reducing demand in the domestic and industrial water sectors, for irrigation, zero or very low levels of water prices are common… 

Other important avenues for water savings in agriculture include crop breeding toward more water-conserving crops, expanded use of water-saving technologies such as laser land leveling and precision agriculture, and development of new water resources, particularly through the construction of new reservoirs or better use of groundwater storage…

Importantly, all water-conserving strategies—be it new infrastructure, new crop varieties or other technologies, institutional change, or irrigation water pricing—have significant lag times and many are costly to implement. It is therefore important to work on these water-saving technologies today to enhance food security for future generations.

http://dx.doi.org/10.2134/agronj14.0256


See on dl.sciencesocieties.org

Jul 21 '14

Nigeria to adopt genetically modified crops, says agency - Guardian (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

The Federal Government has put in place necessary regulatory guidelines to fast track the adoption of Genetically Modified Organisms (crops) (GMO). Addressing a press conference… on the need for a Biosafety law for the adoption of Biotechnology in the country, NABDA [National Agricultural Biotechnology Development Agency] Director General, Prof. Lucy Ogbadu, said the Federal Ministry of Environment has a Biosafety Unit with well trained staff internationally and nationally to manage Biosafety matters… include Draft Biosafety Regulation on labelling, packaging and transport, draft biosafety regulation on GMOs commercialisation… a biosafety laboratory has also been established for GMOs detection and analysis.

Calling for the quick passage of the biosafety bill, Ogbadu noted that the absence of the law has hampered research and development in modern biotechnology in the country and would enable research institutes to carry out their statutory functions… She warned that the absence of biosafety law might make Nigeria a consumer nation of foreign GMO foods, particularly maize products instead of producer, thereby holding farmers hostage to those of other countries… She highlighted some of the importance of Biotechnology in the country to include increase in food supply with less farmland requirement; discovery of new medicines and vaccines… and also clean up of oil spills, prevention of deforestation, provision of eco-friendly materials.

http://www.ngrguardiannews.com/news/national-news/171310-nigeria-to-adopt-genetically-modified-crops-says-agency


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Good if African countries start to narrow the molecular divide — so they can also use a technology that so far only benefits the Americas, Asia and Australia as producers and Europe as importer…


See on ngrguardiannews.com

Jul 20 '14

A Rice Which Could Save Millions Of Lives Is Raising The Stakes Over GM Foods - Business Insider (2014)

See on Scoop.it - Ag Biotech News

Around the world, 250 million children are vitamin A-deficient, including about a third of the world’s preschool-age population. This simple deficiency kills or blinds millions of women and children each year. In places like the United States, where vegetables… are neither expensive nor scarce, it’s difficult to grasp just how pervasive, dire, and deadly a simple vitamin deficiency can be. 

Children whose diets are chronically low or lacking in vitamin A are at high risk for xerophthalmia, the most common cause of preventable childhood blindness, and insufficient vitamin A can make children more likely to catch an infection and more likely to die from one when they do… 

Programs that aim for widespread distribution of vitamin supplements certainly exist, though they are… complicated, and difficult to sustain. Such programs also sometimes fail to reach the most vulnerable populations in remote rural regions.

But if a food that people are already eating could be transformed into a nutritional powerhouse, it could help save the eyesight and the lives of millions of children and mothers around the world… such a… crop already exists. It’s called “Golden Rice.” … From the beginning, Golden Rice was conceived as a project that could significantly improve global health…


Identified in the infancy of genetic engineering as having the potential for the biggest impact for the world’s poor, beta-carotene-producing rice was initially funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and the European Union… Beta-carotene, the pigment that makes carrots and squash orange, turns into vitamin A in the human body… 

Many environmental groups voiced immediate concerns about Golden Rice and genetically modified food in general. (The scientific consensus on GM foods is that they are just as safe as any other food.) … Some see Golden Rice as a public relations campaign for genetically modified foods and biotechnology, rather than the most pragmatic solution. Still, The Gates Foundation and other major donors see Golden Rice as an important potential tool in fighting Vitamin A deficiency, and so… the project has moved forward.

Even after scientists created the proof-of-concept Golden Rice, much tweaking and additional research was needed. The beta-carotene-rich rice needed to be traditionally bred to work with favoured local rice varieties, a process that is time-consuming and complicated. And Golden Rice backers needed to prove that in spite of what was, for many, unfamiliar technology, the resulting product would be as reliable as supplements for curbing deficiencies.

Finally, in a 2009 study, scientists showed that Golden Rice was an effective source of vitamin A… Today, five field trials are wrapping up in the Philippines, primarily testing whether the crop will behave in a way that makes it appealing to local farmers. Researchers will also do additioval… 

Rice is a staple food for half of the world’s population, and in countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh, it provides two thirds of all calories consumed. Worldwide, about a fifth of humanity’s calories come from rice. In many countries where rice is an important staple, vitamin A deficiency and its onal safety and efficacy testing before Golden Rice goes up for apprassociated hazards are endemic.

Plain white rice is a relatively robust source of energy, but has few nutrients.The seeds of white rice contain no vitamin A, but just one bowl of golden rice would fulfil 60% of a child’s daily vitamin A needs. “When children are weaned, they’re often weaned on a rice gruel… “And if they don’t get any beta-carotene or vitamin A during that period, they can be harmed for the rest of their lives.”

While supplemental nutrition programs are both helpful and necessary, they are not enough, and funding irregularities and logistical challenges can make them an inconsistent source of vitamin A. Golden Rice, once it is widely released, will be much more cost-effective…


Despite common misconceptions, no one stands to get rich when poor farmers start growing Golden Rice. Instead, it will represent a fundamentally different approach, an embodiment of the old “teach a man to fish” adage… “It can be planted by the farmers using seeds from their own harvest and that would provide sustained supply of betacarotene” … The risk of not moving forward with this is the continuation of 2 million children dying every year… 

http://www.businessinsider.com.au/what-is-golden-rice-2014-6


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

While overall a good article, unfortunately the journalist yielded to the temptation of going tabloid by unnecessarily exaggerating and polarising — Golden Rice is not a “miracle rice” but simply one promising tool to help address the severest consequences of one widespread form of micronutrient malnutrition. And — given the scientific consensus on that matter — neither is it helpful to elevate the criticism by some (albeit vocal) activists to the level of a “war” over GM foods… 


See on businessinsider.com.au