Why Bangladesh sees golden rice as a threat
Bangladesh farmers and environment groups are angry over the government’s decision to allow commercial cultivation of the controversial genetically modified (GM) rice, popularly called as the golden rice. They organised country-wide protests on February 13, 2019, after Bangladesh Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzak announced in early February that cultivation of golden rice may start in the country within three months.
Bangladesh completed the confined field testing of golden rice at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), Gazipur, in early 2017. It has already allowed commercial production of BT Brinjal in the country.
Stop Golden Rice Network (SGRN) — a network of farmers across Asian countries and farmer organisations of Bangladesh — organised a rally against the decision to introduce golden rice which will impact their traditional agriculture system.
In 1999, a group of European scientists led by Dr Ingo Potrykus tried to change traditional rice by developing genetically-engineered rice that contains beta-carotene — by inserting bacteria and daffodil and maize genes into it. This is the golden rice, called so because of the golden colour of its grains.
The golden rice was introduced in 2000 and argued to be the panacea for world’s malnutrition problem. It was claimed that the rice is bio-fortified, and is supposedly high in Vitamin A, Iron and Zinc.
It was considered as a significant breakthrough in biotechnology, with its first field trials conducted by the agriculture centre of Louisiana State University in 2004. Later, it has been claimed that field trials were conducted in the Philippines, Taiwan and Bangladesh.
However, all these field trials were marred with controversy over the lack of transparency and credible independent safety studies.
“Even claims made after field trial concerns remain as on the lack of credible and independent safety studies, transparency and public participation. Regulatory processes are flawed and appear to lean on accommodating and facilitating the approvals of golden rice rather than serving to ensure safety of the public and the environment,” says Cris Panerio, lead convenor, SGRN.
USA’s Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) has concluded in its report that beta carotene levels were too low in golden rice to counter Vitamin-A deficiency. In comparison to golden rice, sweet potato has more than 50 times more beta-carotene level. Further, sweet potatoes can be grown on even non-arable land in Bangladesh.