A strategy for ridding the world of VAD?
In July 2000, Time magazine announced that a potential solution to VAD had been found - 'Golden Rice' (Figure 8). This was a variety of rice that had been genetically modified to introduce β-carotene into the endosperm (part of the grain of the rice). The name arises from the fact that the otherwise white grains of rice are given a golden colour by the presence of carotenoid compounds.
The announcement came at the height of the global controversy over genetically modified crops. The previous year had seen thousands of anti-globalisation and anti-GM protesters gather outside the meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle. Crops had been destroyed both in the UK and abroad. In India, peasant and trades union activists targeted the crops and offices of the company they saw as the major villain in the 'Cremate Monsanto' campaign. The share prices of the biotechnology companies suffered, and at one point the respected Deutsche Bank had advised against investments in companies involved in GM crops, declaring 'GMOs are dead'.
Many of the proponents of GM crops hoped that Golden Rice would prove more politically acceptable than the earlier, more obviously commercial crops. Here, potentially, was a technological solution for what people across the political spectrum could agree is an urgent humanitarian problem. We will explore further some of the debates about this new crop later in the course, but first we will examine the science involved.