World Wide Beta Carotene Deficiency
The study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, states that many people across the world do not get the necessary 2 -4 mg of vitamin A. Source: Nutraingredients.
Controversy over GMO “Golden Rice”
A variety of rice genetically modified to contain beta-carotene awaits approval in the Philippines. Supporters claim the rice could be an answer to the widespread Vitamin A deficiency in the country. They hope to see the “Golden Rice” in fields within the year, after it passes biosafety tests.
Beta-carotene is processed by the body and converted into Vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiencies lower immunity and can lead to blindness. Insufficient intake of this vitamin has been an ongoing problem in the Philippines, with more than 1.7 million children affected.
The scientists behind Golden Rice note that the grain is already a staple. The average Filipino eats about 100kg a year. Supporters of the GM rice argue that consumers and farmers both would not have to alter their reliance on rice. One cup of the Golden Rice would theoretically provide half of an adult’s recommended Vitamin A intake per day.
But detractors have called attention to a number of issues the crop raises. Because rice is such a staple, there is a fear for the nation’s food security. Contamination from GM fields will inevitably affect others. The way the Golden Rice will evolve is unknown. And farmers that do choose the GM crop could face more expenses to growing it.
The GM rice is also a concern for its poor attempt at treating malnutrition. Anti-GM campaigners argue the solution must be broader. A more diverse diet naturally contains higher levels of Vitamin A.
Vegetables, leafy greens, and fruits like cantaloupe and mango contain the vitamin and are easy to grow in a tropical climate. A variety of sweet potato alone has five times more Vitamin A than Golden Rice. A balanced diet would then eliminate deficiency and the need for a new GM crop. A varied harvest would also be more sustainable for farmers.
Vitamin A helps protect the cornea and is crucial to good vision. Initial deficiency symptoms include night blindness. Diets deficient in vitamin A make the cornea extremely dry, which causes clouding, vision loss and corneal ulcers. It can also lead to retinal damage. This vitamin, combined with others, has been shown to help reduce the risk of macular degeneration. Combining vitamin A with lutein may help prolong peripheral vision in people with retinitis pigmentosa.
Controversy continues to mount as Golden Rice gets closer to approval. The GM crop clearly constitutes only one approach to addressing Vitamin A deficiency. The Philippines government has no official stance of yet on the Golden Rice.