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'Golden rice' has been genetically modified (GM) to produce beta-carotene — a yellow-orange pigment our bodies can convert to vitamin A.

When biotechnology company Syngenta launched golden rice five years ago, some hailed it as the answer to vitamin A deficiency, a major cause of blindness and death in developing countries.

The disappointment when the rice failed to live up to its promise resulted from it being wrongly touted as a single solution to vitamin A deficiency, argues this editorial in Nature Biotechnology. It adds that golden rice should be part of wider efforts, such as educational programmes, to improve nutrition.

The first version of golden rice would have provided people with 15–20 per cent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin A. Syngenta estimates the new version (golden rice 2) would provide 50 per cent of the RDA. But environmental activists are opposed to golden rice, partly because it uses GM technology, partly because it could encourages reliance on just one staple food.

Syngenta, a member of the Humanitarian Golden Rice Network, will work with plant breeders in countries such as Bangladesh, China and India to give grains of golden rice 2 free to poor small-scale farmers to grow.

This, says the editorial, shows how GM technology could help tackle both poverty and health problems facing developing countries — if only those who oppose GM crops would relax their stance and weigh up the technology's costs and benefits.

Link to full article in Nature Biotechnology

Read more about GM crops in SciDev.Net's GM crops dossier.

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