Golden rice is a strand of Oryza sativa that is genetically modified with increased levels of vitamin A. It is currently produced to help aid malnutrition and starvation around the globe, although it has met some controversy along the way.


Oryza sativa, also known as Asian rice, traces back to 11500 BC in China, specifically near the Yangtze River. It has two variations; japonica, a sticky short-grained variety, and indica, a non-sticky long-grained type. Both are a staple food throughout Asia. Rice grows in extremely wet and warm climates, so deltas and lowlands in Southeast Asia provide a perfect setting. China and India are currently the two leading producers of rice. (2)

Golden rice is being produced in order to combat malnutrition around the world, a disease that threatens 1 in 3 people in developing countries. (1) Vitamin A and iron deficiency is especially prominent among those cultures who eat rice as a staple crop, as the simple white rice does not provide adequate amounts of neither vitamin A nor iron. Golden rice, however, is synthesized with beta-carotene which is precursor to Vitamin A. The beta-carotene that is introduced into the endosperm of the crop. It is grown in areas of the world that are high in Vitamin A deficiency, as it attempts to introduce higher levels of vitamin A into developing countries' diets. Deficiencies in vitamin A can lead to blindness including xerophthalmia, a drying and deterioration of the cornea.

Map of Vitamin A deficiency around the world

Golden rice has been produced by multiple governments around the world, but it has been most notably successful being produced in Zurich, Switzerland by researchers at the Institute of Plant Sciences. They have been working on making golden rice increasing levels of beta-carotene, as well as advancing towards making rice infused with iron. For each successful vitamin or mineral infused, it gives hope to researchers that they can genetically modify more plants so they can be used to help fight malnutrition around the globe. This production would be beneficial especially for children worldwide, for if vitamin A and zinc, another essential mineral, were able to be genetically modified, 2.5 million children would be saved from starvation each year. (3) Scientist believe it will take 4-6 years for golden rice to actually become part of our marketplace.
There has been recent ethical controversy surrounding the production of golden rice. The obvious benefits of golden rice are its ability to be produced in research lab, and eventually actually produced by farmers, in order to combat the amount of malnourished people around the world. These methods allow groups of people to get the proper vitamins and minerals needed for their bodies to function properly. Generously, scientists have decided to make the technology available to farmers in developing countries for little or no cost, so that the actual consumption of golden rice will be for the benefit of the people at a price they can afford, rather than being another source of income for technological corporations.
There are significant concerns, however, from leading scientists that not enough testing of golden rice has been done to authorize feeding it to humans. Some health risks have not be clearly identified, and scientists feel further testing should be done before giving the food to humans. (4) As seen in the past, genetically modified foods are not always as beneficial as they seem, leading many scientists to question how well it will actually. One especially relevant instance occured in South Africa within the last year, as 82,000 hectacres (more than 316 square miles) of genetically modified corn produced hardly any seeds and caused them to suffer up to an 80% crop failure rate. (5)
This begins the debate of whether genetically modifying food for the benefit of lesser developed nations is beneficial in a long-term perspective. On one hand, we have a duty to help others if we have the technology to improve production, especially if we are able to save lives in the process. On the other hand, if by genetically modifying our food we condemn the farmers to failed crops, more expensive costs that they are unable to pay or any other detriment due to our increased technology, we should not harm them by doing it. The only logical solution is to continue testing the golden rice so that we are sure of the effects it will have not only on the people who eat it, but also those who grow it, develop it, farm it and depend on it for their livelihood. We also must consider the impact it will have by changing the ecological environment, the economy as a result of its production, and any other aspects that might have been previously overlooked.