Time spent on Golden Rice research a valuable investment
When can we have Golden Rice on our plates? This is a question I often hear when talking about our ongoing research with farmers, nutritionists, community groups, and fellow scientists. It is heartening indeed to see such anticipation.
But as head of a research and educational institute committed to delivering long-term impacts, I often have to explain that Golden Rice is still undergoing rigorous testing and development. Of course, it is essential that it safely provides adequate levels of beta-carotene so that the people who eat it will get a good boost to their vitamin A levels. But just as important, the Golden Rice varieties that we release must be responsive to the needs of farmers and the preferences of consumers, especially those who most need it. This means that any variety that carries the Golden Rice trait must also meet consumer expectations for cooking and eating quality. And for farmers the yield must be high enough to make sure they can make a living from their harvests. This will ensure that farmers will grow it and consumers will happily prepare it as part of their regular meals. Only in this way can Golden Rice contribute effectively in the fight against vitamin A deficiency that afflicts millions around the world.
To achieve all these, rigorous research cannot and should not be rushed. IRRI and our partners strictly adhere to the standards of scientific rigor and to every regulatory requirement of our target countries.
Those who understand the research that goes into breeding crops know that it takes many arduous years to develop a high-performing variety. Our climate-smart flood-tolerant rice, for instance, which millions of farmers now have access to, took more than two decades to develop. Rigor and time are required to produce a high-performing variety.
I get more affirmation of our research as I explain all these issues, which exposes the claims of anti-GM groups that we are taking too much time to develop Golden Rice. An odd accusation, since it is not hard to imagine their complaints if we were to appear to be rushing a product to market! At best, this accusation appears to come from those who do not understand how breeding or biotechnology work is done.
Golden Rice, especially when released as stable varieties, will enable farmers to grow it for years to come.