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“Genetically engineered crops could save many millions from starvation and malnutrition — if they can be freed from excessive regulation,” declares an article in Nature (not available online). Ingo Potrykus, chairman of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board , explains:

Golden rice is a series of varieties modified with two genes (phytoene synthase and phytoene double-desaturase) to produce up to 35 micrograms of vitamin A precursor per gram of edible rice. Within the normal diet of rice-dependent poor populations, it could provide sufficient vitamin A to reduce substantially the 6,000 deaths a day due to vitamin A deficiency, and to save the sight of several hundred thousand people per year.

None of the existing varieties of rice has even low levels of the vitamin A precursor in the part that is eaten, so conventional breeding cannot increase it. Golden rice was possible only with genetic engineering.

Getting approval for a genetically-modified crop usually “takes about ten times more money and ten years longer,” he writes to bring to market than for a non-genetically modified one. (Golden Rice will be on the market in 2012, thirteen years after it was ready in the lab.) The effect is that a few companies control the field and they focus on the most money-making crops, and not on those that could change the “food security” of the poor.

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