The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


Golden Rice: What Benefits Can Be Realized?

Laurian J. Unnevehr and Richard Robertson
University of Illinois

Golden rice, which contains beta-carotene, has been developed through genetic modification of the rice plant. The intention of the developers was to address vitamin A deficiency in less developed countries and the technology has been donated to the International Rice Research Institute in order to facilitate its adaptation and dissemination. It has received widespread media attention as an example of the potential benefits from biotechnology. However, there are several socio-economic questions to be resolved before these benefits can be realized. This paper will explore those questions and review what previous studies indicate about the answers. First, with respect to the nutritional issue, the paper will review the evidence regarding the incidence and effects of vitamin A deficiency, and the impact of past intervention programs. How many consumers in what sub-populations are affected by Vit A deficiency? What are the effects of deficiency? How many are estimated to live where rice is an important staple? As vitamin A deficiency is particularly acute for small children with limited variety in their diets, we will use a publicly available data set on child malnutrition from the Philippines to examine what small children eat and to estimate what would happen if they substituted golden rice for the rice they currently consume. This will provide one example of potential benefits. Then, the paper will explore production and marketing scenarios. Can this trait be incorporated into existing modern varieties? Will it have similar yield, costs of production, and adaptability in intensive irrigated areas of Asia? What hypothetical percentage of Asian area would supply golden rice to the estimated number of Vit A deficit rice consumers? In order to reach vitamin A deficient consumers, will this rice need to be grown by those who eat it? Will consumers who need it purchase it in the marketplace? If the niche is primarily weaning foods, then how will it reach that market? What kinds of supporting nutrition education programs might be needed to facilitate acceptance? Finally, the paper will conclude with a discussion of the potential social welfare gains in Asia from development and adoption of golden rice. We will compare rough estimates of the costs to society (e.g. costs of further research and development to have varieties that will grow under Asian conditions; costs of testing to ensure consumer and environmental safety; any inward shift of supply curve if higher production costs or if environmental costs) with the benefits to society from reduced morbidity and mortality. Are benefits likely to outweigh costs? Will the CB ratio for this be greater than other potential interventions?

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