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Golden Rice
Golden Rice (fortified with beta carotene)

In 1999, Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Dr. Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg in Germany announced that they had spliced two genes from a daffodil and one gene from a bacterium into rice, thus engineering a strain of rice that includes beta carotene. When consumed, beta carotene is converted by the human body into Vitamin A. Dubbed "golden rice," this new strain of rice has been hailed as the solution to Vitamin A deficiency, a condition that threatens millions of people around the world with blindness or death, particularly in developing nations. Women and children are generally impacted the most. Many feel golden rice will work to counteract the problem of malnourishment in rice-eating nations where supplements and fortifications have been ineffective.

Others aren't so sure. "A single nutrient approach towards a nutrition-related public health problem is usually, with the exception of perhaps iodine or selenium deficiencies, neither feasible nor desirable," said John R. Lupien, director of the Food and Nutrition Division of the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization. There are also concerns that such reliance on genetically engineered crops would result in a further loss of biodiversity and ultimately undermine local food security.

Although the development of golden rice came about as a result of public research and public funding, purportedly in the hope of contributing to the greater good of world health, critics note that a number of companies have taken out patents on the rice strain. In 2000, the biotech corporation Monsanto announced it was giving away its patents, and would provide royalty-free licences to help the development of "golden rice;" yet critics remain skeptical of the fine print in these licensing agreements. According to a 1999 report in the FINANCIAL TIMES, African countries in particular are "wary of increasing dependence on developed countries and multinational corporations as a result of genetically modified crops."