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Over 12 years, 8 million children died from vitamin A deficieny
February 17, 2013 7:56 PM   Subscribe

A Golden Rice Opportunity is an article about how genetically modified 'golden rice' may save millions of children, at least according to Skeptical Environmentalist author Dr. Bjorn Lomborg.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants (131 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here's the thing. I understand the arguments of the pro-SCIENCE gang in favor of GMOs. It isn't complicated stuff.

But I still oppose this and every other effort to smuggle in GMO products under an anti-hunger banner. We don't have a "lack of properly manipulated genetic material" problem in this world. We have a "profoundly unequal distribution of resources" problem, and I do not think that sort of problem is best solved with proprietary, profit-making commodities.

I'm in the Vandana Shiva camp on this. Don't piss on my shoes and tell me you have a patented umbrella I can buy for cheap to protect myself from the "rain."
posted by Miko at 8:01 PM on February 17, 2013 [90 favorites]


Don't piss on my shoes and tell me you have a patented umbrella I can buy for cheap to protect myself from the "rain."

But don't claim that umbrellas are 'unnatural' and that the way the world works is that people are meant to be rained on, and that any drowning or pneumonia deaths are preferable to being under the thumb of Big Umbrella.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:03 PM on February 17, 2013 [48 favorites]


I don't have to claim that in order to point out that this is a political, not a scientific, problem, and as such would be better managed by a political, not a proprietary profit-driven, solution with impacts far beyond its immediate application, setting private-control precedents we will likely deeply regret.
posted by Miko at 8:11 PM on February 17, 2013 [33 favorites]


I don't have to claim that in order to point out that this is a political, not a scientific, problem

It's a 'political' problem because anti-GM campaigners politicize it and turn it into an issue. If they didn't, it would be just another element involved in processing our food that would engender no more discussion than pasteurizing. Its like saying 'vaccination is a political problem' or 'climate change' is a political problem.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:13 PM on February 17, 2013 [18 favorites]


No, it's a political problem because we have massive inequalities in food production and distribution. These realities existed before GMO was a thought. Now, we have companies well versed in genetic maniupulation proposing to the world's governments a "solution" which must be paid for on the private market. This is not a reasonable alternative to reform.

This really has nothing to do with the anti-science voices against GM. But it so happens that many of those voices are also most concerned with redeveloping access to food resources. This is an excuse for not dealing with a basic failure of government to provide access to healthy nutrition to its people, and a basic failure of the world's wealth distribution systems. It diverts attention, activism and resources to the private market and exploits the poor to enrich the wealthy.

Vaccination is not a good analogy because there is really nothing functional or political one could ever have done to prevent infectious disease running rampant. The introduction of a new technology made something entirely new possible. Meawhile, the simplest, cheapest and fairest solutions to global hunger have nothing to do with buying the right kind of seed from a seed company. There are available solutions that require absolutely no flow of wealth from democratic systems into the coffers of private, shareholder-run, transnational corporations.
posted by Miko at 8:18 PM on February 17, 2013 [44 favorites]


Sure, there's an unequal distribution problem. But it's not just a political or economic problem; there are many parts of the world where getting around is really, really hard. Much of the Phillipines is only accessible by water. There is no magical supply chain fairy that will overcome the forces of geography and food spoilage, and the idea that we should try to move more carrots or spinach rather than improve the local crops makes no sense to me. There's a reason why rice is a staple food in Asia.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:18 PM on February 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


There is no magical supply chain fairy

Nope, it requires infrastructure. Which is a political phenomenon.
posted by Miko at 8:21 PM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ugh, no one should listen to what that hack Lomberg has to say about anything.

Here is a much better article I read last week.

I do not think that sort of problem is best solved with proprietary, profit-making commodities.

Lucky for you, neither do the scientists involved with this, from the article:

"The crop has become the cause célèbre of the anti-GM movement, which sees golden rice as a tool of global capitalism.

This view is rejected by the scientists involved. 'We have developed this in conjunction with organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as a way of alleviating a real health problem in the developing world," says Dubock. "No one is going to make money out of it. The companies involved in developing some of the technologies have waived their licences just to get this off the ground.'"

I think it's so important to argue cases on their merits. I do not support every GMO product out there, but this is one it's very easy to get behind once you learn something about it.
posted by smoke at 8:22 PM on February 17, 2013 [26 favorites]


> Ugh, no one should listen to what that hack Lomberg has to say about anything.

QFT. I'd really hoped he'd gone away after the utter bollocks he spouted about my industry was shown to be completely wrong.
posted by scruss at 8:28 PM on February 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Dr. Lomborg has a PhD in Political Science. He is not a nutritionist, rice farmer, economist, nor a biologist. He has previously expressed skepticism of the impact or existence of global warming and human caused climate change. If Lomborg is involved, that is reason enough to be extremely skeptical of the claims.
posted by humanfont at 8:29 PM on February 17, 2013 [19 favorites]


Yeah, I just read that. The thing is that a number of foundations - Rockefeller, importantly, as well as Gates - have stepped forward to develop "Humanitarian licensing" for this strain. DEspite this goodwill gesture, we still have a entirely propriety new food source displacing hundreds of existing strains, reducing biodiversity, and creating population depedence on a single kind of plant food that is owned and controlled by a single corporate entity. This is not something we should be eagerly hailing as a global savior - it is deeply concerning. As this solution becomes embedded, it's a wedge - a Trojan horse - for other similar "solutions" perhaps not so humanitarian in application.

I would just say that this is not a simple "pro-science/anti-science" story, for those who want to treat it as such and are used to aligning with what appears to the be the pro-science contingent every time. This is a complicated global issue that is deeply entangled with world biological heritage and intellectual property issues, and especially for those who think of themselves as open-source, EFF, free download types, the idea that a proprietary program is offered as a solution to world hunger should give you serious pause. It is a serious discussion among world hunger activists, not just something important to Western hippies.
posted by Miko at 8:30 PM on February 17, 2013 [31 favorites]


proposing to the world's governments a "solution" which must be paid for on the private market. This is not a reasonable alternative to reform.

Just to reiterate, that may be the case with some GMO products, but not all.

Take a look at this study:

"Using a refined disability-adjusted life year (DALY) framework and detailed health data, this study shows for India that under optimistic assumptions this country’s annual burden of VAD of 2.3 million DALYs lost can be reduced by 59.4% hence 1.4 million healthy life years couldbe saved each year if Golden Rice would be consumed widely. In a low impact scenario, where Golden Rice is consumed less frequently and produces less provitamin A, the burden of VAD could be reduced by 8.8%. However, in both scenarios the cost per DALY saved through Golden Rice (US$3.06-19.40) is lower than the cost of current supplementation efforts, and it outperforms international cost-effectiveness thresholds. Golden Rice should therefore be considered seriously as a complementary intervention to fight VAD in rice-eating populations in the medium term."

This page talks about the projects partners:

"The Project
The foundation is supporting the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and partners to develop Golden Rice...

The Partners

International Rice Research Institute is a nonprofit independent research and training organization, and the largest in the world focused on rice; Helen Keller International (HKI) is an international nongovernmental organization that works to prevent blindness and reduce malnutrition for the world’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged; Philippines Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) was created to develop high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies so farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos; Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) is the national agency in Bangladesh responsible for rice research and development."

Not exactly Monsanto...

From the International Rice Research Institute:
"Golden Rice will cost no more than other rice for farmers and consumers. Due to its enormous potential to benefit public health, the technology behind Golden Rice has been donated by its inventors. Different governments and private charities are supporting the development and testing costs."

Pay to do some research about this one, before holding a real vehement opinion, I think.
posted by smoke at 8:32 PM on February 17, 2013 [15 favorites]


It's not just a political problem. When I was in a refugee camp in the Philippines, it took a day-long boat ride to get things in and out. I suppose they could have built an airport, but that would have required clearing a forest that was vital to the local economy.

Similarly, my home village in Vietnam takes about 6 hours to drive to, and is powered on generators. There is little refrigeration. You could blast through the mountains and build a road, and string electrical wires, but that is not without drawbacks either. My family lives a hard life, but they love their land and will fight to preserve it.

And even if you did these things, you are still asking people to change their diets and adversely affect their environment so that rich strangers can feel good about the purity if their food.

No one is saying golden rice is the answer. But it's a tool, and in some cases, the best tool for the job, and I hope it delivers on its promise.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:34 PM on February 17, 2013 [24 favorites]


There's a lot more about the intellectual property agreements here.

Pay to do some research about this one, before holding a real vehement opinion

I seem to know more than you do, but thanks.

It's not only about how much or how many lives, but who controls the future of agriculture. and who has independence. Just give it some deeper thought, folks. It's not an easy one, despite what you're expected to believe.

you are still asking people to change their diets and adversely affect their environment so that rich strangers can feel good about the purity if their food.

Rich strangers are asking them to change their diet now.
posted by Miko at 8:36 PM on February 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


All political problems are political problems until they become technological problems. Once they become technological problems, they are solved.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:39 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I realize this a complicated issue, but I am stuck on a simple matter. If children are suffering vitamin A deficiency, ostensibly due to malnutrition, aren't they suffering other deficiencies? How will golden rice mitigate other effects of malnutrition?

Or am I missing something? I will freely admit I have not educated myself fully on the matter.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:41 PM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Once they become technological problems, they are solved.

Heh. Evidence of history suggests that they are simply transformed into new and more complex problems, and/or deferred.

Syngentia's stock report. "Syngenta is the world's largest agribusiness company and is one of the first publicly quoted companies in the sector.

We aim to be the leading global provider of innovative solutions and brands to growers and to the food and feed chain."

Buy in now!
posted by Miko at 8:41 PM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is not a decision that we in the west should make. Put the golden rice out there and let rice farmers decide to plant it or not.
posted by LarryC at 8:46 PM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tandem, yes, there are many kinds of serious vitamin, mineral and macronutrient deficiency that this rice will do nothing to solve, but Vitamin A deficiency is one of the most critical. Vitamin A is often low in many of the world's traditional diets due to the nutrient mix in lcoally available cultivars, causing chronic levels of blindness and child mortality in much of the developing world which has essentially represented unneccessary and easily prevented suffering. Increasing levels of Vitamin A can spot-reduce some of the most severe components of human misery.

Asking "why via rice" instead of "why not some other cheaper, simpler form of supplementation" is a reasonable question, but that's also a political question.

WHO database on Vitamin A deficiency, Wikipedia on effects of the deficiency.
posted by Miko at 8:46 PM on February 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


LarryC, interestingly there has been very little research on whether people will plant it voluntarily, and if they do, whether people will eat it voluntarily. I read a very lame report asserting that people in India will eat it because hey, they already color their rice with saffron so this won't make a difference to them.

The thing is, by "putting it out there" we in the West have already made a decision that the world's access to food should rest in the hands of companies who will make it available as long as it's financially in their interest and as long as they retain control over the genetic material that will increasingly represent total world food supply. If people don't plant it, the investment on this particular effort will fail, but probably not the overall conceit.
posted by Miko at 8:47 PM on February 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


I seem to know more than you do, but thanks.

Well, if you did, you would know that the sponsor for the project, the IRRI, has A genebank of over 110 000 varieties of rice, and they supply those seeds free for development.

Genetic diversity is a huge concern for them, and if they support this project, then I certainly don't feel qualified to make objections without very concrete evidence regarding the harms.

I'm sorry, but I honestly think you are really overstating the biodiversity of current farmed rice, how widespread the take up of golden rice will be, and the motives and actions of those involved with the project. It's going to literally save millions of lives.
posted by smoke at 8:50 PM on February 17, 2013 [13 favorites]


If children are suffering vitamin A deficiency, ostensibly due to malnutrition, aren't they suffering other deficiencies?

Possibly, but not necessarily. It really depends in the local diet. But a big part of the issue is that a vitamin D deficiency leads to decreased resistance to infectious diseases, which in turn leads to death. Also, it's really dangerous to be blind in some areas of the world.

I was not malnourished as a child. In fact, I was quite well-off by Vietnamese standards at the time. But I still had some nutritional deficiencies that did not get addressed until I came to the US. I was just lucky that my family could afford mangoes.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:52 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Smoke, yes I am in general aware that these companies know that goodwill is their stock in trade, that they cannot afford accusations of profiteering, and that they have set these structures up. They are also aware that their long-term viability depends on cooperative relationships with governments, who have an ongoing stable source of revenue, while poor farmers do not, and who will have a ready market consistently.

However, do note that these "goodwill" structures are not now and are never envisioned to be public structures, whereas in the history of the agricultural world until the last few decades the entire genetic heritage of all seed in the world has been in the public domain.

you are really overstating the biodiversity of current farmed rice

There are well over 100,000 strains of cultivated rice.

the motives and actions of those involved with the project

Some do-gooders, some pragmatists, some long-term strategic planners, and some good accountants.
posted by Miko at 8:57 PM on February 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


LarryC, interestingly there has been very little research on whether people will plant it voluntarily, and if they do, whether people will eat it voluntarily.

Who convinces people not to eat food voluntarily? They don't make the decision in a vacuum. If people are pushing misinformation about 'Frankenfoods' and fuzzy logic about "we need to stop this, because we don't know WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN' then they'll be scared away of things that WILL help them.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:58 PM on February 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


[ Charlemagne In Sweatpants, you need to knock it off with the threadsitting here - it is not cool to post a thread just so you can stake out a position and argue with all comers about it. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 9:01 PM on February 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


All I can say is that it's very easy to be against this for ideological reasons when it isn't your kids that are suffering.
posted by Justinian at 9:01 PM on February 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


The people this is targeting are not getting the Guardian. I wouldn't worry that this conversation is going to put a North Indian villager off her rice.

Who convinces people not to eat food voluntarily?

Governments and aid organizations try to do this, driven by their own mandates.

All I can say is that it's very easy to be against this for ideological reasons when it isn't your kids that are suffering.

Then why haven't we opposed the chronic food poverty we have known for generations exists in the world?

Basically, because, yes, it's very easy not to. If only some easy, easy technological solution would come along to let us off the hook.
posted by Miko at 9:01 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


That would be good, yes.
posted by Justinian at 9:04 PM on February 17, 2013


At the moment, the big solution to this particular problem of malnutrition is vitamin A supplementation and fortification of existing (mass-produced) foodstuffs. Both of those options are plenty "unnatural" and plenty branded. A better world would solve this problem by ensuring that all children had access to fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and lean proteins year-round, irrespective of family income. If we lived in that world, it'd be great. But instead we live in a world where a quarter billion preschool kids have a vitamin A deficiency and we're quibbling about whether to solve it with an older or a newer SCIENCE solution.

As to acceptability - well, it's polished rice with beta-carotene in it. Beta-carotene itself doesn't taste like much, which is why it's often used in butter-flavored shortening and fancy anti-oxidant margarines. We'll have to see. But this isn't shipping canned hams to Muslim countries. It's just polished rice.
posted by gingerest at 9:05 PM on February 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


But Miko, these aren't companies, these are charities, universities, UN bodies, and non-profit NGOs, in the main.

The IRRI is a non-profit that gets only 2% of its annual funding from the private sector.

I mean, take a look at the board members, they're nearly all academics or from NGOs.

Syngenta is basically the only private company involved, and I find their answer in this FAQ, pretty compelling:

"Syngenta has no commercial interest in Golden Rice in respect of its potential use or application in developing countries. Initially it was investigating a potential commercial use in developed countries, given the strong interest in antioxidants, but in the meantime it does not see a commercial market for it anymore...

...further development is now the responsibility of the Humanitarian Board and public institutes, which are the licensees. Golden Rice is being introduced into publicly-owned rice varieties via national and international public sector research institutions, to be made available by government institutions, free of charge, to resource-poor farmers. The farmers will then be able to grow, save, consume, replant and sell the resulting rice crop into the local economy. No new dependencies will be created."

I'm not gonna knock on them for being a private company that makes money, if they make donations like this.
posted by smoke at 9:08 PM on February 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


Yeah, we'll see. Certainly the world of global aid is rife with stories about "why didn't they just take to this new product/habit/methodology?" Culture is culture.
posted by Miko at 9:09 PM on February 17, 2013


I understand who the parties are. Syngentia's statement of purpose makes clear what their financial goals are. Read their strategy. You may admire them, but let's be clear, this is not a totally innocuous, non-impact venture into the future.

I am probably more concerned than most about the movement of the world's cultural and natural heritage out of the public domain and into private hands. Even recognizing that, I think people should be very careful and thoughtful about this sort of bargain.
posted by Miko at 9:12 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Genetically engineered food is so annoying. I want to like it. I want mad scientists to make corn that fixes its own nitrogen. Golden rice seems like neat stuff. And beyond that, I want my damn baconberry bushes and t-bone trees and fruit that comes off the tree with a milk chocolate center.

But with the exception of golden rice, what do we get from the tech? Plants that make pesticide so you can grow it marginally cheaper. Plants that resist herbicide so you can just spray it everywhere and thereby save a few bucks over giving a shit where it goes. Fruits that look as if they were fresh and tasty longer, even if they wouldn't taste like a fresh and tasty tomato if you walked up to the vine and started chewing.

Fuck you, companies. It's like if the only thing computers were used for was billing people.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:16 PM on February 17, 2013 [24 favorites]


We must prevent those bastards from contaminating our precious bodily fluids!
posted by cosmic.osmo at 9:20 PM on February 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


Of course it's positive and of course they chose allies as inassailable as possible.

Well, I can only assess them on their merits. I can't judge them by who's not on the board, who didn't donate stuff etc. I want to be clear: I don't think this is "the" answer to Vitamin A deficiency in the developing world. I think aid in general defies generalisation and requires multilateral, often decades-long investment. But at the same time, tactics are part of strategy.

Syngentia's statement of purpose makes clear what their financial goals are.

They want to make money, like every other private corporation in the world. You might not disagree with it, but it's hardly unusual. And those goals on the page neither contradict nor undermine their donations to the GoldenRice project imho. I'm quite anti-corporate myself - and currently work for a multinational - but you know sometimes, even in multinationals, they do things because they are a good thing to do.

I mean, from that page you linked to: "Our aim is to gain an average 0.5 percent market share across our combined businesses". 0.5%? This is hardly a monopolistic threat, here.
posted by smoke at 9:22 PM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Meawhile, the simplest, cheapest and fairest solutions to global hunger have nothing to do with buying the right kind of seed from a seed company. There are available solutions that require absolutely no flow of wealth from democratic systems into the coffers of private, shareholder-run, transnational corporations.

Please do share with the rest of the world your simple, cheap, fair solution...
posted by stp123 at 9:25 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huh, I thought golden rice sounded familiar - several researchers were sacked recently in China for apparently running a study of the rice on schoolchildren without telling the parents what was going on. When I was in China last year this was just making headlines.
posted by jacalata at 9:29 PM on February 17, 2013


Please do share with the rest of the world your simple, cheap, fair solution...

I warn you: it's going to take some work.

That's the hard part. It involves asses - getting off of them.

It still amazes me how people who are generally skeptical, and generally independent-minded, are eager to support this sort of bid for control with so little critical evaluation.
posted by Miko at 9:30 PM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, jacalata, this.

I'm sure the Chinese government will handle all future implementation in their usual transparent, aboveboard manner.
posted by Miko at 9:35 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


are eager to support this sort of bid for control with so little critical evaluation.

But this is what I'm unsure about - control over what? How? I mean, the organisation overseeing the whole thing is the same one with the biggest rice seedbank in the world, that gives those seeds away for free. How could they force anyone to use this without directly contradicting one of their more successful core missions?

My biggest concern is that incidents of supplementation will go down because of the rice that is "available", but perhaps not available in practice, leading to more malnutrition, but we'll have to see how that pans out.
posted by smoke at 9:36 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


On preview: your digs about the Chinese govt are well-placed, of course, but who else would be running any alternative program in China, but the govt?

I mean, you're not just talking about better solutions than Golden Rice, then, you're talking about cultural, institutional, and transformational change on a simply massive level. And, speaking of China, that kind of change has a very, very fraught track record.

If your problem is the rice, it should be the rice. If it's the Chinese govt, or neoliberalism/modern capitalism, I mean, that's a much bigger problem than vitamin A deficiency, golden rice, and perhaps your problem is not the rice per se, or the issue, but rather the discourse around it, around aid, around modern farming, crop commercialisation, food waste etc etc.

In that case, I probably share most if not all of your concerns, but I don't want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good here.
posted by smoke at 9:40 PM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


control over what?

Control over the ownership of a specific kind of food on which they are creating the structures for a very specific kind of dependency.

You keep missing this central concern. I have no problem with a company making money. I do have a problem with them patenting genetic material and then replacing - taking out of the functional economy - existing genetic material that is in the public domain. They have convinced you that giving each season's seeds away for free is good enough, and successfully diverted you from noticing that they are moving planters away from seeds that they own, have developed, and have had free access to for centuries, in fact milennia, to seeds that a private company owns, controls, polices, and licenses.

If the day comes that they wish to rescind this license and prosecute farmers and governments who try to continue planting this rice, they could. It could become a bargaining chip in war. A swayer of economies.

And the genetic material they started with, the material on which they built this small and recent innovation, in fact was cultivated through generations by people who will not reap any financial benefit from their immense labors.

If the motives were truly and fully humanitarian, why a license? Why the need to retain control over this material at all? Just give it to the world.
posted by Miko at 9:41 PM on February 17, 2013 [14 favorites]


I warn you: it's going to take some work.

That's the hard part. It involves asses - getting off of them.


Do continue. We're still listening.

So far, all you've offered is "politics" and an implied "elbow grease." As I understand it, every problem is reducible to those two solutions. Sounds like you are just anti-GMO and aren't willing to provide solutions beyond insisting that Bad People Stop Being Bad.
posted by verb at 9:43 PM on February 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


That's the hard part. It involves asses - getting off of them.

Lots of folks have gotten off their asses already. The result: GMOs.


It still amazes me how people who are generally skeptical, and generally independent-minded, are eager to support this sort of bid for control with so little critical evaluation.


Really? Because I continually see the issue played up as a conspiracy theory, by people who really should know better. People equipped with the tools for critical evaluation, yet unwilling to do so. In the name of anti corporatism or something.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:44 PM on February 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


Sounds like you are just anti-GMO and aren't willing to provide solutions beyond insisting that Bad People Stop Being Bad.

Personally, I'm a regional coordinator for Slow Food USA in New England and work a lot on US-based biodiversity issues like keeping traditionally cultivated seeds in the public domain and developing locally based solutions for hunger and quality food sources. It's not for everybody, but it's something.

There are any number of ways to attack world hunger. If you cared to do something about it, you can get involved with this or with the global Slow Food biodiversity group, or with any number of other world hunger organizations. The thing is, most people don't do anything at all. If you want a specific solution to hunger in a specific location, then we need to get down to specific and localized solutions. Chances are there are UN reports on it, and organizations active in that area which would welcome your help.

I continually see the issue played up as a conspiracy theory

I don't believe one needs a conspiracy theory to understand this. You must mean someone else, and there are those people; I do run across them. My concern is specifically about the loss of public access to the ownership of and access to genetic material and what that means for the long run.
posted by Miko at 9:48 PM on February 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


If the motives were truly and fully humanitarian, why a license? Why the need to retain control over this material at all? Just give it to the world.

So you can give it to poor third-world people and charge farmers in the first world for it. Not exactly rocket science, y'know?

I mean, I get it. Capitalism infects everything it touches and IP Law is broken. The world should be different. But it really does sound like you have a list of "acceptable solutions" to hunger and nutritional problems, and "unacceptable solutions," and you're not letting the rest of the class see the list. It's the same problem with letting people who are fundamentally morally opposed to acts they believe are sinful shape public health policy with regards to safe sex.

And then, on preview...

There are any number of ways to attack world hunger. If you cared to do something about it, you can get involved with this or with the global Slow Food biodiversity group, or with any number of other world hunger organizations. The thing is, most people don't do anything at all. If you want a specific solution to hunger in a specific location, then we need to get down to specific and localized solutions. Chances are there are UN reports on it, and organizations active in that area which would welcome your help.

Unless, of course, someone works on a solution involving GMO. Then it's bad.

Like I said.
posted by verb at 9:51 PM on February 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


We already waste like half the food we grow and are terribly inefficient about what we use since we feed a giant monoculture crop of corn to animals as feed. So it's a little hard to get worked up by golden rice as a viable long-term solution to hunger when distribution has always been a bigger problem.

Golden rice has always felt like a solution in search of a problem. It's the feel-good poster child of GMO that paves the way for the people that brought you Roundup-ready and Terminator seeds. Monoculture is not viable long-term in crops, yet here we are growing ever more towards it.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:52 PM on February 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


If the day comes that they wish to rescind this license and prosecute farmers and governments who try to continue planting this rice, they could.

I don't think that would happen, Because the inventors of the rice were also given rights to grant sub-licences, and the _international_ rice research institute is managing the process.

I think the licences were used because the companies who owned patents to some of the development tech (Novartis, Bayer, Monsanto, and Japan Tobacco) wouldn't give it away, in case it wound up being used either by their competitors in commercial applications, or used to crack open the rights on some of their other products.

"Terms of use include royalty-free local production by farmers who earn less than US$10,000 annually, which applies so to say to 99% of the target farming community."

Again, I agree with you that it would be great if these companies gave their patents - not just the seeds - away for free.

But I mean, come on, it's not gonna happen. Again, you're talking about problems much, much bigger than this issue. These companies live and die by their patents, it sucks, but it's the way it is. They didn't have to licence it for free at all - could've charged, and the Gates Foundation et al probably would have scraped up the cash.
posted by smoke at 9:54 PM on February 17, 2013


Maybe what we need is more food modifications released under the GPL.

Pretty sure I'm kidding. Maybe?
posted by verb at 9:56 PM on February 17, 2013


it's a little hard to get worked up by golden rice as a viable long-term solution to hunger

It's not intended to be a solution to hunger, but vitamin A deficiency.
posted by smoke at 9:56 PM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


But it really does sound like you have a list of "acceptable solutions" to hunger and nutritional problems, and "unacceptable solutions," and you're not letting the rest of the class see the list.

Your "see the list" construction makes little sense to me. It is disingenous to pretend that there are not viable efforts reducing world hunger at work in the world continuously.

But I do think there are good solutions and not-so-good solutions. The not-so-good solutions include moving genetic content into the proprietary domain. That doesn't even have to touch on the issue of GMO, though it most commonly arises because GMO crops are patentable whereas companies can generally not show that traditionally cultivated varieties are eligible to patent, as they are too widely replicated.
posted by Miko at 9:57 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


They didn't have to licence it for free at all - could've charged, and the Gates Foundation et al probably would have scraped up the cash.

It was very likely a condition of the Gates support that it was free for those categories of licensees. It's a generous license.

These companies live and die by their patents

Only as long as the patents have the power to earn them money.

Wonder what they'll produce next and how long this business model will work.
posted by Miko at 10:02 PM on February 17, 2013


It's a 'political' problem because anti-GM campaigners politicize it and turn it into an issue. If they didn't, it would be just another element involved in processing our food that would engender no more discussion than pasteurizing.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It's a political problem because, well, do I have to quote Marx? It is a political problem because Monsanto (or whoever it is this time) is wedging itself into an otherwise simple and natural process in order to control the means of production. They're modifying these crops and patenting them, alongside the miracle (and/or carcinogenic) pesticides that kill everything but the special crop. One patents something in order to make money off it, understand. The way it generally works is that growers have to pay a license to grow the GM crop, on a year-to-year basis--they're not allowed to save the seeds from one year's crop to plant the next year's. It's perverse.

GMOs are a purely capitalist venture. Do not be fooled by the "we can feed the world" bullshit. We can already do that, for far cheaper than GMOs cost; we just don't, because we and our governments suck.

Oh, and also, as has been stated repeatedly upthread, and bears repeating as often as possible, Bjørn Lomborg is not exactly an authority.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:06 PM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


If the day comes that they wish to rescind this license and prosecute farmers and governments who try to continue planting this rice, they could. It could become a bargaining chip in war. A swayer of economies.

Maybe I'm just being dense, but I don't follow exactly what you're concerned about. It's not like some sinister dystopian plot, in which people are going to become addicted to golden rice and unable to survive on anything else. I really can't picture any realistic situation where letting farmers have the option of growing it -- even if was under onerous terms, which it doesn't seem to be -- would be anything other than a net positive. Worst case, they can just switch back to growing regular rice, can't they?

And the patents are going to expire in 20 years or so anyway, right? So in the long run, the economic leverage disappears, while in the medium term it has the potential (if the claims about it are accurate) to help save an awful lot of lives.
posted by teraflop at 10:09 PM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Your "see the list" construction makes little sense to me. It is disingenous to pretend that there are not viable efforts reducing world hunger at work in the world continuously.

I never suggested that there aren't; I simply suggested that you have a list of acceptable and unacceptable approaches to hunger and nutrition problems, and were basing your arguments primarily on that list without explaining the principles that really led to your objections.

I see that kind of approach a lot in sex education discussions, where someone is actually objecting to the fact that there's a sex-ed class, but frames all of their objections as technical arguments about condom reliability and so on. It results in lots of twists and squirms and shifting arguments whenever one objection is answered, only to be met by another seemingly unrelated one.

That's why I asked what your "list" was; your opposition to this has jumped around a bit and your willingness to camp the thread and argue with all comers suggests that it's something you have a very strong emotional stake in.

If the issue is, "I don't trust the list of players here to keep the licensing free, based on their past actions" then it's a much stronger objection than any other I've seen. As I understand the article, it's not even being pitched as a solution to hunger, but a specific vitamin deficiency.
posted by verb at 10:10 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think Miko's objection is to the intrusion of a corporate/scientific/industrial element into an indigenous cultural tradition, disingenuously presented by the former as a benediction, when it's actually sort of a sneaky colonisation. Forgive me if that's a mischaracterisation, Miko.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 10:18 PM on February 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's not like some sinister dystopian plot

No, I don't think so. But what's going on is the creation of a new kind commodity. It will take on economic and political importance; that's not some crazed assertion but just what happens when things are commodified.

I don't trust the list of players here to keep the licensing free, based on their past actions"

It's more than that, though that is true enough. It's that, in general, I am strongly in support of the access of human beings worldwide to the public domain genetic and cultural heritage that allows for maximum experimentation, maximum adaptation, and maximum localized problem-solving unctrolled and unmanaged by the agendas of corporations, which by their very structure have determined a priority level for human outcomes that ranks below fiscal outcomes. It is a concern I have not just for seeds but for music, public space, vital resources, medicines, health care, sanitation, beliefs, and other cultural products. Food is, of course, the basis of human existence and so, for me, it is a particularly important target of public domain activism. The general trend of moving cultural products from the public sphere to the private sphere is a deeply concerning trend that is gradually creating new, extra-governmental structures of power and control that threaten to impoverish people in a rather profound way, by rendering them, essentially, serfs who may only enjoy 'license' to access resources they once owned and controlled outright.
posted by Miko at 10:19 PM on February 17, 2013 [12 favorites]


It doesn't apply only to indigenous cultural traditions; most of my work on the issue is here in the US with contemporary food producers. It applies to all human cultures.

it's not even being pitched as a solution to hunger, but a specific vitamin deficiency.

In the aid world you can take hunger as shorthand for nutritive deficiency, which is what this is about. "Hunger" takes in not just deprivation, but malnutrition, food insecurity, etc. The complex of issues around inadequate food supply.
posted by Miko at 10:20 PM on February 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


The thing is, by "putting it out there" we in the West have already made a decision

A decision to give them a choice. Not putting it out there is also a decision--that we will make the choice for them.

I have no idea either if the developing world will embrace this rice. Their choice, not ours.
posted by LarryC at 11:19 PM on February 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


Miko, thank you for articulating that so clearly. Based on the earlier posts, I'd mistaken your concerns for "frankenfood" paranoia, and was troubled by what seemed like a series of slippery objections answered easily by the article itself.

Given what you've said in this post, I don't think I disagree with you. Would it be fair to say that you object less to the act of genetic modification itself, or even this particular GMO project, than to the cultural, political, legal, and business environment in which it currently exists? I'm definitely sympathetic to the 'death of the cultural and biological commons' concern.
posted by verb at 11:42 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


This may be the most thoughtful MeFi thread I've read in years. Thank you.
posted by SPrintF at 12:15 AM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think Miko's objection is to the intrusion of a corporate/scientific/industrial element into an indigenous cultural tradition

That cultural tradition appears unable to solve the Vitamin A deficiency problem. Why should we let people, including many children, suffer when we have a safe and effective way to address some of the issue? By all means, let's work on the problems with global corporatism. But why inflict needless suffering while we do so?
posted by Justinian at 12:29 AM on February 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Miko: "But I still oppose this and every other effort to smuggle in GMO products under an anti-hunger banner. We don't have a "lack of properly manipulated genetic material" problem in this world. We have a "profoundly unequal distribution of resources" problem, and I do not think that sort of problem is best solved with proprietary, profit-making commodities."

You say DISTRIBUTION! like it is the obvious simple solution to an obvious simple problem of hunger unaffected by production, much less production in the developing world, but this is beyond absurd. Indeed, every attempt at more equitable distribution of the West's agricultural resources, absent dire emergency, has ended in epic uncontroversial failure. I'm talking about the difference between the Rockefeller foundation and Norman Borlaug bringing the technology necessary for high yield agriculture to Mexico, which employed millions and feed tens of millions, and NAFTA, which flooded Mexico with cheaper food than Borlaug ever could but drove millions of farmers off of their land and into poverty and hunger when they could no longer afford the food that supplanted them.

The answer to hunger in the developing world cannot possibly involve disenfranchising the poor by 'distributing' the West's food to them, dispossessing farmers, destroying agricultural communities, creating the problems that come with large refugee communities of people with only agricultural skills, creating yet more systems for extracting wealth from the developing world in exchange for this food, or building the massive and complex infrastructure necessary for this 'distribution' instead of the often far simpler systems necessary for people to grow their own food in an economically and socially sustainable way. Doing this honestly necessarily involves finding economically and socially sustainable ways of making modern seed technology developed in ways appropriate to the developing word, just like golden rice, available to farmers in the developing world.

Miko: "I seem to know more than you do, but thanks. "

More than we could possibly imagine?
posted by Blasdelb at 1:31 AM on February 18, 2013 [14 favorites]


This may be the most thoughtful MeFi thread I've read in years. Thank you.

Indeed. Kudos to everyone for a thoughtful conversation.
posted by wayland at 1:31 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the first link Miko posted:

Currently, it is not even known how much vitamin JA the genetically engineered rice will produce. The goal is 33.3% micrograms/100g of rice. Even if this goal is reached after a few years, it will be totally ineffective in removing VAD.

Since the daily average requirement of vitamin A is 750 micrograms of vitamin A and 1 serving contains 30g of rice according to dry weight basis, vitamin A rice would only provide 9.9 micrograms which is 1.32% of the required allowance. Even taking the 100g figure of daily consumption of rice used in the technology transfer paper would only provide 4.4% of the RDA.

In order to meet the full needs of 750 micrograms of vitamin A from rice, an adult would have to consume 2 kg 272g of rice per day. This implies that one family member would consume the entire family ration of 10 kg. from the PDS in 4 days to meet vitaminA needs through "Golden rice".


From the wikipedia link on Vitamin Deficiency:

Vitamin Angels has committed itself to eradicating childhood blindness due to Vitamin A deficiency on the planet by the year 2020. Operation 20/20 was launched in 2007 and will cover 18 countries. The program gives children two high dose vitamin A and anti-parasitic supplements (twice a year for four years), which provides children with enough of the nutrient during their most vulnerable years in order to prevent them from going blind and suffering from other life-threatening diseases caused by Vitamin A Deficiency.

If that's correct, then there are other options available for addressing childhood blindness due to Vitamin A deficiency.
posted by dubold at 1:38 AM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Whoa, I recall reading about golden rice from an early-90s middle school science textbook. I had no idea it still hasn't been deployed yet.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:41 AM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


An aside on brown rice - I had tried to get our cooks to use brown rice for the meals we make for kids in our Cambodia project, and was very politely told no. Brown rice is starting to be seen as something healthy that sick people might eat in small quantities, but from what I was told by my staff and have read, because it was all they could get during the Khmer Rouge and afterwards, it is very much looked down on as absolute rubbish.

Food and nutrition issues are hyper local. Peanuts are pretty cheap in Cambodia but only seen as a dessert ingredient or snack. Tofu which is handmade and eggs which come from nearby farms in giant woven baskets with straw to cushion them are comparatively expensive, so we struggle to get enough protein for meals that the kids will eat. An NGO made soy milk targeted at kids in shelf-stable colourful packaging, but when we handed it out at meal time, kids would politely sip a bit and then throw them away when we weren't looking because it just didn't taste right. We serve water and once in a while, orange squash at parties now!

Our ethnic-Vietnamese kids tend to be slightly healthier because their diets include more vegetables and fish sauce. They've introduced labels to mark out iodized salt and fortified fish sauce which is hopeful.

We did some research on food buying habits because it is about 45% of their budget and women were very clear that they thought carefully about what rice to buy. You could get different grades at the markets, and they would try to get the third or second up from the worst (brown gritty rice), even if it cost more. I can't imagine them going for golden rice, unless it was free/cheaper than every other rice or had an amazing local marketing campaign behind it.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:43 AM on February 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


What I mean to say is - you can bring this to market, GMO and organic and all that and the very poor will still decide outside of institutions such as school/prisons/hospitals that can force foods. And golden rice is a hard sell when rice is such a staple and tradition. We have families who bring back bags of rice from their home province or Vietnam when they travel for religious festivals because "it tastes better".
posted by viggorlijah at 1:46 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why should we let people, including many children, suffer when we have a safe and effective way to address some of the issue?

It's more fundamental than that. Why should we DENY people - any people - commercial access to this technology?
posted by three blind mice at 1:51 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Currently, it is not even known how much vitamin JA the genetically engineered rice will produce. The goal is 33.3% micrograms/100g of rice. Even if this goal is reached after a few years, it will be totally ineffective in removing VAD.

Since the daily average requirement of vitamin A is 750 micrograms of vitamin A and 1 serving contains 30g of rice according to dry weight basis, vitamin A rice would only provide 9.9 micrograms which is 1.32% of the required allowance. Even taking the 100g figure of daily consumption of rice used in the technology transfer paper would only provide 4.4% of the RDA.

In order to meet the full needs of 750 micrograms of vitamin A from rice, an adult would have to consume 2 kg 272g of rice per day. This implies that one family member would consume the entire family ration of 10 kg. from the PDS in 4 days to meet vitaminA needs through "Golden rice".
"
dubold: "If that's correct, then there are other options available for addressing childhood blindness due to Vitamin A deficiency."
"

It is not.

That is Dr. Vandana Shiva either talking out of his ass with a wikipedia level understanding of vitamin A deficiency, or counting on us to go no further than wikipedia. One does not need anywhere near the full 750 μg daily requirement listed for children in industrialized nations where food fortification is a trivial exercise in order to address the severe kinds of malnutrition that lead to blindness and death in children. That 750 μg is less minimum daily requirement than amount past which more can't really conceivably help. Also, to be able to really say how much Golden rice would be needed to have an impact on vitamin deficiency one would need to look at how efficiently the β-carotene is adsorbed in the gut and converted to retinol. Thankfully this analysis has already been done,
Guangwen Tang, Jian Qin, Gregory G Dolnikowski, Robert M Russell, and Michael A Grusak. 2009. Golden Rice is an effective source of vitamin A Am. J. Clin. Nutrition. 89(6)1776-1783
---------------------------------------------
Background: Genetically engineered “Golden Rice” contains up to 35 μg β-carotene per gram of rice. It is important to determine the vitamin A equivalency of Golden Rice β-carotene to project the potential effect of this biofortified grain in rice-consuming populations that commonly exhibit low vitamin A status.

Objective: The objective was to determine the vitamin A value of intrinsically labeled dietary Golden Rice in humans.

Design: Golden Rice plants were grown hydroponically with heavy water (deuterium oxide) to generate deuterium-labeled [2H]β-carotene in the rice grains. Golden Rice servings of 65–98 g (130–200 g cooked rice) containing 0.99–1.53 mg β-carotene were fed to 5 healthy adult volunteers (3 women and 2 men) with 10 g butter. A reference dose of [13C10]retinyl acetate (0.4–1.0 mg) in oil was given to each volunteer 1 wk before ingestion of the Golden Rice dose. Blood samples were collected over 36 d.

Results: Our results showed that the mean (±SD) area under the curve for the total serum response to [2H]retinol was 39.9 ± 20.7 μg·d after the Golden Rice dose. Compared with that of the [13C10]retinyl acetate reference dose (84.7 ± 34.6 μg·d), Golden Rice β-carotene provided 0.24–0.94 mg retinol. Thus, the conversion factor of Golden Rice β-carotene to retinol is 3.8 ± 1.7 to 1 with a range of 1.9–6.4 to 1 by weight, or 2.0 ± 0.9 to 1 with a range of 1.0–3.4 to 1 by moles.

Conclusion: β-Carotene derived from Golden Rice is effectively converted to vitamin A in humans. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT00680355.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:08 AM on February 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Blasdelb--it wouldn't have to be food that gets distributed. It could be money. Or Vitamin A supplements. Or coupons for sweet potatoes. Whatever.

Golden rice may be a wonderful solution to Vitamin A deficiency, perhaps better than the above options. I hope it is!--if it is brought in, as you say, "appropriately." But isn't it precisely the appropriateness of golden rice's legal and cultural impedimenta that's under discussion here?

Syngenta may be acting in good faith here. I don't know much about it or, for that matter, the IRRI. People in this thread have cited evidence that certainly makes them look good. But to my mind, global agribusiness transnationals have earned a little kneejerk skepticism, judiciously applied.
posted by col_pogo at 2:39 AM on February 18, 2013



Currently, it is not even known how much vitamin JA the genetically engineered rice will produce.


That's not exactly true. Indeed, this peer-reviewed study I linked to earlier, devotes a whole appendix to Shiva's criticisms (from page 30). There is too much to copy and paste, but it is very rigorous - much more so than her article, as one would expect from a published, peer-reviewed piece. Some highlights:

A notable first impression of her report, which is only available online, is the frequent absence of proper references to support her more specific claims and numbers. This is dissatisfactory, as it makes it difficult to double-check the information she provides and opens the floor for inconsistencies. (For instance she writes “it is not even known how much vitamin A the genetically engineered rice will produce” but yet she affirms confidently that “it will be totally ineffective in removing VAD."...

Our more detailed analysis has shown that based on current consumption patterns and quantities, Golden Rice can already have a substantial and beneficial impact if it replaces the conventional rice in every other meal....

Key para:
On the face of it, Shiva’s criticism of Golden Rice seems to build on soft ground and a more rigorous analysis would have been desirable. Yet, the actual reason for this criticism becomes clear in the last part of her report where she criticises input-intensive industrial agriculture, an oligopolistic and powerful biotech industry and its aspiration to exclusive ownership of intellectual property rights (IPRs) related to rice research, and the assimilation of public sector research with corporate interests. It is in this context that Shiva considers Golden Rice to be a Trojan horse of big biotech and seed companies to establish corporate control over rice production and to increase the acceptability of GM crops in general... ... Therefore, some of the underlying arguments in Shiva (2000) against the current situation and the developments in the agricultural sector merit attention and probably even intervention, indeed, but the debate about the introduction of Golden Rice and its potential to address VAD should not be absorbed by the much more fundamental one about which agricultural system should be preferred. In the current system, if and when it is regulated and approved by the respective national authorities, Golden Rice promises to do a lot of good compared to the status quo.


Shiva's position is very similar to Miko's in this thread. I highly recommend anyone interested in the issues read the appendix, if not the whole paper.

Some people obviously see Golden Rice first and foremost - if not exclusively - a salvo from biotech and crop industries and something to be opposed at all costs. Others obviously see it as nothing more than a charity project. Personally, I'm more inclined towards the latter view than the former, based on the evidence currently available.

However, I acknowledge the validity of the former perspective's concerns. The crux of the issue, to me, is that we can have Golden Rice - which the best evidence asserts will work very well indeed - and campaign for better global equality, patent-laws, and sustainable farming practices, supply chains and nutrition programs. Indeed, I personally see golden rice as a step towards those things, however mixed or halting, rather than a one-way step away from that. That licence - much as we may bridle against it - is unusual for its generous terms, and in my opinion is one of the biggest, most positive steps the industry has made towards the kind of openness we would like in a long time.

Is it perfect? Of course not. Is it still part of a capitalist system, a product of current IP laws etc? Of course. But politics is the art of the possible. People - kids - are dying and sick. Golden rice could help that, and we can still work to change the system; it's a false dichotomy.
posted by smoke at 2:42 AM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, and speaking of kneejerk skepticism, let me add my voice to the chorus of those who think Lomborg should go live in a cave somewhere, and never darken informed discourse on global environmental and humanitarian issues again. He's earned that in spades.

If golden rice is a worthy idea that needs to be sold to those inclined to be skeptical of technical, market- and production-oriented solutions that come out of transnational corporations, then the first step the golden rice PR team should have taken was to bribe Lomborg to keep his mouth shut.
posted by col_pogo at 2:44 AM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Or we could promote the 'system of rice intensification' (SRI) which is allowing farmers to dramatically increase yields (beyond gmo yields even) through crop management.

This Guardian article on the subject was very interesting.
posted by knapah at 3:29 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I just read that. The thing is that a number of foundations - Rockefeller, importantly, as well as Gates - have stepped forward to develop "Humanitarian licensing" for this strain.

So, I just spent a good while reading through the excerpts of the Golden Rice licensing agreements on the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board's page.

First, one observation that is rather damning. I did extensive searching on Google and the GR Humanitarian Board's page, and could not find one example of an actual license to any licensees. Even though we know there have been studies in China, the Philippines and other countries. I'm going to step over that issue for now, and focus on the IP licensing.

So the first big danger sign is that none of these licensing agreements are open to the public they're supposedly supposed to benefit. We could maybe contact Tufts or one of the research universities associated with one of the projects and work our way through their system to get access to the license. But who knows. The Golden Rice Project page sure does have a lot of Powerpoint Media and PR Kits though.

The second major issue is the lack of the word "perpetual" or any similar phrase in the Golden Rice Project's license page linked above. Instead we have this:

Syngenta retains commercial rights, although it has abandonned its plans to commercialise Golden Rice.

All spelling errors are theirs. But, since they retain commercial rights and the patents, they can revoke the licensing agreement or claim commercial-use by those farmers at any time.

In the same way, any commercial rights of improvements to the licensed technology go to Syngenta.

Farming use is also restricted to Resource-poor farmer use (earning less than US$10,000 per year from farming). But again, any sale is commercial, and Syngenta retains commercial rights, they just haven't been asserted.

Interestingly, the license text on their homepage states that resource-poor farmers are allowed to re-sell the seed to their neighbors.

Ignoring all the ecological issues around GMO crops, I have to say this license is a brilliant work of economic strategy.

With the dual-licensing, we have classic examples of price discrimination and market segmentation. In this case, the term "discrimination" doesn't necessarily have a negative connotation. But it does indicate that there are monopoly effects at work. If you accept IP as a positive or necessary construct, there are arguments to be made that this segmentation is necessary to re-coup costs.

The second item is usage of a collective licensing agreement between the many patent-holders on the Golden Rice technology. The transaction costs to get GMO into new international markets are huge. Just setting up meetings with regulators, writing license agreements, dealing with pushback by local environmental groups, etc. By pooling their patents together and forming a single licensing entity, they can reduce those costs dramatically.

And the license to let low-income farmers sell seeds can obviously lead to greater adoption of the technology and positive network effects and lock-in. The more seed users you have, the more research into the seeds by the countries and further IP gains, the more farmers will adapt farming practices that are more closely tied to the GMO seed itself, etc.

Not to disparage the great humanitarian work the Gate's Foundation is doing, but this sounds like the classic Microsoft playbook from the 80s/90s. We know they realized the value of piracy in emerging markets, along with all of the other strategies in one way or another.

What do you think they do after a market is no longer "emerging" or "developing"? Time to crack down on that harmful piracy and increase IP enforcement. There's no reason to believe Monsanto or the other patent-holders involved with GR won't do the same.

* Several of strategies above, like price discrimination and collective management of IP rights in Golden Rice have been examined in-depth before.
posted by formless at 3:59 AM on February 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


Or we could promote the 'system of rice rice (or root) intensification' (SRI)
(that the same technique applies to various crops is important, methinks.)

Came in to mention that same, pretty fascinating, article. Not directly related, since it's not about solutions adressing any specific nutritional deficiency, but certainly an interesting instance of how the technological paradigm for finding solutions to food problems isn't the only way to discover some very effective ones - as well as nicely highlighting the public domain angle that Miko was pointing to as something that should more consistently and fundamentally underlie any discussion and proposal on the subject.
posted by progosk at 4:20 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Next up from Dr. Bjorn Lomborg, let's have a rational discussion about how "40% of the warming we have seen the past 50 years can be ascribed not to man-made global warming but the so-called Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). "

If you pick the right positions you can both troll the internet and cash some nice checks.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:49 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can't imagine them going for golden rice, unless it was free/cheaper than every other rice or had an amazing local marketing campaign behind it.

The point of attack is at the source - the goal is to remove the other options through governmental mandate or market manipulation. Kind of like how some "enlightened" rulers ordered the execution of anyone who slandered the potato - it was easier and more profitable to feed the peasants potatoes and export the wheat. The Irish Potato Famine points out these sorts of top-down schemes can have unexpected and drastic downsides.

I am a network engineer. I work everyday with well understood systems, built with rigorous science and engineering, designed with deliberation and intelligence. Shit goes wrong with that stuff every goddamn day. It goes wrong in grand and dramatic fashion. It goes wrong subtly, so it takes a while for people to even realize it's gone wrong. Humans mess up. Material science is imperfect, so stuff comes broken from the factory. Things are put together in unexpected ways, and now no-one can reach Youtube, and I gotta fix it, here at my cushy desk in a first world suburb.

Now, a system we only imperfectly understand is supposed to be a silver bullet, so long as it takes over for the system already in place? And not only do you got to get the organism correct, you need to manipulate the economy so the organism is adopted in place of current staples. And that means manipulating the culture, or ramming it down the throats of the consumer by removing alternatives. Are there going to be scientists and engineers on-site to fix things when they go wrong? Can they guarantee a fix in time to avert a regional famine, health crisis or economic ruin?

Any engineer worth their pocket-protector knows there ain't no such thing as a silver bullet. No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. Solutions are usually organic and collaborative. "Put vitamin A in some commonly consumed manufactured staples" seems like a better bet than "upend agriculture and food markets in the region with a new crop to replace old crops" as technical solutions go. There's vitamin fortified fish sauce in Vietnam and Cambodia, now.

GMO can be a useful and flexible tool in improving economic and community health conditions, but the top-down approach to getting them in the hands of farmers and consumers sets off all kinds of alarm bells. Maybe once agribusiness undergoes some reform and adheres to some standards of accountability that don't include the words "self policing", we can trust GMO solutions to humanitarian problems. Even then, I'd only trust it as a part, interchangeable with other parts and reversible if needed, to larger solutions.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:54 AM on February 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's this. Not enough vitamin A in Golden Rice to make any difference. Plenty of vitamin A in other crops.

I've long said, I'm not anti-GMO. I'm anti GMO-developed-and-controlled-by-crony-capitalists.

If the purpose of companies working on GMO foods was to prevent starvation, you'd think things like this wouldn't happen.

If it's to do anything to make a profit, then they're doing that right.
posted by Foosnark at 5:02 AM on February 18, 2013


"First, one observation that is rather damning. I did extensive searching on Google and the GR Humanitarian Board's page, and could not find one example of an actual license to any licensees. Even though we know there have been studies in China, the Philippines and other countries. I'm going to step over that issue for now, and focus on the IP licensing."

This has got to be the most ridiculously absurd example of Metafilter pseudoknowledge I've seen yet. Just because their international legal documentation isn't indexed by google doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Not everything that is googleable is worth finding and not everything that is worth finding is googleable.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:04 AM on February 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


"Not everything that is googleable is worth finding and not everything that is worth finding is googleable"

True, but damn near everything that can possibly be promoted on the Internet is promoted on the Internet, so it's sorta surprising (to me, at least) that this isn't.
posted by sutt at 5:16 AM on February 18, 2013


"True, but damn near everything that can possibly be promoted on the Internet is promoted on the Internet, so it's sorta surprising (to me, at least) that this isn't."

What?
posted by Blasdelb at 5:21 AM on February 18, 2013


This has got to be the most ridiculously absurd example of Metafilter pseudoknowledge I've seen yet. Just because their international legal documentation isn't indexed by google doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Not everything that is googleable is worth finding and not everything that is worth finding is googleable.

Ironically, he must GOOGLE WESTLAW/LEXIS-NEXIS.
posted by jaduncan at 5:34 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


from Miko's link:  
The reason there is vitamin A deficiency in India in spite of the rich biodiversity a base and indigenous knowledge base in India is because the Green Revolution technologies wiped out biodiversity by converting mixed cropping systems to monocultures of wheat and rice and by spreading the use of
herbicides which destroy field greens.
[after just detailing the nutritional importance of field greens and how they have much more Vitamin A and other nutrients than fortified rice can provide]
.....
[and pointing out that different crops have different effects on the wider environment - and these can outweigh potential benefits]
Genetically engineered vitamin A rice will aggravate this destruction since it is part of an industrial agriculture, intensive input package. It will also lead to major water scarcity since it is a water intensive crop and displaces water prudent sources of vitamin A.


I want scientists to keep on improving our agricultural resources. But we have to take a holistic approach and not just parachute in one crop. No one thinks that is a good idea for medicine, if a doctor treats your arm and ignores your heart murmur.

Everything that I have learned by studying the history of development and listening to lectures/reading books by people who study contemporary development has convinced me that neither Pro-GM nor anti-GM people are right. The answer lies in the middle: in the careful use of GM (just as any tool should be used carefully) combined with local knowledge to address local problems in a way that doesn't just create new ones -- by doing things like combining traditional crops and methods with modern ones.
posted by jb at 6:54 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


This has got to be the most ridiculously absurd example of Metafilter pseudoknowledge I've seen yet. Just because their international legal documentation isn't indexed by google doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Not everything that is googleable is worth finding and not everything that is worth finding is googleable.

I don't think he meant to claim that it doesn't exist, just that he can't easily access it in order to evaluate. It's not entirely unreasonable to want to check out claims made by organisations that routinely lie about everything.
posted by patrick54 at 7:24 AM on February 18, 2013


an otherwise simple and natural process

And there, in a nutshell, is the Rousseauistic underpinning of the whole anti-GMO position--and it's a complete fantasy. There is nothing remotely "natural" about traditional agricultural practice, and nothing at all "simple" about it. It's a massive, violently destructive environmental intervention that has been radically reshaping the entire planet's ecosystem for thousands of years. There is scarcely a single farmed food that humans eat that has not undergone radical genetic modification from whatever "wild" form was originally domesticated. The notion that GMO foodstuffs represent some sort of "impurity" introduced into an otherwise pristine and unchanging world is just an ahistorical fantasy. And it's an easy fantasy to live by when you live in a world of such plenty that you can impose artificial forms of scarcity on yourself (eating locally, for example) just for the fun of feeling like you're somehow being "in tune with nature."
posted by yoink at 7:28 AM on February 18, 2013 [13 favorites]


So poor people get to be the experiment in which we find out what the actual effects of GMO's are in the long term. Chances are ...decent... they will be fine.

The poor are used to carrying this burden though. After all poverty drives people to accept all sorts of conditions to survive and that need can be used to facilitate the study of dangerous drugs.

What I find hilarious is that people with education actually believe they should be allowed to force the rest of people without education to trust them on their word.

Yes trusting the word of the elite blindly because they "know about science better" always goes so well for the poor.
posted by xarnop at 7:37 AM on February 18, 2013


And I dare anyone who believes in god, a silly unproven notion, to mock my belief that living beings MIGHT have a spirit, and that the DNA is the vehicle by which atoms themselves may harness "will" against the merciless physical determinism of this reality.

Atheists are free to mock, I find the notion silly myself despite I believe quite genuinely it may be a possibility.

But many poor people DO believe in god. Ironically it switches from the religious nuts saving the poor heathens, to the elitists smarter than god heathens saving the poor imbeciles from religion.

Funny how things swap around, isn't it? Considering the west doled out our crappy religion onthe poor and the needy to begin with, it would probably be decent of us to save the "saved" from all the terrible saving we did to them in the past.

"Just kidding! There is no god! We were totally wrong about that! But NOW you should believe everything we say more than your own belief system. We know truth better than you! AGAIN! Because this time we REALLY REALLY know the truth! Our scientists say so!"
posted by xarnop at 7:49 AM on February 18, 2013


"I don't think he meant to claim that it doesn't exist, just that he can't easily access it in order to evaluate. It's not entirely unreasonable to want to check out claims made by organisations that routinely lie about everything."

So as you sling that shit around, who exactly are are you aiming at? Because if you can find a single example of meaningful dishonesty on the part of any of the actual stakeholders in this you would have big news,

International Rice Research Institute
Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg
Helen Keller International

or hell even

the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
posted by Blasdelb at 8:06 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


What I find hilarious is that people with education actually believe they should be allowed to force the rest of people without education to trust them on their word.

There's only one side in this argument that wants people to have a choice whether or not to use GMO crops--and it isn't the anti-GMO side.
posted by yoink at 8:49 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well I guess it thus comes down to whether new product or medical safety should favor proof of safety or LACK of proof of harm. The right to sell new products without extensive long term safety testing is preferable to many people's agenda's for obvious reasons. The ability to push the doors in the direction of "But blocking us from selling questionable new products is stamping out free will and personal choice!" seems disingenuous.

If it were your sister, your brother, your daughter, your father.... who was not able to earn enough money to feed themselves-- would you see them as a great opportunity to test out this neat GMO technology scientists have been working on?

The idea this is about empathy or caring about the poor IS INDEED an illusion. It's an exhaustive attempt to find a group of people who "deserve" to be tested on because after all... SEE it might save them from death!

The amount of work expended to make this sound like compassion reeks of the same stench as scientists who were experiment on huge quantities of AIDS drugs in foster kids (here in the states!) because they had no parents to protect them, and hey, they were going to die anyway.

I was actually looking for a study in infants.

Always trust the government and scientists on matters of their inventions safety in people. They have the well being of humans at heart. Unless you're poor or orphaned. Than your purpose to test out technology that may be used for the benefit of the real people, who actually matter.

I feel like this libertarian ideal that it's wrong to block people from choices that are usually made by poor and desperate people (such as submitting to medical experiments, prostitution, living in slums, eating food made out of toxic ingredients, buying toys made of lead paint) sounds "empowering" but it's often just a ruse to allow businesses, landlords, and sex purchasers to pat themselves on the back and absolve responsibility for preying on the vulnerable.
posted by xarnop at 9:07 AM on February 18, 2013


If it were your sister, your brother, your daughter, your father.... who was not able to earn enough money to feed themselves-- would you see them as a great opportunity to test out this neat GMO technology scientists have been working on?

If it were my sister, my brother, my daughter or my father who were at risk of dying from vitamen A deficiency, I would feel really pissed off with someone who said that they local farmers shouldn't be allowed to grow a form of rice that would provide them with the necessary RDA of vitamen A because "Hey, if we just magically transformed the world's food production and distribution networks in some other way I haven't yet worked out and which no one is going to implement in any case, there wouldn't even BE a problem!"
posted by yoink at 9:13 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not personally looking to block anyone from accessing GMO's vs starve. In fact I think when it really comes to someone who owns unsafe housing and let's tenants live in it vs sleep out in the cold for a nominal fee, I think these things can happen and be perfectly ethical. It's just when these things get translated to large business and organizations and the "hey these people will submit to this and we're doing them a favor" for determining acceptable treatment of humans it can become a brutal force.

I just think it's telling that this is the manner with which people wanting to push GMO use into being commonplace and unregulated (accept in the manner that supports corporate interests.)

By all means, feed the poor the GMO's, surely it's better to live than to die and I agree any effects are probably very mild to barely noticeable (to non-existent) in comparison to death by starvation or diseases of malnutrition. It's what they're going to do, and then after the poor have tolerated them alright they can sell the general public on GMO safety.
posted by xarnop at 9:30 AM on February 18, 2013


"We don't have a "lack of properly manipulated genetic material" problem in this world. We have a "profoundly unequal distribution of resources" problem, and I do not think that sort of problem is best solved with proprietary, profit-making commodities."

Hey someone has to get paid somehow. Whether it be a bunch of local trucking companies moving all those resources around or a large producer of GMO seed it ai'nt gonnea ever be free.
posted by Gungho at 9:30 AM on February 18, 2013


The ability to push the doors in the direction of "But blocking us from selling questionable new products is stamping out free will and personal choice!" seems disingenuous.

Nobody is actually arguing that in this thread.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:39 AM on February 18, 2013


>an otherwise simple and natural process

And there, in a nutshell, is the Rousseauistic underpinning of the whole anti-GMO position--and it's a complete fantasy. There is nothing remotely "natural" about traditional agricultural practice, and nothing at all "simple" about it. It's a massive, violently destructive environmental intervention that has been radically reshaping the entire planet's ecosystem for thousands of years. There is scarcely a single farmed food that humans eat that has not undergone radical genetic modification from whatever "wild" form was originally domesticated. The notion that GMO foodstuffs represent some sort of "impurity" introduced into an otherwise pristine and unchanging world is just an ahistorical fantasy. And it's an easy fantasy to live by when you live in a world of such plenty that you can impose artificial forms of scarcity on yourself (eating locally, for example) just for the fun of feeling like you're somehow being "in tune with nature."


Hi. I'm the person who said that thing you quoted. Thanks for taking it out of context and bending it to fit your preconfigured argument. That was nice of you.

What I meant was that if you plant a seed, you get more seeds, and you can plant them the following year. That's the simple and natural process to which I was referring, into which capitalism has forced itself.

Yes, obviously, agriculture also involves plowing and irrigation and fertilization and crop rotation and insecticides and herbicides and varmint shooting, and even slash-and-burn if that's what it takes, and none of that is particularly ecologically neutral. But I wasn't talking about ecology. At all. I never claimed GMOs were any kind of "impurity," or that other crops are "wild," or anything of the sort. My objection was to capitalist control of seed collection. Period. I think this was adequately expressed in the words I actually used.

The only fantasy here is the one you have created in which I suggested any of the things you say I did.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:02 AM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Agronomist here. I'm not directly involved in GMOs or agricultural development, but I need to follow these topics closely for my job. The problem here is that agricultural development has been "offered" well-meaning, more or less expensive high-tech, silver bullet solutions to complex problems for decades and that skepticism in those matters is well founded. Here's a recent example: some times ago we were discussing the dissemination of certain agricultural data in rural areas of Burkina Faso and the folks we were working with (in Europe) were keen on using cellphones for this. Well, why not? Cellphones are extremely popular there and I've heard of successful programs using cellphones. But in our case, before even thinking about cellphones, what about listening about what the potential users had to say? What about the long-term economic sustainability of the tech? For all we knew, the best way to disseminate our data was a guy on a bike carrying educational posters from village to village. But yeah, cellphones!

Using GMOs to solve nutritional issues suffer from the same problem. Technically, sure, this could work in some places. But in this particular case (vitamin deficiency), the core issue is a lack of food diversification: even in non-emergency situations, some populations cannot find those micronutrients in their environment (note that we're talking micronutrients here, not energy/protein). Given the local high biodiversity, it's very unlikely that such micronutrients cannot be found/grown in local resources in necessary amounts (animal products, vegetables), except that people, for various reasons - cultural, social, technological - cannot utilize these resources. So there's research to be done on existing resources, possibly local knowledge to be resurrected, and then people will have to be educated - how to grow and cook underutilized plants, how to raise dairy goats on cheap by-products etc. Perhaps importing a untested foreign tech is the solution here - I really don't know - but in any case the resources needed for developing and implementing that solution won't be allocated elsewhere as agricultural development budgets are not infinite.
posted by elgilito at 10:02 AM on February 18, 2013 [13 favorites]


"What I meant was that if you plant a seed, you get more seeds, and you can plant them the following year. That's the natural process to which I was referring, into which capitalism has forced itself."

That is a natural process that capitalism has not forced itself into in the actual topic we are currently discussing; Golden Rice seeds are perfectly savable year after year and are in fact intentionally designed in such a way as that is the case.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:08 AM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


If it were my sister, my brother, my daughter or my father who were at risk of dying from vitamen A deficiency, I would feel really pissed off with someone who said that they local farmers shouldn't be allowed to grow a form of rice that would provide them with the necessary RDA of vitamen A because "Hey, if we just magically transformed the world's food production and distribution networks in some other way I haven't yet worked out and which no one is going to implement in any case, there wouldn't even BE a problem!"

If it were my sister, my brother, my daughter or my father who were at risk of dying (or just going blind) from vitamin A deficiency, I'd make sure they had access to foodstuffs rich in vitamin A, like liver, bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes or leafy greens. NON of which are expensive foodstuffs or hard to grow foodstuffs.
Someone wrote above: golden rice is a solution looking for a problem which seems very accurate to me. Every other solution to vitamin A deficiency seems simpler than replacing local crops with GM crops. Including giving every child an injection twice a year.
It is true that every crop and domestic animal is genetically modified in the old-school, analogue sense, and I am personally not at all afraid of genetic modification. But to be honest, it doesn't really seem to be the issue here. Why spread a single crop of rice, when you could spread several species of carrots - even carrots genetically modified to deal with draughts or floods?

I take anything Lomborg writes with a ton of salt. His so-called research is ridiculously wrong at all times, and also ridiculously industry- and right-wing friendly. I think most people in the natural sciences agree. So getting Lomborg to write an article is not about scientific credibility, but about signaling to a specific group of politicians and politically dependent business leaders that here is an argument that will work with a specific group of the general public.
posted by mumimor at 10:11 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


If it were my sister, my brother, my daughter or my father who were at risk of dying (or just going blind) from vitamin A deficiency, I'd make sure they had access to foodstuffs rich in vitamin A, like liver, bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes or leafy greens. NON of which are expensive foodstuffs or hard to grow foodstuffs.

Well, it IS my cousins, distant relatives, and countrymen who are at danger of VAD, and let me tell you, they do NOT have access to liver, bell peppers, carrots, or leafy greens. That stuff doesn't grow where they live, and it's hard to get those highly perishable things, and harder still to keep them from spoiling before they go bad. What they can do is trade the stuff they do know how to grow for staples that can be transported long distances and don't require refrigeration. Like rice.

Your definition of "expensive" and "hard to grow" does not match up with the reality of where VAD happens. Hell, I can't get bell peppers to grow in my Long Island garden.
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:39 AM on February 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


Hi. I'm the person who said that thing you quoted. Thanks for taking it out of context and bending it to fit your preconfigured argument. That was nice of you.

Here's the context: you were replying to a comment in a thread about golden rice--a GMO product which does not require any modification of the process of seed gathering and replanting. And you quite specifically indicated that your comments were to be understood as applying to the particular topic under discussion in this thread:
It is a political problem because Monsanto (or whoever it is this time) is wedging itself into an otherwise simple and natural process in order to control the means of production.
I am sorry I didn't manage to read your mind and realize that you simply didn't know the first thing about the subject at hand, and were therefore talking solely about the issue of GMO crops where the farmer is either unable or not allowed to gather and replant seed--an issue that is completely irrelevant to golden rice. I did not take your comment "out of context"--you simply inserted in into a context in which it did not, alas, belong.
posted by yoink at 10:53 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


"If it were my sister, my brother, my daughter or my father who were at risk of dying (or just going blind) from vitamin A deficiency, I'd make sure they had access to foodstuffs rich in vitamin A, like liver, bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes or leafy greens. NON of which are expensive foodstuffs or hard to grow foodstuffs."

I have a better solution, they should just eat brioche cake, its even more nutritious. While encouraging the millions of those poor enough that their children are affected with the kind of severe malnutrition that causes blindness and death to eat more liver is pretty manifestly ridiculous, introducing new crops that deliver fewer calories than their current indigenous equivalents (assuming there even are locally arable vitamin A rich crops) is many things but simple is not one of them. Growing crops by hand on the kind of scale that actually feeds people is an entirely different endeavor than the ease with which one can maintain a western hobby garden with Miracle Grow from the Home Depot and a garden hose would seem to indicate, it is backbreaking hard labor that even with past success has no guarantee of ever paying off.

Rice on the other hand already has existing local infrastructure for growing it and distributing it, as well as recipes for cooking it, in the areas affected by Vitamin A deficiency. Rice can travel where aid workers with needles in land rovers cannot, it does not immediately spoil even in tropical climates, it is value dense, and it is self replacing. All that is needed is the seeds, thoughtful education campaigns, and for activists who don't know what they're talking about to get out of the way.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:58 AM on February 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Given the local high biodiversity, it's very unlikely that such micronutrients cannot be found/grown in local resources in necessary amounts (animal products, vegetables), except that people, for various reasons - cultural, social, technological - cannot utilize these resources.

Doesn't a commitment to biodiversity require the cultivation of golden rice? n+1 rice cultivars is exactly 1 more diverse than n cultivars. Maybe it's not the solution, but right now the central planners are preventing its use rather than allowing farmers to try it. That doesn't sound very respectful of local knowledge and experimentation to me.

They have convinced you that giving each season's seeds away for free is good enough, and successfully diverted you from noticing that they are moving planters away from seeds that they own, have developed, and have had free access to for centuries, in fact milennia, to seeds that a private company owns, controls, polices, and licenses.

Terminator varieties are actively evil, it's true. But they're usually against the law in the developing world, as for instance in India. This seems important: golden rice farmers can keep and replant each harvest for seed next year, benefiting from massive yield growth invented by private companies. Yay! (Golden rice is not sterile and Syngenta is not developing it as a terminator.)

So, hey! Let's let poor Filipino farmers try it. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't. If it doesn't work, I'll admit I was wrong, and we'll know to devote our attention to alternatives. If it does work, will you do the same?
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:10 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Your definition of "expensive" and "hard to grow" does not match up with the reality of where VAD happens. Hell, I can't get bell peppers to grow in my Long Island garden.
Looking at the map you linked to, I'd say the VAD areas are the very definition of areas where bell peppers, sweet potatoes and a number of leafy greens grow, as well as areas where poultry live happily. I know that several factors congregate to make these basic, cheap foodstuffs inaccessible to the people there. But I find it hard to believe that it would be a better solution to grow golden rice than to make ordinary vegetables and cheap parts of poultry available (as well as a number of other vitamin A-rich foodstuffs).
You guys who are arguing rice is the solution, do you seriously mean it is OK for anyone to live on rice alone? Because then there is your problem. You are not at all addressing the issue: this world's urban poor living in sub-human conditions. You are addressing a random aspect of this condition. In my view, all humans have a right to real nourishing food, and this right is well within the reach of our current infrastructure and economy, even without resorting to "golden rice".
For Blasdelb, I'd like to remember the founding principles of Ford Motor Company. It makes sense to empower workers, so they can afford buying cars, because that way, one sells more cars. In the same vein, it makes sense to provide sound nourishment to the poor, because that way, the poor become more productive. This doesn't work with cake, as USian experiments for 5 decades have already proven.
posted by mumimor at 11:26 AM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am sorry I didn't manage to read your mind

You don't have to read my mind; just read the words and respond to them in an intellectually honest fashion. If they're not applicable, they're not applicable. (They may well not be, but I read nothing in the FPP to suggest that was the case.) No need to just make shit up.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:35 AM on February 18, 2013


You are not at all addressing the issue: this world's urban poor living in sub-human conditions.

90% of the poor population in Vietnam, or 3/4ths of the whole population, lives in rural areas (cite). Areas where there is constant flooding, or cold temperatures, or rock-hard land that make growing most crops difficult. Similarly, while Rwanda may be great for sweet potatoes, it doesn't help the huge swathes of Africa that don't get enough rainfall.

When you are looking at the developing world, shortages are extremely localized, and "fixing" the infrastructure is more complex than just "give them more money." (Not that I don't use that tactic too -- But I can't control how they spend the money I give them).

The urban poor actually tend to do better. They have both a higher concentration of resources and aid groups serving them. It's the rural poor that are hard to reach, and efforts to help must be compatible with the local traditions and lifestyles.

Not to say that there aren't poor conditions in the cities, but I don't think that's where golden rice is being targeted. There's a reason why so many countries make it so hard for the rural poor to relocate to the cities.
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:50 AM on February 18, 2013


Something else: Bjorn Lomborg is just about the most unreliable source ever.
He consistently comes up with articles that are supposed to deal with problems within the natural sciences, and then his science is consistently shown to be BS. Then he consistently claims to be a political scientist, with no knowledge of natural sciences, whereupon political scientists come in to say it doesn't work within their frame of reference either. So we are back to the reality of natural science, where his arguments make no sense.
If anyone here wants to document the claim that "golden rice" are a valid solution to a valid problem, I'd personally like to see a relevant scientific paper. This would be within the realm of life sciences or 3rd world economy.
I'm totally appreciative of the fact that there may be innovative solutions that are outside scientific and political establishments, and I'd look at those too. But Lomborg has a history of serving shortsighted capitalist venture, and will have to come up with a much better argument in order to convince anyone on the left of Ghenghis Khan.
On preview: snickerdoodle; I hear what you are saying, but the solution to that is agricultural education, not golden rice. A lot of the problems in agricultural areas right now are desperate solutions, going against all knowledge, because of extreme poverty.
posted by mumimor at 11:58 AM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


"What I meant was that if you plant a seed, you get more seeds, and you can plant them the following year. That's the natural process to which I was referring, into which capitalism has forced itself."

That is a natural process that capitalism has not forced itself into in the actual topic we are currently discussing; Golden Rice seeds are perfectly savable year after year and are in fact intentionally designed in such a way as that is the case.


But they are absolutely inserting themselves in the process. The fact that Syngentia is explicitly allowing a certain subset of farmers (local producers earning less than $10,000/year) to save their seed basically proves my point. Allowing, while nice, is still controlling. And those allowances are limited.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:05 PM on February 18, 2013


"Doesn't a commitment to biodiversity require the cultivation of golden rice? n+1 rice cultivars is exactly 1 more diverse than n cultivars."

… except that limited resources and a history of monoculture agriculture orientation from Western intervention make it reasonable to be skeptical of the n+1 claim and naive not to consider it critically.
posted by klangklangston at 12:15 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


"He consistently comes up with articles that are supposed to deal with problems within the natural sciences, and then his science is consistently shown to be BS. Then he consistently claims to be a political scientist, with no knowledge of natural sciences, whereupon political scientists come in to say it doesn't work within their frame of reference either. So we are back to the reality of natural science, where his arguments make no sense."

I hope we can lay this to rest. Bjorn Lomborg is indeed a hack with no meaningful claim to scientific expertise of any kind who has been repeatedly exposed for both academic misconduct and scientific fraud of several flavors and who can only really be said to be interesting in how he somehow seems to maintain an aura of relevance that woos cynical corporate entities and the gullible. That said, he has about as much relevance to Golden Rice as our favorite dead dictator's dietary habits have to the vegetarians in this thread.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:31 PM on February 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


"If anyone here wants to document the claim that "golden rice" are a valid solution to a valid problem, I'd personally like to see a relevant scientific paper. This would be within the realm of life sciences or 3rd world economy."
Guangwen Tang, Jian Qin, Gregory G Dolnikowski, Robert M Russell, and Michael A Grusak. 2009. Golden Rice is an effective source of vitamin A Am. J. Clin. Nutrition. 89(6)1776-1783

Roukayatou Zimmermann, Matin Qaim. 2004. Potential health benefits of Golden Rice: a Philippine case study. Food Policy 29(2)147–168

Alexander J Stein1, H.P.S. Sachdev2 & Matin Qaim. 2006. Potential impact and cost-effectiveness of Golden Rice. Nature Biotechnology 241200-1201.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:44 PM on February 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


I want to correct on seeming misconception in this thread (you can see a post on Golden Rice on my blog for full thoughts on this topic, but I won't link it here). Aside from activist pressure and general GMO fears, another reason Golden Rice is taking so long to be deployed is the plan is to breed the trait into locally relevant rice varieties which requires more work locally (to make sure the added trait doesn't change how it grows in that region and to get regulatory approval which is required in any country that it would be offered in). The current test in the Philippines is using a locally popular rice variety which should hopefully go on to be approved for sale. Ultimately, farmers would hopefully buy the GR version of a rice variety they already grow, grow it, eat it, save seed from their own batches (or buy seed rice if that's what they do already), etc.
posted by R343L at 12:59 PM on February 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


You may be shy but that blog post is excellent, I hope you don't mind,
"Golden Rice is in the news again. Sadly, it’s not in the news for saving lives or preventing blindness by decreasing vitamin A deficiency. No, Greenpeace is alleging a recent study on effectiveness was improperly done. Further, they’re trying to halt a field trial in the Philippines1. But I don’t want to talk about the intransigent position of a dogmatically anti-GMO organization which leads them to malign the ethics of scientists with little evidence. I want everyone to know what Golden Rice is and why I think it is good way to improve the lives of millions of people.

What is Golden Rice?
Golden Rice is the name given to rice varieties modified to produce more beta-carotene which when eaten is used by your body to produce vitamin A. The rice plant itself already produces beta-carotene in the green parts of the plant. The difficult part was to make the seed develop beta-carotene. Regular rice is white (with a brown outer husk). Golden Rice is light golden orange. It took scientists Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer over ten years to get to the first version of a viable beta-carotene rice. By 2005, the Golden Rice foundation’s research improved the line to produce even more beta-carotene. The recent study in the news demonstrated that the beta-carotene in Golden Rice is just as available to the body as that in spinach or vitamin A supplement capsules2.
Why Golden Rice?
When I was growing up, I was told to eat my carrots or I might go blind. A lack of vitamin A can cause blindness, greater susceptibility to infectious disease and even death. Millions of children worldwide are deficient in vitamin A: hundreds of thousand go blind or die every year because they don’t get enough vitamin A. I was obviously never at risk for this.

Golden Rice is intended to allow families who already depend on rice as a staple to have get significantly more vitamin A and thus lower their risk of health problems caused by its deficiency. People would grow and eat essentially the same rice varieties, including saving and replanting their seed. The Golden Rice project has ensured that any country wanting to breed a locally appropriate Golden Rice variety will be given a free license from all organizations with intellectual property interests. Golden Rice really is intended to be free of all the usual concerns about GMO crops: multinational companies can’t sue farmers; farmers don’t have to use new or expensive farming techniques, fertilizers or pesticides; and replanting from seed is encouraged.
We don’t really need Golden Rice, right?
People are understandably a bit concerned about the idea of transgenic crops. Do we really need to distribute a transgenic crop to solve this deficiency problem? I think that it’s necessary to add Golden Rice to our tool basket because other solutions have fallen short. While Golden Rice will not prevent all vitamin A deficiencies, it could significantly reduce them in rice-eating cultures because its use fits into the existing cultural and economic situation.

Supplementation programs require either local governments or international aid organizations to spend money continuously to maintain a program to give vitamin A shots or pills to the population. People are inevitably missed. Some people are naturally suspicious of being asked to accept a shot or swallow a pill. Worse, it’s easy to let programs go underfunded over time. People in distant rural areas may be overlooked entirely. But a farmer offered a fortified food crop can just keep growing it. The distribution of Golden Rice only has to be done once and is naturally maintainable3. Reducing the need for costly vitamin A supplementation using Golden Rice leaves resources available for other humanitarian efforts.

Another solution given to vitamin A deficiency is understandably seen as the right one: a varied diet. When I was told as a child that I should eat my carrots or “go blind”, it was an idle concern: I, like most everyone I know, grew up with a varied diet. A lack of carrots didn’t matter. In the United States, we are overflowing with a variety of fruits and vegetables such that generally the only barrier to an excellent diet is a person’s dislike of vegetables.

But for millions of people worldwide a varied diet isn’t common. Millions of people worldwide may only have a suitably varied diet part of the year, if at all. There are — and I realize this is hard to believe — millions of people who eat rice every day and little else. This situation has been the case for thousands of years in various parts of the world at different times. I don’t see this situation improving permanently soon. Golden Rice gives us the opportunity to decrease the numbers of children going blind and dying now rather than waiting to solve a problem that has plagued humanity forever4.

Golden Rice has been very slow coming. The experiment that Greenpeace is making noise about was actually completed in 2009. The current Golden Rice traits being field tested in the Philippines were put together in 2005. No one is going to force farmers to grow Golden Rice, but given an informed choice, I believe many will5. Sitting in the West where nutrient deficiency disorders are rare, it’s easy to let our fears of genetic engineering dominate. But transgenic crops are generally safe and the scientists are doing all the right tests to make sure it is in this case. There’s no evidence of harm from Golden Rice and many reasons to think it could do great good. Trying to prevent the testing and distribution of Golden Rice is willfully ignorant. It is also immoral.
1Golden Rice is not a single plant variety. The Golden Rice traits are actually bred into regionally appropriate varieties and each variety obviously has to be tested. The idea is to breed the important traits into a variety of rice that is already grown in a particular area so that the only difference will be the additional vitamin A content.
2When I read this study I found out how they measure the bio-availability of the beta-carotene in foods and the process is really cool.
3Obviously an extreme circumstance such as complete crop failure would disturb Golden Rice as a partial solution to vitamin A deficiency, but obviously any effort to help a deficiency disorder is going to have a problem during periods of crop failures. The IP rights obtained for Golden Rice explicitly allow local trade and sale of rice as well so if one region in a country has a failed crop, rice grown elsewhere can be sold or distributed there.
4To answer a question that inevitably gets thrust about by certain organizations: I don’t believe Golden Rice will stop families from eating vegetables. Given the opportunity to eat a varied diet, most choose to. Many don’t have that choice. But we can make it so people don’t go blind.
5One of the common arguments against transgenic, bio-fortified crops is that farmers in the developing world will be forced to use them without understanding what they are. I think this idea is repugnant: it assumes that farmers in the developing world who use other modern technologies such as cell phones are stupid and not capable of understanding the kind of information that farmers throughout the world use all the time. But people in the developing world can definitely benefit from scientific advances. A book that helped shake my thinking here was Starved for Science. "
posted by Blasdelb at 1:21 PM on February 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


There's this. Not enough vitamin A in Golden Rice to make any difference.

Hi Foosnark, if you read a few of the comments you will see that that piece was one of the first links in the comments, and that her conclusions have been refuted in a peer-reviewed paper I have linked to twice already.

Basically, that claim is untrue and untested.

Xarnop: The right to sell new products without extensive long term safety testing is preferable to many people's agenda's for obvious reasons.

I'm not sure what you mean by long-term testing, but golden rice was invented in 1999, and they've been testing for much longer than, for example, most food products that come to market, especially other crops.
posted by smoke at 1:22 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Blasdelb, as I am now writing on my stupid iPad, I can't quote anything. But I'd like to remind you that this post is based on an article by Lomborg, the hack.
Again - I am not in any sense against genetic modification or modern agriculture. I spent a good part of my life trying to work out genetics the old-fashioned way, at my grandparents farm which is now mine, and I can't see there is much of a difference. Golden Rice certainly has potential. But whatever your business is, and now I am living from something completely different, I think it makes sense to zoom out and see if this is the best solution to the problem at hand. Arguments that you can't grow vegetables or raise fowl in any part of the World are not going to convince me of anything but malpractice. It is an absurd argument, since there are a thousand years of evidence to the contrary.
Very, very literally, it is like trying to solve the Western World's nutrition problems by adding vitamins to fast food meals.
Not only for vitamin A but for a whole number of health reasons, it would be better for the Gates Foundation (and others) to invest in diversity and information than in Golden Rice.
posted by mumimor at 1:30 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Doesn't this have applications for the First World too? I don't like vegetables but I love food with rice. So if this was sold or served in restaurants I could get my nutritional needs met.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:32 PM on February 18, 2013


India's rice revolution: In a village in India's poorest state, Bihar, farmers are growing world record amounts of rice – with no GM, and no herbicide. Is this one solution to world food shortages?
posted by homunculus at 1:36 PM on February 18, 2013


*blushes* at Blasdelb.

I actually tweeted Lomborg's piece since it was actually good, even if coming from him. That is, he's not saying anything that many others who aren't Lomborg haven't said many times. I know he's said some stupid things in the past, but can we give the character assassination a rest? Lomborg has significantly back-pedaled on many of his more outrageous positions and is largely, now, an advocate for significant economic development in the developing world because he believes it helps reduce many of the environmental problems we all worry about (people in wealthy countries have time to worry about water pollution, poor ones worry about enough food, etc.) In other words, he may have a checkered past but can we engage with the argument he's making? Because if any other name was on it, this conversation would be significantly different.

homunculus: There's actually ongoing discussion on twitter on how likely the SRI results are to be correct. Some links: does it work? Fact or fallacy? (latter peer-reviewed). Gore Vidal is, on agriculture topics, as much as a "hack" as many out there. In any case, getting more yield (with fewer inputs) of rice isn't necessarily going to solve VAD as many farmers who have family suffering from it may not even be able to apply those techniques (should they work) or get the training for them. More rice also doesn't directly increase vitamin D consumption unless farmers choose to spend the surplus on a varied diet (if available) or supplements.
posted by R343L at 1:42 PM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Still on the iPad and thus somewhat handicapped - but - methods similar to SRI are proving profitable even in the West. One of the places I'm looking at for inspiration for rforming my own farm is seemingly too labour-intensive, but wildly more profitable than anyone else in the area.
Honestly, I dont think there is a one size fits all, but those of us who are on barren land, all over the world, may need to look for other solutions than those which work on the great plains. If I put more fertilizer into my land, I won't be able to drink the water, and it won't even give me more output. I can't grow wheat, or corn, or any other high-yielding crop. But I can combine poultry and vegetables on high beds, that don't pollute the water.
27 hectares is a small farm, and I can understand why economists ignore the knowledge these small farmers are contributing. But maybe 27 hectares are a great size for dealing with difficult land, which is unmanageble for big cooperations. Maybe economists should learn to deal with the knowledge of small farmers. Just thinking out loud here...
posted by mumimor at 2:04 PM on February 18, 2013


The Bihar yields are interesting, but don't assume that the technique will be easy to reproduce in followup harvests.

In looking at Golden Rice it seems like the crop has been carefully studied. It now seems like it will be adopted by some countries on an more extensive test basis. The problem that I have with Lomborg and other advocates is that they seem to be saying we are overly cautious in tinkering with the genetics of a core cereal crop. They want to use the promise of Golden Rice to rollback all the GMO regulations out there.
In fact the original Golden Rice was not shown to be effective and it took a decade to get it to get to a level where it could make a nutritional difference and then it took years to prove that those crops worked.

Another issue is that the golden rice solution is pushed without even considering the alternatives. How about improving the variety of foods in the diet of the very poor. Rather than trying to engineer some super rice crop that could fail, we could be pushing more diversity in agriculture. All this effort could probably been spent getting folks to grow carrots, broccoli and spinache.
posted by humanfont at 2:19 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another issue is that the golden rice solution is pushed without even considering the alternatives.

How can you be so certain these alternatives weren't considered and the golden rice was deemed a better or more feasible solution? There seems to be a large element of "if they thought about it they would agree with me" going on.
posted by Justinian at 2:46 PM on February 18, 2013


Among the papers linked by Blasdeb, the most interesting is the Philippine ex-ante case study, because there's a rather cautious sensitivity analysis where the authors recognize that a lot of variables are associated with uncertainty, and that in any case GR implementation, while potentially valuable, is not a "magic bullet" meant "to replace other interventions such as food fortification, supplementation or dietary education programmes". That's much saner than Lomborg's antics. The paper is from 2004 though so I wonder if there are more recent assessments available. There's also this 2007 paper by David Dawe, a Senior economist at the FAO, who points out the various difficulties present and future met by GR development (the whole issue of the journal is worth reading too).
The fact remains, however, that there are 3 complementary approaches to solving micronutrient deficiency: direct supplementation, fortification (industrial, non-GM biofortification and GM-biofortification) and dietary diversification. Right now GM-biofortification is untested outside the lab. It's nice that it works in the lab, but working in the field, that's another story. Agronomy tends to be annoying that way... We'll find out in 5 years or so (GR could be marketed in the Philippines within 2 years) whether the technology makes sense or not.
posted by elgilito at 2:49 PM on February 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


All this effort could probably been spent getting folks to grow carrots, broccoli and spinach.

That's a lovely thought, but I was in my local supermarket the other day and there was a note on the salad shelves apologising for the poor choice of salads due to weather being wetter than expected. So even in the mildest climate with no infrastructure problems and a fully industrialised market garden supply chain, fresh vegetables can just be too difficult to get sufficient supply of. Whereas I don't remember ever seeing an empty rice shelf in this country.

The fact of the matter is that there are a very large number of people who subsist on rice, where every square metre of cultivated land has to be given over to cereal crops (as they're by far the most calorie dense), who can only afford to trade locally for food, and anyway, who aren't anywhere near the end of a global cool chain for trading in fresh vegetables. There doesn't seem to be a huge alternative.

It's also worth noting that the golden rice trait can be bred into local varieties, as noted in R343L's blog, so monoculture and local acceptance worries are somewhat mitigated.
posted by ambrosen at 2:59 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


At first blush, I'm very sympathetic to the Vandana Shiva side of this argument -- that this crop is a stalking horse for Syngenta's bio-colonialism strategy -- and that Vitamin A can be found in plenty of yellow/orange/green plants that have always been part of food systems in India, Asia, and everywhere there have been healthy people. But Blasdeb's argument as follows:

Rice on the other hand already has existing local infrastructure for growing it and distributing it, as well as recipes for cooking it, in the areas affected by Vitamin A deficiency. Rice can travel where aid workers with needles in land rovers cannot, it does not immediately spoil even in tropical climates, it is value dense, and it is self replacing.

is compelling here for a few reasons.

The reasoning behind offering free licenses for Golden Rice seems pretty clear: the rice was developed to fight Vitamin A deficiencies in subsistence farming communities, so charging anything to grow the rice would keep the people who need it most from being able to grow it. Meanwhile, the people we're talking about here, poor farmers and their children, aren't just interested in avoiding blindness, they're interested in keeping their heads above water economically, and that means growing something that you can take to market. The most productive crop that they can grow is rice. Field greens and other veggies that make a balanced, nutritious diet aren't necessarily stable enough to harvest, store, bring to the market, and take home to your family in the areas we're talking about, so the local farmers don't grow them. (And I'm not saying they shouldn't grow them -- they should -- but that they don't grow them, because they can't market them, and they would rather grow something they can market.) If this farmer has the rice he grew, he can feed the broken grains to his family, take the long grains to market, and everyone grows up being able to see, right?

So, I think this is a compelling reason to for this technology to be in this product and offered free of cost and sharable to poor people.

Meanwhile there's nothing to say that Syngenta or Monsanto or any other untrustworthy party with their fingers in the pot can't swoop in and sue the land out from under any neighboring farmer who was (un)lucky enough to come up with a new rice variety, by virtue of pollen drift, that shows these genetics ; the IP Trojan Horse is still in there. The way to protect that neighbor farmer is by public-domaining the IP for this rice, rather than owning it.
posted by wormwood23 at 3:44 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure the licenses for it freely allow an approved (this is up to each national government) Golden Rice variety to be bred however farmers want. Or at least I don't see anyway farmers could be stopped from doing so per the license terms since they are freely allowed to grow and save seed -- and even sell it as long as it's not exported (which obviously brings in other regulatory issues).

Related to the question about growing a variety of vegetables, it turns out that is hard. I recently read a good piece on why farmers (growing to sell) tend to chose staple grains and legumes.
posted by R343L at 4:26 PM on February 18, 2013


"Blasdelb, as I am now writing on my stupid iPad, I can't quote anything. But I'd like to remind you that this post is based on an article by Lomborg, the hack. "

Hey, can we knock it off on the ad hominem stuff? There's actually a lot more in this thread that deals with Golden Rice in a pretty reasonable way, like that the concerns over RDA of Vitamin A from Shiva's critique seem unfounded (or at least, that the minimum amount necessary to do good is much lower than the RDA).

The only other concern I remember being regularly voiced in my Developing Nations classes — that incentives to grow Golden Rice would distort agricultural practice and promote a monoculture susceptible to sudden collapse — is something that is worth being aware of but not a reason to not use Golden Rice at all.
posted by klangklangston at 4:31 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Golden Rice creating new monocultures is not exactly a concern. Most rice is already grown in monoculture fields (as far as plants go), developing world or not. It's been that way a really long time. There are a lot of different regional varieties grown, of course, but that's why the position of the Golden Rice project is that it should be bred into the most popular local rice lines: "While countries that adopt the technology are free to introduce the trait into their preferred varieties, there are some criteria on which strategic decisions for selection should be based. For example, receptor varieties should be preferably widely used by farmers. Those varieties should also be expected to maintain prominence over time and be grown by the most productive farmers in vitamin A deficiency-prone regions (for local and regional supply)." (from first link in my previous comment).
posted by R343L at 4:39 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I recently read a good piece on why farmers (growing to sell) tend to chose staple grains and legumes.
The authors of this paper make similar (though more general) points about the limitations of dietary diversification. In both cases, the conclusion is that the causes for the lack (and in fact reduction) of food diversity are mostly economical (high-value, low-labor staple crops vs low-value, high-labor non-staple crops) with some extra cultural issues, the result being that dietary requirements end up being more or less met for energy/protein and deficient for micronutrients. So micronutrient deficiency, at least in these cases, is not a technical issue (people know/knew how to cover their micro-nutritional reqs) but really a social one (they cannot afford to do that due to various reasons even when the demand exists, as shown in the Indian article). This would be my main criticism of the GR project: is a hi-tech, narrowly targeted solution, a proper one for a general social problem that could be otherwise alleviated with various incentives (outlined in the Indian paper)? What's the cost of developing a vegetable/non-staple value chain vs the cost of implementing GR? I'd like to see comparative scenarios, and not stricly focused on VAD, which is only a small part of the problem.
posted by elgilito at 5:14 PM on February 18, 2013


Lomborg assassinated his own character years ago. I don't particularly care if he's reformed his more outrageous positions--I still don't trust him. His history of carrying water for climate denialists and others is highly relevant; it's not an ad hominem to bring up that history when the issue is framed by his commentary on it.

That said, kudos to people on both sides of the debate for bringing a lot of evidence and considered argument to the table. From my reading of the thread, Lomborg was a side issue, and his support for GR isn't the main reason people have for opposing it.

To sum up: I'd much rather the post had been built around that r343l post blasdelb cited. We might have seen even more light and even less heat in this thread.
posted by col_pogo at 10:26 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would recommend chapter two of the excellent Poor Economics to anyone interested in the issue of poverty, nutrition and micro-nutrients (the website specifically about this chapter is very good). It specifically covers why poor people will not make the choice to buy or grow the 'right' foods all the time, and why developing varieties of foods they already consume but with more of the nutrients they need might be a good answer. The website has a lot of data and links to studies
posted by Megami at 1:46 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks col_pogo!

Megami: I had no idea that book had a website with more data and updates! I'll have to have a look. That was a really good book.
posted by R343L at 8:29 AM on February 19, 2013


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