Ingo Potrykus, chairman of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board and one of the developers of the genetically engineered (GE) crop golden rice, writes that he holds the strict regulation of GE crops responsible “for the death and blindness of thousands of children and young mothers.” [Potrykus, Ingo. Nature Vol 466, 29 July 2010. p 561]. In an opinion piece published in the July 29th, 2010 edition of the journal Nature, Potrykus argues that the existing regulation of genetically engineered crops is pushing their development into the hands of private industry and is stifling the creation of varieties geared toward humanitarian aid by the public sector.
Potrykus is one of the developers of the genetically engineered crop called golden rice, which is designed to produce the precursors to vitamin A (β-carotene) in its endosperm. Wild-type rice varieties produce β-carotene in their green tissues, but not in the portions that are consumed by humans. Golden rice was designed to help alleviate vitamin A deficiency – which can lead to loss of eyesight and eventually death—by engineering a rice variety that produces β-carotene in consumable rice grain.
Golden rice has met with regulatory challenges since its inception. Having been successfully developed in 1999, Potrykus does not believe the crop will be approved for use until 2012 – nearly 15 years after it was ready to leave the lab. Without overhauling the existing regulatory systems – which include everything from patents to field trial approvals – Potrykus fears other humanitarian crops, including golden cassava, golden banana, as well as iron-zinc,-and-protein-rich rice will be condemned to the same fate as golden rice, ready to help but prevented from doing so.
So, what do you think? Are the current controls over GE crops too tight? Should regulatory approvals be eased for the public sector? As always, it’s debatable.…