Around two billon people depend on rice for the bulk of their energy, so when floods washed away 133,000 tonnes of Bangladeshi rice many went hungry. But there is hope in the form of a new genetically modified rice, Swarna Submergence 1, which can survive the floods that regularly devastate that country and help ensure it remains one of the world’s poorest.
There may, of course, be downsides to GM rice that have yet to be discovered so the world is right to be cautious. Greenpeace is heavily promoting a contamination incident it reckons cost $1.2 billion in the hope of dissuading India from trialing GM rice. That incident shouldn’t have happened, but there’s no evidence of any harm to the environment. Reading between the lines, that $1.2 billion is the price the industry pays for Greenpeace, and others, successful branding of GM as ‘Frankenstein Food’ to ensure consumers in developed nations can be expected to reject it.
If nobody trials the rice, we’ll never know if it’s safe. But protestors won’t let trials go ahead in developed countries where nobody goes hungry and almost everyone has access to a 24 hour supermarket selling rice for a tiny proportion of their income.
A GM food tested in the UK would need to satisfy seven scientific committees and four government departments before it could into production. If I were a Bangladeshi rice farmer (and two third of that country’s population are in that line of work) I’d be looking to my government to cut through some of that red tape without a thought for Dr Frankenstein… let’s hope the Indians do things properly and develop foods that can safely feed the world.