Thursday, April 17, 2014
Exit from comment view mode. Click to hide this space
16

La oportunidad de oro que ofrece el arroz dorado

SÃO PAULO – Finalmente, con un retraso de 12 años a causa de los opositores de los alimentos genéticamente modificados (GM), se cultivará en Filipinas el denominado “arroz dorado” que contiene vitamina “A”. Durante dichos 12 años, cerca de ocho millones de niños en todo el mundo murieron a causa de deficiencia de vitamina A. ¿Son parcialmente responsables de estas muertes quienes abogan en contra de los transgénicos?

El arroz dorado es el ejemplo más prominente en la controversia global sobre los alimentos genéticamente modificados, que lleva a encarar una tecnología que muestra algunos riesgos, pero que tiene un potencial increíble, ante la resistencia que ejercen campañas que pueden ser denominadas como “campañas que hacen sentir bien a las personas”. Tres mil millones de personas dependen del arroz como alimento básico, y un 10% de dichas personas están en riesgo de sufrir deficiencia de vitamina “A”, la cual, según la Organización Mundial de la Salud (World Health Organization), causa que entre 250.000 a 500.000 niños enceguezcan cada año. De estos últimos, la mitad muere dentro del periodo de un año. Un estudio de la revista médica británica The Lancet estima que, en total, cada año la deficiencia de vitamina “A” mata a 668.000 niños menores de cinco años.

Sin embargo, a pesar del costo en vidas humanas, los activistas anti-transgénicos – que incluyen desde organizaciones como Greenpeace a Naomi Klein –se han burlado de los esfuerzos dirigidos a utilizar el arroz dorado para evitar la deficiencia de vitamina “A”. En la India, Vandana Shiva, un activista medioambiental y asesor del gobierno, llamó al arroz dorado “un engaño”, que “crea hambre y desnutrición, en lugar de solucionar estos problemas”.

La revista New York Times informó el año 2001 (reported in 2001) que sería necesario “comer 15 libras de arroz dorado cocido al día” para obtener suficiente vitamina “A”. Lo que en ese entonces fue una exageración, ahora se puede demostrar de manera patente   que es un dato incorrecto. Dos estudios recientes de American Journal of Clinical Nutrition  muestran que tan sólo 50 gramos (aproximadamente dos onzas) de arroz dorado pueden proporcionar el 60% de la ingesta diaria recomendada de vitamina “A”. Estos estudios demuestran que el arroz dorado en niños funciona mejor incluso que la espinaca en cuanto a suministrar vitamina “A”.

Los opositores sostienen que hay mejores maneras de abordar la deficiencia de vitamina “A”. En su último comunicado (latest statement), Greenpeace dice que el arroz dorado “no es algo que necesitamos, ni es necesario” y hace un llamado a que, en lugar de dicho arroz, se utilicen suplementos y fortificación, que son formas que describe como “rentables” en cuanto a su relación costo-beneficio.

Sin duda, la distribución de píldoras de vitaminas o la adición de vitamina “A” a los productos básicos puede marcar una diferencia. Pero no es una solución sostenible a la deficiencia de vitamina “A”. Y, si bien es rentable en cuanto a la relación costo-beneficio, estimaciones publicadas recientemente indican que el arroz dorado es mucho más rentable.

Los programas de suplemento en la India cuestan $4.300 por cada vida que salvan de la deficiencia de vitamina “A”, mientras que los programas de fortificación cuestan alrededor de $2.700 por cada vida salvada. Ambos programas son buenísimas propuestas. Sin embargo, el arroz dorado costaría tan sólo $100 por cada vida que se salve de la deficiencia de vitamina “A”.

Del mismo modo, se argumenta que no se adoptaría el consumo del arroz dorado, porque la mayoría de los asiáticos rehúye el arroz integral. Sin embargo, se debe hacer notar que el arroz integral es sustancialmente diferente en sabor y se echa a perder con facilidad en climas cálidos. Además, muchos platos asiáticos ya son de color amarillo debido a que se les adiciona condimentos como el azafrán, el achiote y la cúrcuma. Las personas son quienes deben decidir por si mismos y en representación de sus hijos, y no así la organización Greenpeace, si desean adoptar el consumo de un arroz rico en vitamina “A”.

Lo más irónico es la crítica auto-cumplida que muchos activistas ahora utilizan. Greenpeace llamó al arroz dorado “un fracaso”, ya que “ha estado en desarrollo durante casi 20 años y aún no ha tenido ningún impacto sobre la prevalencia de deficiencia de vitamina “A””. No obstante, como Ingo Potrykus, el científico que desarrolló el arroz dorado, dejó en claro (made clear) dicho fracaso se debe casi en su totalidad a la oposición implacable a los alimentos genéticamente modificados –  a menudo de bienintencionadas personas occidentales ricas, que se encuentran muy lejos de sufrir los riesgos que conlleva una verdadera deficiencia de vitamina “A”.

Está claro que tener normativas sobre bienes y servicios relacionados a la salud pública es una buena idea, pero dichas normativas deben equilibrarse siempre tomando en cuenta los posibles costos – en este caso, el costo de no proporcionar más vitamina “A” a ocho millones de niños durante los últimos 12 años.

A modo de ejemplo, las normativas vigentes para los alimentos genéticamente modificados, si se aplicarían a productos no modificados genéticamente, prohibirían la venta de patatas y tomates, que puede contener glicoalcaloides tóxicos; de apio, que contiene psoralenos cancerígenos; del ruibarbo y la espinaca (que contienen ácido oxálico) y de la yuca, que es un producto que alimenta a cerca de quinientos millones de personas, pero contiene alcaloides cianogénicos que son tóxicos. Los alimentos como la soja, el trigo, la leche, los huevos, los moluscos, los crustáceos, el pescado, el sésamo, las nueces, el maní y el kiwi también estarían prohibidos, ya que pueden causar alergias a los alimentos.

Aquí vale la pena señalar que no existen informes que den cuenta que los alimentos genéticamente modificados hubiesen tenido efectos sobre la salud humana. Pero muchos activistas han afirmado otros efectos. Una historia conocida, que sigue siendo repetida por Shiva, es que el maíz genéticamente modificado con la toxina “Bt” mata a las mariposas monarca (kills Monarch butterflies). Sin embargo, muchos estudios revisados por expertos (peer-reviewed studies) han establecido de manera eficaz que “el impacto que tiene el polen con toxina “Bt”, que proviene de los actuales productos híbridos comerciales, sobre las poblaciones de mariposas monarca es insignificante”.

Greenpeace y muchos otros afirman que los alimentos genéticamente modificados meramente hacen posible que grandes empresas, como por ejemplo Monsanto, ejerzan un poder casi monopolístico. Pero, estas afirmaciones son similares a poner el carro delante del caballo: el predominio de las grandes empresas en parte refleja el activismo anti-transgénicos, mismo que ha causado que el proceso de aprobación sea tan largo y tan costoso que sólo las empresas que atienden a agricultores ricos del primer mundo pueden permitirse el lujo de continuar con los trámites para obtener dichas aprobaciones.

Por último, a menudo se afirma que los cultivos transgénicos simplemente significan semillas más costosas y menos dinero para los agricultores. Pero los agricultores tienen libertad para elegir. Más de cinco millones de agricultores de algodón en la India se han inclinado en grupo hacia el cultivo del algodón genéticamente modificado, ya que produce mayores ingresos netos. Sí, es cierto que las semillas son más caras, pero el aumento en producción compensa dicho costo adicional.

Por supuesto, ninguna tecnología está exenta de defectos; por lo tanto, la supervisión reglamentaria es útil. Pero vale la pena mantener una cierta perspectiva. En el año 2010, la Comisión Europea (European Commission), tras examinar 25 años de investigaciones sobre organismos genéticamente modificados (OGMs), llegó a la conclusión de que “hoy en día no existe evidencia científica que asocie a los OGMs con mayores riesgos para el medio ambiente o para la seguridad de los alimentos y forrajes en comparación con las plantas y organismos convencionales”.

Ahora, por fin, el arroz dorado llegará a las Filipinas; después de ello, se espera que llegue a Bangladesh e Indonesia. Pero, para ocho millones de niños, la espera fue demasiado larga.

Fiel a su estilo, Greenpeace ya alza su voz de protesta (already protesting), señalando que “los niños filipinos podrían ser los nuevos conejillos de Indias para el arroz dorado”. Puede que esto no preocupe mucho a los 4,4 millones de niños filipinos (4.4 million Filipino kids) que sufren de deficiencia de vitamina “A”.

Traducido del inglés por Rocío L. Barrientos.

Exit from comment view mode. Click to hide this space
Hide Comments Hide Comments Read Comments (16)

Please login or register to post a comment

  1. CommentedPaul Gregory Ahearn

    This classic debate between GMO, Monsanto issues and improving nutrition of humanity is very nicely presented by Professor Lomborg. The farm industry has been very uneasy to allow Monsanto and others to uniquely control their seed stock; and that body of I.T. law really needs both challenge and amending legislation. However, improved nutrition to over 4 million Fillipino children is slam dunk GOOD --- end the debate, GMO science wins and protect the family/corporate farms both. Without the economic wellness of the farm community; our entire world will suffer. Do NOT bite the hand that feeds you !!! :):):)

  2. CommentedBill Thomas

    Lomborg shilling for the corporations as usual.

    The Golden Rice Hoax. "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 vitamin A needs through "Golden rice"." http://online.sfsu.edu/~rone/GEessays/goldenricehoax.html

  3. CommentedInderpreet Singh

    Mr. Lomborg,

    while I appreciate your concern for the millions of lives at risk due to Vitamin A deficiency, I cannot disagree with you more. However, my biggest concern is not that you are advocating for the adoption a GM crop variety. An even bigger concern is that a well-meaning intellectual like yourself who is in a position of "power" and "influence" is so far removed from the reality on the ground and carries a very abstract understanding of the real issues in relation to an extremely complex subject as modifying the genetic code of a naturally existing substance and claiming it to be good for humanity and nature. It's noticeable how one abstract point of view about something complex like GM gets propagated from one intellectual to another without much critical thinking or even attention to the real problems and trends on the ground.

    India, the country that I come from, has been growing food and feeding its people sustainably for over 4000 years in ways that not only sustained but enhanced the natural fertility of soil. Then came along the so called 'Green Revolution' on the pretense that millions are going to die of famine. So we were forced to let go of the "traditional" and "out-dated" ways of farming and adopt "modern" techniques such as intensive irrigation, fertilizer and pesticide inputs. No body bothered to ask the question - "how come a country that has been able to sustainably grow food and feed it's people for over 40 centuries has come to the brink of famines?". 35 years after the Green Revolution started, yes the yields of our grains have increased but levels of hunger at a historical high, levels of poverty amongst the smallholding farmers are at a historical high, and our soil systems have lost the capacity to produce food without the excessive doses of chemical inputs. Who's the winner? The fertilizer and the chemical inputs industry. Thanks in no measure to the resilience of the farming communities that they are realizing this and making efforts to revive the land by shunning chemical inputs and reverting back to their traditional knowledge systems of agriculture and food production.

    And here again, we hear the same argument - we have to introduce this 'Golden Rice' because if we do not, millions will die. The answer is obvious to the question as to what is the primary objective of a private corporation - to maximize profits for its shareholders or to save millions of lives and improve the nutrition and well being of people.

    Mr. Lomborg, you may be surprised to know that India used to grow more than 200'000 (yes, that's is two hundred thousand) varieties of rice before the Green Revolution. All of these varieties were bred by farmers on the fields and developed to suit myriads of local climates and conditions. Not only that, many varieties of rice were bred and developed to have certain medicinal properties. Practically all of these varieties are now replaced by a handful of so called high-yield varieties, and the traditional ones are now sitting either in the seed banks of agricultural universities or of the International Rice Research Institute (many of these varieties were illegally procured by the IRRI from local Indian universities).

    The point is that obviously there is a whole lot more to the GM debate. So, Mr. Lomborg, please make an effort and do some research, travel, visit the Phillipines, visit India, meet with farmers, ask them about the issues they are facing, make an effort to understand the historical context of agriculture and then form your opinion. Please do not just repeat the same mistake that many intellectuals and scholars have become so good at - quoting each other and pushing for a certain agenda just because it's the easier thing to do.

  4. CommentedJeffrey Scofield

    Drawing attention to the near monopoly power of companies like Monsanto is definitely not putting the cart before the horse.  The rise of fertilizer and chemical companies came about with help of the petroleum industry and patent law abuse.  If you follow the money throughout history and through the mergers, you would notice the impetus comes from these companies - most recently using political money to embed corporate lawyers in the legal system. 

    Have a highly regulated GM industry, but there is no acceptable rational behind patenting life. That's the can of worms that Mr. Lomberg intentionally left closed. Greenpeace did not lobby politicians to allow the patenting of life (or for that matter patent monopolies) and Mr. Lomberg's deliberate omission of this key factor contradicts his argument. The fact that the GM industry - which has become synonymous with the fertilizer and pesticide industry - has extended this technology to seed sterilization demonstrates the enormous waste this industry has intentionally engineered.

    Perhaps Bjørn could trace the evolution of the agribusiness industry in detail along with mergers, political spending, judicial appointments, patenting, etc.  How much of that came from Greenpeace? Of all the corporatist lawyers on the Supreme Court, how many were endorsed by Greenpeace? How much lobbying did they do to get those appointments? If the patent laws granted to living organisms didn't exist, how much money would be invested in this technology? Did Greenpeace establish the agribusiness model or set up the subsidies for wealthy corporate farms that are monopolistic, both horizontally and vertically? Little credence can be given to Bjørn's claim that Greenpeace's activities made these companies as collusive/monopolistic as they have become.

    The people of the Philippines have many choices. They can choose more perfect information.  They can choose to reject patent law originating from foreign corporations. They can choose to innovate and invest in their own GM technologies.  They may even seek research from foreign universities. They can choose to diversify their crops for a wide variety of ecological reasons.  They can also choose to invest in alternative methods of nutrition, understanding the costs can be offset by a more diverse and competitive market, void of rent seeking abuses.

  5. CommentedNitin Pandit

    Given the huge potential to tap inefficiencies in the agricultural system, i.e., potential to provide food, and of good practices (http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/feb/16/india-rice-farmers-revolution?CMP=twt_gu), the debate over who to blame for taking sides over GM seems as unnecessary as GM foods themselves.

  6. CommentedLeo Arouet

    In total disagreement. Genetically modified foods have unintended long-term. If you want to fight malnutrition, it can be done, but that depends on rich countries to commit to the cause, but not say that the solution is the genetically modified food. Is this a joke or what? And who benefits from its implementation?

  7. CommentedBhagirath Choudhary

    The most trusted source of data, as correctly referred in Lomborg's article comes from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the Philippines. If you r really interested in peer-reviewed papers and authentic information on golden rice browse IRRI golden rice page : http://www.irri.org/goldenrice/
    I understand Golden rice would be made available in varietal background by respective Govt funded public sector institutes in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and India. Enriching crops with nutritional traits is the most cost effective, timely and desirable way to reach those most vulnerable and malnourished women and children, often left out of various fortification schemes. The big moral question is how long they be denied of this golden opportunity?

    1. CommentedInderpreet Singh

      Mr. Choudhary, if you are really interested in understanding the work of IRRI, please check out the book 'Oryza Nirvana' - which reviews the birth and evolution of IRRI in the context of rice in the Phillipines and Asia.

  8. CommentedP Jacob

    Mr. Lomborg, once again, writes from myopic thinking. Health is not simply a business of cost effectiveness. I strongly recommend Mr. Lomborg looks deeper into the genetically modified debate before drawing such simplistic conclusions. Rice is a staple daily diet (often the only food) for many cultures. Fortifying natural rice with anything can risk many reactions, allergies and even death. In this instance one should be aware that there is such a thing as Vitamin A overdose... There is a great danger of creating even greater problems by the use of this gene altered rice which may take years to show up in the human body. But then Big Pharma will reap the spoils eh? Restoring nature to a balanced biodiversity instead of taking a gmo colonial approach may serve the world much better Mr. Lomborg.
    VITAMIN A OVERDOSE, VITAMIN A TOXITY, TOO MUCH VITAMIN A http://www.antioxidantsdetective.com/vitamin-a-overdose.html
    VITAMIN A OVERDOSE SYMPTOMS, DIAGNOSIS, TREATMENTS AND CAUSES - Right Diagnosis.com http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/v/vitamin_a_overdose/intro.htm
    SIGNS OF A VITAMIN A OVERDOSE | LIVESTRONG.COM http://www.livestrong.com/article/345535-signs-of-a-vitamin-a-overdose/

    1. CommentedShawn Richardson

      Considering a serving of golden rice will only provide a small fraction of the daily Vitamin A requirement, Vitamin A toxicity is not really much of a concern.

  9. Commentedmoderate Guy

    "...opposition to GM foods – often by rich, well-meaning Westerners..." No, you cannot absolve them of this because they think they are "well-meaning". These people, and they are present here in the comments section are responsible for the death and crippling of millions of children. That is not "well-meaning" by any yardstick. These people are monsters and evildoers and need to be "outed" as such.

    1. CommentedShawn Richardson

      Larry, the PDF that you posted makes an outrageous scientific error right in the first "myth". Horizontal gene transfer does happen in nature. It has been known for quite sometime that there is horizontal gene transfer between mosses and ferns. Parasitic plants and their hosts wage a type of genetic warfare. About 25% of the cattle genome comes from viral transfers of DNA from reptiles. You may want to hold off on the condescension until you get the basic science right.

    2. CommentedLarry Spellman

      "moderate guy": even if you work for Monsanto or Syngenta, those are ridiculous comments. Opposition to GM food is evil? That's laughable. Start here (with peer-reviewed journal articles) to educate yourself:

      http://earthopensource.org/files/pdfs/GMO_Myths_and_Truths/GMO_Myths_and_Truths_1.3.pdf

  10. CommentedVenu Madhav

    I am surprised and shocked at this spin on facts and specially the huge endorsement from Lomborg on this subject.
    There are multiple sources for Vitamin-A, millk, green leafy vegetables, carrots, eggs included; and yet the push with a circuitous approach to make it available sounds utterly ridiculous.

  11. CommentedAvraam Dectis

    "golden rice would cost just $100 for every life saved from vitamin A deficiency."
    -------------------------------------------------------------
    Why would it cost anything at all ?

    Where does the additional cost come from?

  12. CommentedFrank O'Callaghan

    The great issue with GM is that the technology is used for profit and control rather than for the benefit of humanity.

    We need a better GM. Research should be publicly and internationally funded with the results made freely available.

  13. CommentedFaruk Timuroglu

    You choose the question, eventually you answer as you please, in a monolog. Creating beings that aren't capable producing offspring is simply outrageous. Whole world would become depend upon you to survive. If one could acquire the power to control life on earth with vitamin A, vitamin A must be something very dangerous. Next step would be Manipulating human population on earth.

  14. Commentedjimmy rousseau

    Vendana Shiva is completely right, the problem is not a lack of foodstuffs that can be grown containing enough vitamins, the problem is poverty and education. Also so long as poor third world farmers must compete with highly mechanized 1st world farms, there is no future for any of these countries. the first world countries all developed their economies through closed borders, and now dictate to the third world that there must be free trade. these are the problems, not the lack of gmo's

Featured