1.3 C
Elmira
Monday, January 27, 2020
Their View / Opinion

Biotech ruling could change global farming through the 2020s

While most of us were preparing for Christmas, a game-changing pro-biotechnology ruling took place on the other side of the world that could profoundly affect agriculture everywhere through the next decade and beyond.

In mid-December, the Philippine Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry ruled that that Golden Rice, a genetically engineered, vitamin A-enabled crop (vitamin A gives it its golden colour), is “as safe as conventional rice.”

That ruling is huge. It’s being touted as a victory for science-based regulatory decision-making – an approach to which Canada has traditionally subscribed – by a country where this enhanced crop can really make a difference in people’s lives.

Here’s why. Vitamin A deficiency causes a host of debilitating and sometimes fatal conditions including blindness and death.  It’s rare in the western world, including Canada, because we generally eat a balanced diet from which we receive vitamin A.

But in countries where rice is a staple, it’s a real problem, because Vitamin A does not naturally occur in rice. The World Health Organization estimates up to a half-million vitamin A-deficient children go blind every year, and in the year that follows blindness, they die.

Golden Rice has been a focal point for pro- and anti-biotechnology groups for years. It was developed in the early 2000s by multinational plant and crop protection company Syngenta, making Golden Rice an enemy of anti-technology groups, despite its potential to help save lives. Ultimately, Syngenta gave it over to global development organizations such as the International Rice Research Institute, whose interests are not shareholder driven.

Still, Golden Rice struggled to shed the negative image of a biotech crop. It was further vilified because some of the countries where it could help the most did not have regulations in place for testing or adopting such crops. Its western world opponents positioned Golden Rice as an untested industry-driven technology being imposed on uninformed populations. They also feared its acceptance would much more broadly open the door for plant biotechnology.

Now, two decades later, regulations have been instituted in many countries that eliminate some of those arguments. The Philippines is among them. More testing will follow, and Golden Rice must still be approved for commercial propagation in the Philippines. But there was no way that would happen if it was not officially considered safe. Now, it is.

Canada took a big step in 2018 to declare Golden Rice safe – but didn’t go as far as to allow it to be sold here. Maybe someday. But that’s not why it gave its approval. Globally, Canada is considered to have a tough regulatory system. If officials here said it was safe, it could have sway with regulatory agencies in other countries. And that appears to be what’s happening.

In 2020 and beyond we’ll see the doors open further for genetically modified crops grown abroad. Some will be imported here and will need to go through our own regulatory channels.  Some already are, like papayas, which have been saved by genetic intervention from a virus that was destined to wipe them out.

We need a strong and thorough regulatory system here to monitor what’s coming in, and what’s going out. The export environment is tough enough with political trumped-up trade restrictions against our farmers’ crops and livestock. We need to be leaders in food safety at home and abroad to give Canadian producers a fair chance to compete, and to give consumers the assurance they need to feel confident in our food supply, regardless of where it’s produced.

I hope I get a chance someday to try Golden Rice. Food variety helps make life rich. And I hope we all get the opportunity to be as healthy as possible this decade, thanks to dedicated researchers, smart regulations, and good, affordable choices.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to The Observer's online community. Pseudonyms are not permitted. By submitting a comment, you accept that The Observer has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner The Observer chooses. Please note that The Observer does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our submission guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

We're looking for opinions that count.

Yours. Join in the conversation, provide another viewpoint, change minds with your perspective.

OUR COLUMNISTS

Ongoing privacy woes continue to threaten democracy

Reports about growing threats to our privacy, democracy and very freedom are common. So too is the lack of response from government, which does...

Spending on transit, bike lanes unlikely to pay any dividends

There’s an “if you build it, they will come” mentality to both transit and so-called active transportation (walking, biking) schemes in Waterloo Region. That’s...

Putin the immortal? Probably not

Five years ago somebody posted photographs on the internet showing a man who looked a lot like Vladimir Putin in photographs from 1920...

Downed planes are collateral damage

One of the main causes of death for airline passengers in recent decades is being shot down by somebody’s military. Not the very...

Broadband and bridges, all in the same breath

It’s never been hard to convince rural Ontarians of the value of investing in capital infrastructure. They understand the need for the likes of...

So what’s wrong with a $4 turkey?

Afriend of mine – let’s call her Tara, because that’s her name – visited relatives in Michigan over the Christmas holidays, and noticed the...

Taking a closer look at pike flies then and now

Over the past week or so, I’ve been dreaming of spring and open water, and tying pike flies. If there...

Think of posterity and posteriors when tying flies

This week, I have been making an effort to tie at least one pike fly every day so that when the spring season...

Espionage can be really crappy work

Q.  Based on the most comprehensive inventory of North American birds ever done, their population is A. increasing slightly  B. remaining steady  C....

That you have a phone number can be traced to the measles

Q.  How did an epidemic of measles lead to the introduction of phone numbers? A.  At one time, all phone calls...
- Advertisement -