What is "golden rice" and can it be an effective means to prevent vitamin deficiency?
Vitamin-A deficiency is a serious condition that can lead to blindness and increase susceptibility to infectious agents. It affects an estimated 200 million people, primarily in developing countries where rice is a dietary staple.
Using biotechnology techniques, scientists have developed a new strain of rice, called golden rice, that naturally produces beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. Golden rice can provide enough beta-carotene to make up vitamin-A deficiencies in the diets of poor children, and it can also increase the amount of vitamin A in breast milk, an important source of nutrition for infants. Further, scientists has enriched the same strain of rice with additional iron to combat anemia, which affect hundreds of millions of the world's poor.
To learn more about the role of biotechnology in meeting food challenges in the developing world, click here.
What are the international trade issues affecting biotechnology food products?
While the science has repeatedly demonstrated that foods produced through biotechnology are as safe as conventional foods, approval of these foods in some overseas markets has been slow in coming. Despite their growing acceptance and history of safe use in the United States, certain countries-including the United Kingdom, France and other members of the European Union-have not yet approved these crops to be planted or purchased from another country.
Many variables have worked to slow the acceptance of biotech crops. For instance, Europeans have a strong cultural tie to food and resist any perceived change. Also, many countries have not enjoyed a reliable regulatory environment like that in the United States. Outbreaks of mad cow and hoof-and-mouth diseases in the United Kingdom, contaminated soft drinks in Belgium and HIV-tainted blood supplies in France are just some of the mishaps that have made citizens in other nations, especially Europe, wary of any government agency's claims that a new technology is safe. This has led some countries to reject our risk-based approach and adopt the precautionary principle, which could delay a new technology on the basis of improbable hypothetical risks. And in some instances, ostensible concern over biotechnology is being used to promote protectionist policies that aim to shut out American products from overseas markets in direct contradiction to World Trade Organization guidelines.
To learn more about agricultural biotechnology and international trade, click here.
What are the issues regarding intellectual property and agricultural biotechnology?
All new crop varieties that meet the criteria of the federal Plant Variety Protection Act-whether produced by conventional means or biotechnology-are eligible for intellectual property rights protection. To receive protection, the new variety must be distinct from other varieties and genetically uniform and stable through successive generations. The length of protection is 20 years for most crop plants.
Researching and bringing a plant biotechnology product to market takes several years and tens of millions of dollars. As with any industry that requires such extraordinary investment, it is crucial that biotechnology companies can recoup the initial investment and continue their research and development of new products that benefit the public. Intellectual property rights also enable companies to do a better job of ensuring that their products are used responsibly.
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