A new US study suggests that producing genetically modified rice containing an increased amount of beta-carotene could be a good source of vitamin A for children in countries where deficiency in the vitamin is common.
In the randomized controlled trial, the blood vitamin A (retinol) concentrations of 68 children 6 to 8 years of age who consumed either Golden Rice, spinach or beta-carotene in an oil capsule for three weeks were measured (1). The study results showed that the beta-carotene in Golden Rice was as effectively converted to vitamin A in the children as pure beta-carotene in oil and better than natural beta-carotene in spinach.
The researchers commented that these results suggest Golden Rice could be one useful way to combat vitamin A deficiency in areas where rice is a staple food crop and where vitamin A deficiency is still common, such as in China and many other Asian countries. Vitamin A deficiency is a huge problem and children can die because of a lack of this one micronutrient. A bowl of about 100 to 150 g of cooked Golden Rice (50 g dry weight) can provide approx. 60% of vitamin A intake according to the Chinese Recommended Nutrient Intake for children age 6 to 8.
As many as 250 million children worldwide are vitamin A deficient, according to the World Health Organiza-tion. Vitamin A deficiency can cause blindness and, because it dampens immune system function, leaving children more vulnerable to becoming severely ill from infections. If all children in deprived areas were given enough vitamin A, up to 2.7 million deaths could be prevented each year.
Normally, rice plants produce beta-carotene – a precursor to vitamin A – in their green parts, but not the grain that people eat. Golden Rice is genetically engineered to produce betacarotene in the edible part of the plant. This relatively cheap product has been around for years, but it has yet to come into real-world use for a number of reasons. As a genetically modified food, it has to face regulatory hurdles. It also has to be grown and accepted by different cultures. Though a range of foods naturally contain vitamin A or vitamin A precursors (from liver, fish oil and eggs to spinach, carrots, mango and red peppers), those foods are either locally unavailable, depend on the season, or are priced beyond what most families in developing nations can afford.