Last month the USPTO presented their prestigious Patents for Humanity Award to three scientists – Prof Ingo Potrykus, Prof Peter Beyer and Dr Adrian Dubock – for their outstanding work in developing Golden Rice. This new foodstuff is genetically engineered to produce beta carotene and provide a source of vitamin A for people who eat rice as a major part of their diet. The Patents for Humanity USPTO programme recognises the work of those trying to “improve global health and living standards for underserved populations.”
Severe vitamin A deficiency causes tens of millions of cases of blindness, and death, throughout the world each year therefore this humanitarian award is to be applauded.
However, putting aside the surprising fact (to some) that GM crops are patentable, this award is not without its detractors. Critics have claimed that the new crop is untested and that the problem can be better addressed by the provision of vitamin A supplements.
Particulary vociferous is Dr Vandana Shiva – the highly respected Indian scientist, physicist and environmentalist. Dr Shiva claims that even if you were to consume large quantities of this rice you would still fall far short of the required daily allowance. She has gone as far to say “Vitamin A rice is a hoax.”
It is a shame that recognition of inventors’ efforts has been mired in such controversy.