Letter to the Editor, published in The Western Producer, April 12, 2018
The editorial, “Health Canada is obligated to approve Golden Rice,” (WP, April 5), interprets the department’s decision as a “humanitarian gesture,” but that is an assumption — an incorrect assumption. Additionally, and more importantly, the release of Golden Rice is opposed by a significant number of large farmers’ networks across Asia.
Firstly, Health Canada did not endorse the use of genetically modified golden rice. Health Canada assessed the safety of Golden Rice, for Canadians, except Canadians won’t be eating Golden Rice.
Health Canada did not weigh in on the utility of Golden Rice. On the contrary, Health Canada stated, “the efficacy of the GR2E rice in helping vitamin A deficiency in affected populations was not evaluated.”
Evidence-based decision-making raises the expectation that the government would first evaluate the ability of Golden Rice to contribute to nutrition strategies before it makes any “humanitarian gesture” and be explicit if it makes any endorsement.
Critically, many farmers’ organizations in the Philippines and other Asian countries oppose the use of Golden Rice. Rice is the staple food, and farmers are raising concerns about the possible impacts on traditional rice cultivation and rice culture.
There is no reason to think that if Health Canada declined to review Golden Rice, or delayed a review until it was approved in its intended markets, that this would impede introduction in Asian countries.
Instead, Canada has pronounced on the safety of Golden Rice ahead of the Government of the Philippines and any of the other countries where the rice will actually be consumed. If this decision leads the Philippines to skip its own safety assessment, as many groups in the country fear, it will set a global precedent and contribute to the concerns of Asian farmers that the Golden Rice project is more concerned with supporting the biotech industry than the health of their children.
Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network