Last year, 67.7 million hectares of genetically modified crops were grown all over the world. Although most of the crop was of the four main commercial kinds-soyabean, maize, cotton and canola-it seems transgenic rice is going to be a major produce of the very near future. And it won't be long before the transgenic rice seeds arrive in Nepal.
There are already over 160 patents granted or pending for various strains of GM rice. They contain genetic information from the DNA of other species to give the rice traits ranging from bigger grain to insect resistance. The latest big thing centres on 'golden rice'-containing a daffodil gene that produces beta-carotene, a compound the human body converts to vitamin A.
It's not commercially available yet, but many see golden rice as the answer to the over one million child deaths each year and the 300,000 cases of blindness caused by severe vitamin A deficiency. Biotech giant Monsanto has even announced it will give away free licenses to use its patented technology for golden rice and other genetically engineered rice varieties in order to help with these problems.
However, all that glitters is not gold. In addition to the usual arguments against GM crops, critics of golden rice protest that even with the added nutrients, it would be nearly impossible to get the required vitamin A from a normal serving of rice. Some are sceptical of the longterm effects of the crop-a valid concern considering some of the other GM 'miracles' gone wrong in the past. Others doubt that it can really be adapted to local growing conditions any time soon. A few even see golden rice as a Trojan Horse that is to be sent into the developing world to get people used to the idea of GM foods before less benign crops are introduced.
Since over half of the world's population's staple diet is rice, the argument that golden rice and other fortified strains may be the solution to current malnutrition problems is compelling.