People are so scared of science, man. I think a huge part of the population even in well-educated countries don't trust the scientists very much.
Ingo Potrykus is chairman of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, and writes in Nature about the trouble getting golden rice out to the people who really need it: Regulation must be revolutionized.
The potential benefits of genetically engineered crops is huge. Take golden rice, which has just two genes added that adds vitamin A to the rice. The benefits to malnourished children is huge.
Within the normal diet of rice-dependent poor populations, it could provide sufficient vitamin A to reduce substantially the 6,000 deaths a day due to vitamin A deficiency, and to save the sight of several hundred thousand people per year.So why is it not on the market and the fields yet? Because regulation is extremely tough.
For example, we lost more than two years for the permission to test golden rice in the field and more than four years in collecting data for a regulatory dossier that would satisfy any national biosafety authority.But why, you might ask? It's not like some new drug that you're going to take and which you don't know if they have side effects, etc. Or is it? Judging by politicians, it is. And that's just inane. But worse, releasing the crop could have saved so many people's lives.
The crop was stalled for more than ten years by the working conditions and requirements demanded by regulations (see 'From bench to belly'). For example, we lost more than two years for the permission to test golden rice in the field and more than four years in collecting data for a regulatory dossier that would satisfy any national biosafety authority. I therefore hold the regulation of genetic engineering responsible for the death and blindness of thousands of children and young mothers.
There is essentially no difference in genetically engineering a crop to do what you want (e.g., making vitamin), from what nature does on it's own. It's just directed with a specific goal in mind, rather than occurring by chance.
Meanwhile, a new plant created by traditional breeding methods — which also modify the genome — requires no safety data, only the demonstration that it performs at least as well as others. It is a quick and cheap process. This imbalance allows non-scientific opponents of genetic engineering to raise unfounded concerns, which a nervous public cannot properly evaluate, especially in Europe.The stupidity of people demanding the tough regulations angers me. Genetically engineering crops does not make them more harmful than any other crop engineered by breeding. If anything, it makes it safer, because we at least know what changes are made to the genomes. What is it that these people are afraid of? That crazy scientists with fake German accents will masterplan the crops to wipe out all others? That these crops will somehow be more prone to pests? That the engineered genes will jump into other crops and thus spread their dangerous vitamin A-making capabilities?