GM rice `may boost health'

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The Independent Online
EUROPEAN SCIENTISTS have developed the first genetically modified (GM) foods with clear health benefits: rice varieties enriched with vitamin A and iron, which could improve the health of millions.

Developed by a mixture of government and charitable funding, the rice would have none of the ecological disadvantages of other GM crops such as soya, which contain genes to make them resistant to various weedkillers. If the soya's genes crossed into wild plants, it could create "superweeds". The GM rice has no such inbred resistance.

The research has developed two GM rice varieties, one with extra iron and the other with beta-carotene, the substance that makes carrots orange. In the body, beta-carotene is broken down to produce vitamin A, essential for good sight and avoiding diseases such as rickets.

The effect is to make the carotene-enriched rice appear yellow rather than white - the result of the chemical's presence in the grain.

The work was announced yesterday at an international conference in St Louis, Missouri. The GM rice varieties will go into a four-year testing phase.

The United Nations estimates that nearly 2 billion people are anaemic and another 1.7 billion have insufficient iron, contributing in Africa and Asia to about 20 per cent of maternal deaths. Vitamin A deficiency affects about 250 million children, leading to up to 3 million infant deaths each year.

n Three eco-activists may be facing prison after destroying genetically modified crops yesterday in defiance of a High Court injunction. Martin Shaw, 34, and Jo Hamilton, 26, both of Longsight, Manchester, and Rowan Tilly, 41, from Brighton, members of the anti-GM group Genetix Snowball, uprooted a 10-metre patch of GM oilseed rape plants at a Hertfordshire farm.