A new genetically modified (GM) corn that produces beta carotene and precursors of vitamin C and folic acid is the first crop to be engineered to make more than one vitamin. Says lead researcher Paul Christou: “The major message of the paper is that it’s possible to engineer crops with multiple nutrients…. If you look at other nutritionally enhanced GM crops, up until now people have only been able to increase levels of one nutrient or vitamin” [Wired]. But anti-GM campaigners have not been won over by the scientific feat, even though the research behind it was not funded by agricultural corporations….
I’m generally optimistic about this sort of technology. However…
But key questions include:
1) Are the increases in vitamin levels enough to make a significant difference in the health of people who consume this corn? (And how much corn do they need to eat?)
2) Theoretical benefits aside, will such corn make it into the hands of the malnourished folks who need it the most? Why or why not?
3) A key market for most new technologies is made up by the affluent folks who can most easily afford nifty new products. Will affluent North Americans and Europeans be keen on this new corn? If so, it’s much easier to see the product getting off the ground.