The United Nations estimates that anywhere from 100 to 140 million preschool children suffer from vitamin A deficiency (VAD). This is especially true in the hundreds of nations around the world dependent on rice as a staple food. With all the nutritional benefits that come with rice, it unfortunately provides no vitamin A. Lack of a vitamin A enriched diet can lead to blindness and even death from common infections like diarrhea and measles. Out of this dire need emerged the idea to develop transgenic rice varieties that produce beta-carotene as a means of alleviating VAD in the diets of poor and disadvantaged people in developing countries. However, the resulting "Golden Rice" has been locked in patent disputes, regulatory hurdles, and debates over its effectiveness and socio-economic implications. With the burgeoning problem of vitamin A deficiency globally crippling millions, funding towards the implementation of Golden Rice domestically and abroad must be pursued.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children. An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 children with VAD become blind every year and half of those children die within a year of losing their sight. (WHO, 1) VAD disorders include reduced immune competence resulting in increased morbidity and mortality (largely from increased severity of infectious diseases); night blindness and corneal ulcers; exacerbation of anemia through suboptimal absorption and utilization of iron; and other conditions not yet fully identified or clarified (e.g., retardation of growth and development). (Sommer, 1) Pregnant mothers are also affected by VAD. VAD in pregnant women causes night-blindness and may also be associated with higher mother-to-child HIV transmission rates as well as increased risk of maternal mortality. (Sutton, 4)VAD is especially prevalent in Africa and Southeast Asia, where 90 percent of the world's rice is grown and consumed.