Rice is naturally lacking in vitamin A and its precursors; a recently genetically modified strain, developed by Monsanto (now a wholy owned subsidiary of Pharmacia) and the seed of which is to be sold at the same price as natural strains, has had three genes inserted which enable it to express high levels of pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene). Hence the colour, and the name 'yellow' or 'golden' rice.

In many areas where rice is the staple foodstuff, the diet is poor in sources of the vitamin. A lack of vitamin A is estimated to cause a million child deaths a year and 300,000 cases of blindness. Deficiency is estimated to affect 100 million children.

Increasing levels in the staple is seen by some as preferable to introducing vitamin A-rich foodstuffs (such as traditional cereals and certain vegetables) into the diet - which some believe would be a cheaper alternative. Unfortunately, taking this approach would result in a loss of biodiversity (with all that entails), and the modifications have reduced crop yield (compare this to ENZA's Pacific Rose apple). Still, why judge a writer by his/her drafts?

A separate strain of rice has been engineered that contains two genes boosting iron content. However, this hasn't been as successful as the beta-carotene project above, as the high phytin content of rice has yet to be reduced; phytin chelates iron consumed in the same meal, resulting in an increased prevalence of anaemia.