Consumers in nations plagued by crippling vitamin A deficiency will have to be persuaded of the health benefits of vitamin A-laden golden rice, its inventor, University of Freiberg biochemist Peter Beyer, Ph.D., told the International Association for Plant Biotechnology (IAPB) 12th World Congress in St. Louis.

At the same time golden rice is launching field trials in the Philippines, focus groups are being conducted to discover consumer reactions to the genetically engineered rice, he said during the Congress. Some consumers may object to the saffron color caused by high levels of betacarotene, viewing it as foreign or substandard, Beyer said.

“Golden rice is potentially a significant contribution to the alleviation of vitamin A deficiency,” he told the Congress, attended by some 800 scientists, science policy leaders and others from more than 50 countries.

Vitamin A deficiency causes night blindness, other forms of blindness, measles -- particularly in children -- infections, and respiratory illnesses. Of the 124 million children lacking vitamin A, up to 2 million die annually. The problem affects 188 countries, most in Asia and Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

Two of the challenges facing golden rice are determining exactly how much must be consumed to erase vitamin A deficiency and encouraging consumer acceptance once it is released to the market, planned first for the Philippines in 2012, said Beyer, who has been recognized as one of the most notable personalities in the areas of agricultural, environmental and industrial biotechnology by readers of Nature Biotechnology for his invention with Ingo Potrykus.

“We need to convince farmers to grow it and consumers to consume it in the Philippines. We are working on that. There is high interest in trying golden rice. Cost is also important, which makes us think that the term ‘golden rice’ is not so good and may need to be reconsidered,” he said.

More focus groups in other nations will be necessary to ensure acceptance with local populations, he noted.

Beyer’s presentation was one of 60 major presentations by invited speakers and more than 200 short talks. Presenters discussed biotechnology in terms of agriculture challenges as a result of climate change and global population growth. More information is available online at www.iapb2010.org.