Golden Rice is making progress toward hitting the marketplace in the Philippines after more than a decade of scientific testing, according to an Alliance for Science article. If a biosafety permit application can gain approval, Golden Rice – the vitamin A-enriched rice variety that can help combat vitamin A deficiency – will be one step closer to consumers.
On Feb. 28, 2017, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) submitted an application for a biosafety permit to the Department of Agriculture–Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI) seeking approval to allow direct use of Golden Rice (GR2E ) as food and feed or for processing.
“PhilRice and IRRI are working together in the Philippines to develop Golden Rice as a potential new food-based approach to improve vitamin A status,” according to an email from IRRI officials. “Our work will a) develop varieties suitable for Asian farmers; b) help assess the safety of Golden Rice; c) evaluate whether consumption of Golden Rice improves vitamin A status; and d) explore how Golden Rice could reach those most in need. Completion of the biosafety assessment is a prerequisite for the conduct of human nutrition studies of Golden Rice. The human nutrition studies are an important component in demonstrating the value of Golden Rice in complementing other approaches to mitigate vitamin A deficiency.”
Golden Rice was developed as a dietary supplement to combat vitamin A deficiency in countries like the Philippines, where rice is the staple food. As the article notes, in South and Southeast Asian countries, where two-thirds or more of daily calorie intake comes from rice, millions of people struggle with vitamin A deficiency.
To put things in proper perspective, data from the World Health Organization indicates VAD afflicts about 19 million pregnant women and 190 million pre-school age children, mostly in Africa and Southeast Asia. VAD, or the lack of vitamin A in the diet, is the primary cause of blindness in children, with about 500,000 reported cases each year worldwide. Persistent VAD is the leading cause of childhood blindness and increases the risk of death from common childhood infections.
In the Philippines, a nation with ample supply of vegetables and fruits, one might believe that VAD should not be an issue. However, research studies show otherwise. The results of a food and nutrition survey among pre-school children revealed VAD increased from 15.2 percent in 2008 to 20.4 percent in 2013. These figures translate to about 2.1 million Filipino kids who are at very high risk of becoming blind or even dying due to preventable infections. VAD increases vulnerability to illnesses including measles, respiratory infections and diarrhea, which are the leading causes of death among children in developing countries.
Despite opposition from anti-GMO activists – including a protest in which activists destroyed Golden Rice field trials – studies have shown no potential health or safety concerns, and last year more than 100 Nobel laureates signed a letter in support of the rice.
Should Golden Rice move forward, it could pave the way for other biofortified crops that seek to combat nutrient deficiencies across the world.