The recent commercial propagation approval of Golden Rice was lauded by global experts as an indicator of the Philippines’ leadership role in agricultural biotechnology in the ASEAN region.

The country’s pioneering path began in 1990 with the establishment of its first biosafety policy and was further strengthened by Administrative Order No. 8, Series of 2002 (AO8), which opened the pathways for “local agriculture to benefit from the safe and responsible use of modern biotechnology.”

While A08 has since been superseded by the Joint Department Circular no. 1 series of 2016, the spirit of scientific inquiry for the social good that it fostered continues to this day, with A08 architect Leonardo Montemayor speaking positively about Golden Rice. 

Montemayor, former agriculture secretary and currently the board chairperson of Federation of Free Farmers (FFF), explained that he considers modern biotechnology as a tool in curbing vitamin A deficiency (VAD).

“Let us promote other sources of vitamin A – malunggay, squash, and camote, but let us not close our eyes from the possibility that modern biotechnology can provide an additional tool for us to address [vitamin A deficiency]. If [golden] rice, [which is a product of biotechnology], turns out to be something very useful, at least it is very convenient compared to other sources of vitamin A. Let us have a range of [choices] for people, especially kids, for them to have better access to vitamin A,” he explained.

He added that “anything that can contribute to minimizing or eradicating the problem is something that should merit investigation.”

“On the matter of GMOs in the country, we have to establish our framework and all necessary guidelines to regulate and monitor these, and make sure that safety protocols and regulations are in place,” he said.

In terms of the proprietary right of golden rice, Montemayor said no proprietary issues will emerge as Syngenta, which previously owned it, waived its right to the public domain. This means that the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are free to research, develop, and come up with the final output.

Montemayor shared these statements in an online forum aired thru the Bayanihan sa Agricultura Facebook page.

In the same forum, DA-PhilRice Executive Director John de Leon assured that the Institute makes sure of safe, responsible, and equitable use of technologies.

“We also focus on improving the livelihood and quality of life of farmers and consumers, and provide safe and nutritious food for the Filipinos. We have generated extensive data on the safety [of golden rice] in terms of national and international safety standards,” he said.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) is a government corporate entity attached to the Department of Agriculture created through Executive Order 1061 on 5 November 1985 (as amended) to help develop high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies so farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute