The Philippine Situation
More than three billion people worldwide depend on rice for nourishment. In the Philippines, rice constitutes almost 40% of the Filipino diet. As a staple food, it is an important source of carbohydrates but not of some micronutrients, such as vitamin A. This contributes to hidden hunger or micronutrient malnutrition that affects 2 billion people globally. Hidden hunger can result in more frequent and severe illnesses and complications during pregnancy, childbirth, infancy, and childhood.
Because rice is widely grown and eaten, improving its nutrient content can be an effective means of delivering much needed nutrients.
Golden Rice is a new type of rice with a significant amount of beta carotene in its grains, which when regularly consumed as staple can provide at least 30% of the estimated average requirement for Vitamin A. This beta carotene, similar to what is found in orange-colored fruits and vegetables, is converted to vitamin A as needed by the body.
PhilRice is leading the development of Golden Rice in the Philippines in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
Golden Rice is a brainchild of Professor Ingo Potrykus, then of the Institute for Plant Sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and of Professor Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg, Germany.
It is developed using genetic engineering technique â€“ a modern biotechnology tool that allows the transfer of a specific trait from a certain organism to another (by adding the specific gene that carries the desired trait). This was after surveys of rice varieties around the world failed to identify a variety that contains significant amounts of beta carotene, which implied that conventional breeding programs could not be used to develop Golden Rice.
Golden Rice was initially developed by adding genes from daffodil and a common soil bacterium. Later, a better version of Golden Rice was developed using a gene from maize (corn) and the same soil microorganism. This version has twenty times more beta carotene than the first.
In 2004, the Golden Rice technology was donated to the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, which transferred it to developing countries where VAD is prevalent, including the Philippines.
PhilRice and IRRI are working closely with organizations in the agriculture and nutrition sectors to develop and test Golden Rice as a potential new food-based approach to improve vitamin A status. Our work will:
â€¢ Develop varieties suitable for Filipino farmers
â€¢ Help assess the safety of Golden Rice
â€¢ Evaluate whether consumption of Golden Rice improves vitamin A status
â€¢ Explore how Golden Rice could reach those most in need
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient found in animal food products and breast milk. It can also be obtained from orange colored-fruits and vegetables that contain beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A depending on bodyâ€™s needs.
Vitamin A is crucial for the visual system, bodyâ€™s growth and development, and a healthy immune system. Lack of this nutrient in the diet results in a condition called vitamin A deficiency (VAD). VAD can also be caused by infections that reduce appetite or the bodyâ€™s ability to absorb vitamin A.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 190 million preschool children and 19 million pregnant women worldwide who are vitamin A-deficient. Children with VAD are more likely to suffer from poor health and premature death. This deficiency is also the leading cause of preventable blindness among children in developing countries. Each year, up to 500,000 children go blind as a result of this condition and half of them die within 12 months of going blind.
In the Philippines, VAD incidence continues to be a significant public health issue affecting nearly 17 percent, or 2 million Filipino children under the age of 5. This is based on the 2018 Expanded National Nutrition Survey of the Department of Science and Technology â€“ Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI).
While proven approaches to address VAD – food fortification, vitamin A capsule supplementation, promotion of optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding, dietary diversification, and nutrition education – have made real successes, gaps still exist.
Golden Rice, once available, is intended to be used in combination with these existing approaches to address VAD. Since rice is widely produced and consumed, it has a unique potential to reach many people including those who do not have reliable access to or cannot afford other sources of vitamin A.
The Golden Rice has been granted a biosafety permit for commercial propagation DA-BPI on 21 July 2021. This represents the final stage of regulatory approval and it means Golden Rice is now free to move forward with its deployment. The biosafety assessment process for the commercial propagation application involved a thorough safety assessment by a pool of non-DA scientists sitting as a Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP). The STRP members are experts in food and nutrition, toxicology, ecology, crop protection, environmental science, molecular biology and biotechnology, genetics, plant breeding, and animal nutrition.Â
With the permit, DA-PhilRice has now commenced producing the Golden Rice seeds for cultivation, which usually takes 3-4 cropping seasons. Initial deployment of Golden Rice will be administered by the 3rd quarter of 2022 in areas with high prevalence of VAD. These areas will be prioritized before Golden Rice can be commercially available for public consumption.Â
DA-PhilRice will make the necessary announcements once the seeds are sufficiently available for commercial production.
In 2018, Golden Rice received three successive positive food safety evaluations from leading regulatory agencies: Food Standards Australia New Zealand (22 February 2018), Health Canada (16 March 2018), and the United States Food and Drug Administration (24 May 2018).Â
Collectively, the data presented in these application submissions support the conclusion that food and/or livestock animal feed derived from Golden Rice is as safe and nutritious as food or feed derived from conventional rice varieties.
On 18 December 2019, official notice of the FFP permit, issued by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI), approving GR2E Golden Rice for direct use as food and feed, or for processing in the Philippines was published in Manila Bulletin.
The Philippine biotechnology regulatory system, governed by the revised Joint Department Circular (JDC) No. 1 series of 2016, is composed of three regulatory review processes: for direct use as food and feed, or for processing (FFP); for field trial; and for commercial propagation.
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