Golden Rice

Golden Rice is a brainchild of Professor Ingo Potrykus 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 – 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 was 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:

• Develop varieties suitable for Filipino farmers

• Help assess the safety of Golden Rice

• Evaluate whether consumption of Golden Rice improves vitamin A status

• 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 body’s needs.   

Vitamin A is crucial for the visual system, body’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 body’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 remains a persistent public health problem. According to the most recent National Nutrition Survey conducted by the Department of Science and Technology – Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI), the incidence of VAD among preschool children has increased from 15.2% in 2008 to 20.4% in 2013. This means that about 2.1 million children are vitamin A-deficient.

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.

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).   

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.

Biosafety permit for the conduct of a field trial

On February 28, 2017, PhilRice submitted an application to the DA-BPI for a biosafety permit for the conduct of a field trial.The field trial aims to: (1) collect relevant agronomic and phenotypic data to complete the environmental risk assessment of GR2E rice in the context of the likely receiving environment in the Philippines and (2) collect samples of GR2E and control rice grains for analytical testing.

On May 20, 2019, the Director of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), Mr. George Y. Culaste, issued the BPI Biosafety Permit for Field Trial Number 10-001.

Biosafety permit for the direct use in food and feed, or for processing

In accordance with the procedures under the Joint Department Circular No. 1 s. 2016, PhilRice and IRRI submitted an application to the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI) for a biosafety permit for the direct use in food, feed, or for processing of GR2E Golden Rice.

After rigorous biosafety assessment, Golden Rice “has been found to be as safe as conventional rice” by the Philippine Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry. The biosafety permit, addressed to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), details the approval of GR2E Golden Rice for direct use as food and feed, or for processing (FFP). The FFP approval is the latest regulatory milestone in the journey to develop and deploy Golden Rice in the Philippines.

The signed biosafety permit is available on the DA-BPI website and was published in Manila Bulletin on 18 December 2019.

Moving Forward

With this approval, PhilRice and IRRI will now proceed with sensory evaluations and finally answer the question that many Filipinos have been asking: What does Golden Rice taste like?

To complete the Philippine biosafety regulatory process, Golden Rice will require approval for commercial propagation before it can be made available to the public. This follows from the field trials harvested in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija and San Mateo, Isabela in September and October 2019.

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.

Learn More

philrice transparency seal creative commons
Philippine Rice Research Institute