Golden Rice

The Philippine Situation

The Philippine Situation

More than three billion people worldwide depend on rice for nourishment. In the Philippines, about 10.9 million metric tons of rice were consumed in 2012 (PhilRice & PSA, 2013). On an average, a Filipino consumes 114 kg of rice per year.

As a staple, rice 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.

Golden Rice is a new type of rice developed to contain beta carotene in its grain. This nutrient, 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).

The Projects

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 – 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 Deficiency

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.

The Status

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.

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.

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.

This application is on process and currently under review by the DA-BPI although the Consolidated Assessment Report for the FFP application has already been published on the BPI website. 

They noted that “After reviewing the accomplished biosafety forms and socio-economic, ethical and cultural questionnaire, and supporting documents submitted by the applicant, the assessors, namely: the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP), the BPI- Plant Products Safety Services Division (BPI-PPSSD), the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Biosafety Committee (DENR-BC), Department of Health – BC (DOH-BC), and Socio-economic, Ethical and Cultural (SEC) concurred that GR2E Rice is as safe for human food and animal feed as its conventional counterpart.

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