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. The typical Filipino diet is chronically lacking in vitamin A resulting in vitamin A deficiency (VAD).
VAD and other forms of micronutrient deficiencies continue to be significant public health problems in our country. If not addressed properly, this condition can lead to reduced immunity, cognitive development, and poor eyesight. Multiple deficiencies disproportionately affect poor households and on the macro level, impact productivity and quality of life.
Malusog Rice is a new type of rice with a significant amount of beta carotene in its grains, which when regularly consumed as a staple can provide at least 30% of the estimated average requirement for Vitamin A. This beta carotene is similar to what is found in orange-colored fruits and vegetables. Malusog Rice 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 Department of Agriculture – Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) is leading the development and deployment of Malusog Rice in the Philippines in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
Malusog Rice (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 was developed using genetic engineering techniques â€“ a modern biotechnology tool that allows the transfer of a specific trait from one 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 contained beta carotene, therefore conventional breeding programs could not be used to develop Malusog Rice.
Malusog Rice was initially developed by adding genes from daffodil and a common soil bacterium. Later, a better version of Malusog Rice was developed using a gene from maize (corn) instead. This version has twenty times more beta carotene than the first.
In 2004, the Malusog Rice technology was donated to the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, which transferred it to developing countries where VAD is prevalent, including the Philippines.
DA-PhilRice and IRRI have been working closely with organizations in the agriculture and nutrition sectors to develop and deploy Malusog Rice as a potential new food-based approach to improve vitamin A status.
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 the bodyâ€™s needs.
Vitamin A is crucial for the visual system, the bodyâ€™s growth and development, and a healthy immune system. Lack of this nutrient in the diet results in vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which can also be caused by infections that reduce appetite or the bodyâ€™s ability to absorb vitamin A.
In the Philippines, VAD incidence continues to be a significant public health issue affecting 15.5% percent or 2 million Filipino children under the age of 5. This is based on the 2019 Expanded National Nutrition Survey of the Department of Science and Technology â€“ Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI). Children aged 6 months to 5 years old and pregnant/lactating women are the most at risk of VAD.
While current approaches to address VAD â€“ food fortification, vitamin A capsule supplementation, promotion of optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding, dietary diversification, and nutrition education â€“ have made real successes, gaps still exist.
As a product of modern biotechnology, Malusog Rice had to undergo regulatory assessments before it can be released into farmersâ€™ fields for cultivation.
Malusog Rice has been assessed to be as safe as ordinary rice with the added benefit of beta-carotene in the grains by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (22 February 2018), Health Canada (16 March 2018), the United States Food and Drug Administration (24 May 2018) and Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry (19 December 2019).
Malusog Rice was assessed through the Joint Department Circular (JDC) No. 1 series of 2016, which comprises three regulatory review processes: for direct use as food and feed, or for processing (FFP); for field trial; and for commercial propagation. Regulatory applications assessed through this process underwent approval through five different government agencies â€“ the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Health (DOH), and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG)– as well as by a panel of independent scientific, socio-cultural, and economic experts.
â€˘ The biosafety permit for the commercial propagation of GR2E Malusog Rice was issued by the DA-BPI on 21 July 2021.
â€˘ On 18 December 2019, the FFP permit was issued by the DA-BPI, approving GR2E Malusog Rice for direct use as food and feed, or for processing in the Philippines.
â€˘ The biosafety permit for field trial was released by DA-BPI on 20 May 2019. The field trial–conducted in DA-PhilRice stations in Munoz, Nueva Ecija, and San Mateo, Isabela–was completed in October 2019.
In April 2022, the first variety of Malusog Rice in the background of PSB Rc82 was registered with the National Seed Industry Council (NSIC) as NSIC 2022 Rc 682GR2E or Malusog 1. NSIC will name all future nutritionally-enhanced rice varieties under the â€śMalusogâ€ť category. Malusog is the Filipino term for healthy.
PhilRice is adopting this nomenclature with Malusog Rice now generally referred to as Malusog Rice. The Malusog Rice Program (MRP) is integrated into the new PhilRice Five-Year Strategic Plan (2023 – 2028) as one of the Special Programs that the Institute will focus on in the next five years.
The deployment strategy for Malusog Rice involves the interplay of supply, demand, and advocacy. On the supply side, the aim is to increase the availability of Malusog Rice seeds through targeted seed production and stewardship. The demand side, on the other hand, seeks to heighten knowledge and positive receptivity to Malusog Rice in the target communities through behavior change and marketing communication. Policy advocacy creates an enabling environment for the smooth and successful deployment of Malusog Rice at the national, regional, local government, and community levels. All these efforts will work toward preparing the community and individuals to accept Malusog Rice in alignment with the DAâ€™s food and nutrition security strategies. The goal is to establish a system for continued production and distribution until Malusog Rice becomes widely accepted, grown, and consumed. The long-term aspiration is for Malusog Rice seeds and grain to become an economically sustainable production system fully integrated into the Philippine rice market, with local farmers generating profitable income while moving Filipino consumers, especially the more vulnerable women and children, to nutrition adequacy.
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