PhilRice, in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), is developing healthier rice varieties like Golden Rice, to address vitamin A deficiency (VAD) and provide nutritious rice for Filipinos.
According to Dr. Reynante Ordonio, Healthier Rice Project leader at PhilRice, Golden Rice has potential in improving human nutrition.
“This new type of rice contains beta-carotene in its grain, which when ingested is converted to vitamin A depending on our body’s needs,” Ordonio said.
Golden Rice is developed through modern biotechnology as a complementary food-based intervention to help address vitamin A deficiency (VAD).
Citing the 8th National Nutrition Survey (NNS) of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), he noted that VAD remains a persistent public health issue in the Philippines.
Data from the NNS shows the increase of VAD incidence (among children ages 6 months – 5 years old) from 15.2% in 2008 to 20.4% in 2013. This is equivalent to 2.1 million children who are at risk of getting sick, blind, and even dying if left untreated. A number of pregnant and nursing mothers are also vitamin A deficient.
“While current interventions such as proper feeding practices and supplementation have had real successes in improving the nutritional status of our population, millions continue to suffer from these preventable micronutrient deficiencies. Food-based approaches like Golden Rice can help improve nutrition for those who have limited access to diverse diets,” Ordonio explained.
Recently Golden Rice received positive assessment from two international regulatory bodies. The Food Standards Australia New Zealand and Health Canada approved Golden Rice as safe for food, feed, and for processing, noting that it is as safe as conventional rice but with the added benefit of enriched beta-carotene content.
These safety assessments were thoroughly conducted by each regulatory body following internationally accepted guidelines on food safety developed over the last 20 years by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
Golden Rice is also undergoing review for field trial and food, feed, and/or processing applications in the Philippines.
“Our research is fully compliant with the country’s stringent regulatory procedures, and we are very optimistic that our application will be approved. Regulatory approval is a necessary step in the research process, as it enables us to continue research to ensure Golden Rice is safe and efficacious,” Ordonio ascertained.
Research on Golden Rice is still on going in the Philippines.
He added that once Golden Rice is approved for release, a sustainable delivery program will ensure that it is acceptable and accessible to those most in need.
Golden Rice is just one of the healthier rice varieties developed by PhilRice and the International Rice Research Institute under the Healthier Rice Project. Along with it is the high iron and zinc rice, which is currently in the early stages of research and development.
“As rice is our staple food, we believe that biofortifying it with important micronutrients has a great potential to improve our people’s nutritional status,” Ordonio said.