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“We hope to bring Golden Rice to the communities who need it the most two years after we receive commercial propagation application.”
— Dr. Reynante L. Ordonio, Scientist 1 and Healthier Rice Project Leader at IRRI:
By EDD K. USMAN
(SDN) — Golden Rice (GR2E) did not come from gold. Might you didn’t know.
In fact, it has no gold component, just to set the record.
Obviously, its creators dubbed the biotech grain “golden” because of its bright yellow color; for that’s the color of gold.
While there is no gold on it, Golden Rice should be worth its weight in gold as far as Vitamin A is concerned. The price should be much, much more cheaper than gold, the target obviously. Not more expensive than ordinary rice, said to be the staple of billions of people worldwide.
So far, four countries have already approved the yellow grain, giving it a much-needed boost in an environment that is, apparently, still has aplenty of counter-advocates. In the Philippines, research and development (R&D) of Golden Rice passed through the proverbial eye of a needle before it was able to run through.
There were many who opposed its R&D, much less its cultivation. Those who opposed it uprooted Golden Rice plants during its field trials, demonstrations were held against it. But it survived the storm.
Researchers conducted the field trials in Munoz, Nueva Ecija, and San Mateo, Isabela, in September and October 2019.
Presently, the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) is going through and studying, painstakingly without a doubt, the Golden Rice application for commercialization. If approved, it would be in the market sooner than later, perhaps.
Aileen Alcos Garcia of the International Rice Research Institute’s (IRRI) Healthier Rice Project told SDN — Science & Digital News the Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) “has just finished the public comment period on January 19, 2021. The DA-BPI is currently reviewing the applications and we don’t know when their results would be announced.” PhilRice leads the Golden Rice Project, working closely with IRRI and their partner organizations.
Just over a year ago the DA-BPI had determined the yellow grain’s use “as conventional rice”, giving its seal of approval. Needless to say, the triumph of Golden Rice proponents with the regulatory approval jolted those on the opposite side.
According to IRRI), one of the main proponents, the government agency “issued a biosafety permit to (DA-PhilRice) and (IRRI) for GR2E Golden Rice for direct use as food and feed, or for processing (FFP). After rigorous biosafety assessment, DA-BPI has found Golden Rice “to be as safe as conventional rice.'”
With the biosafety permit, the Philippines is now in the same group with Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), Health Canada (HC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States for their welcoming actions for Golden Rice.
An article on “theness.com” (NeuroLogica Blog) on March 19, 2019 said “Bangladesh has cleared the way for the cultivation of Golden Rice, with the plantings 2-3 months away.”
When the DA-BPI regulatory approval came out in December 2019, DA-PhilRice and IRRI welcomed the decision.
DA-PhilRice Executive Director Dr. John de Leon:
“With this FFP approval, we bring forward a very accessible solution to our country’s problem on Vitamin A deficiency that’s affecting many of our pre-school children and pregnant women.”
The rice institute cited its partnership with PhilRice in developing a nutrition-sensitive agricultural solution to address hidden hunger, which aligns with IRRI’s core purpose: that’s creating to a T global solutions to local needs.
Here’s where the availability of Golden Rice for Filipino households can matter, hopefully, a lot.
As noted by IRRI the Philippines had met success in its public health interventions in providing oral supplementation, complementary feeding, and nutrition education.
However, “Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) among children aged 6 months to 5 years slightly declined to a high-moderate status of 16.9 percent in 2018, this continues to a severe problem among children aged 12-23 months (22.2 percent), as well as in children living in rural areas (19.5 percent) and in the poorest households (25.8 percent),” according to 2018 figures from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technoloy (DOST-FNRI).
Apparently, this is in line with the agency’s objective as it worked with its partners in developing Golden Rice as a potential new food-based approach to improve Vitamin A status.”
This also aligns with the work that DA-PhilRice does in support of the food security development of the DA.
IRRI assured that in developing Golden Rice the R&D abides by “scientific principles developed over the last 20 years by international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC).”
FSANZ, Health Canada, and the US FDA leveraged these same principles, IRRI emphasized, as the said national regulatory agencies concluded in their safety assessments that Golden Rice is “safe to plant and safe to eat.”
To further underscore, PhilRice and IRRI are partners in the Philippines’ Golden Rice Project aimed at a grain that contains beta-carotene, precursor of Vitamin A.
To further understand the Golden Rice Project, SDN –Science & Digital News reached out to Dr. Reynante L. Ordonio, Scientist 1 and Healthier Rice Project Leader at IRRI:
1. When do we see Golden Rice in the market?
Dr. Ordonio: We hope to bring Golden Rice to the communities who need it the most two years after we receive commercial propagation application. This seems like a long time, but every step is taken to ensure the public of its safety and benefits, by complying with all required regulatory protocols. Our estimate, given the mandated timeline for regulatory review and varietal registration timeline, is that Golden Rice will be available for pilot scale deployment to farmers and consumers by 2023.
2. How much would it cost (is it produced same as regular rice)?
Dr. Ordonio: VAD (Vitamin A deficiency) is primarily caused by chronic insufficiency of Vitamin A in the diet. Golden Rice is expected to cost the same as regular rice, since the aim is to make it accessible to those who are unable to afford the top Vitamin A rich food sources such as meat, fish, and poultry. The cultivation practices for Golden Rice are the same as regular rice varieties, so existing production techniques are compatible. Thus, there are no anticipated impacts on the price of Golden Rice.
3. Would you say Golden Rice is worth its weight in gold in terms of Vitamin A load?
Dr. Ordonio: The costs of malnutrition are unacceptably high. It directly affects physical and cognitive development of young children, which may have lasting effects on their future productivity and quality of life. A 2016 study from UNICEF revealed that malnutrition results in economic losses of about US$4.5 billion per year in the Philippines, US$33 million of which is contributed by VAD. Golden Rice aims to provide 30% of the estimated average requirement (EAR) for Vitamin A of young children. Because rice is the top consumed food across all socio-economic classes, it can make an important contribution to a multifaceted approach to dealing with Vitamin A insufficiency.
4. How did Golden Rice pass muster from its oppositors?
Dr. Ordonio: Many of the concerns surrounding Golden Rice focus on its safety and perceived impact, which the project has addressed at all stages of research and throughout the regulatory review. We proactively engage with communities, stakeholders, and the public to provide the information needed to make informed decisions about Golden Rice.
5. Any message to Pinoy parents on Golden Rice’s impending availability?
Dr. Ordonio: Proper nutrition, especially in the first 1000 days of life, is critical to the physical and mental development of young children. Once it’s finally available, Golden Rice can become an affordable addition to a nutritious, diverse diet that provides children with the key micronutrients that they need to lead healthy and productive lives.
In relation with this, here’s more from PhilRice:
The initiative on the yellow-colored rice is one of the so-called “Pinoy Biotek” projects supported by the government.
“Its success in terms of approval for propagation, once obtained, will bring prominence to the country in terms of science and its fully-functioning regulatory system for products of modern biotechnology. Of course, once we reach that point, the health benefits of Golden Rice will finally be realized,” PhilRice said.
The agency added that speaking of “efficacy and potential contribution to addressing Vitamin A, there are strong evidence that Golden Rice will deliver such impact.”
More importantly, Golden Rice, once available in the market, “should not be more expensive than ordinary rice because crop production and management are the same.”
PhilRice recalled the opposition against the Golden Rice R&D, but shrugged them off as “part of the process.”
Health officials have warned that VAD causes blindness and even death in children. Although a permanent fixture in dining tables, ordinary rice contains no Vitamin A.
It can be recalled the Golden Rice invention is a “brainchild of Prof. Ingo Potrykus, who was then with the Institute for Plant Sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and Prof. Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg, Germany.”
Humanity owes Professors Potrykus and Beyer a debt of gratitude. (/)
Featured image: Golden Rice grain compared to white rice grain in screenhouse of Golden Rice plants. (Credit: Isagani Serrano/CPS IRRI, via Wikipedia)