By MADELAINE B. MIRAFLOR
Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) is calling for a favorable set of biotechnology (BT) regulatory policies in the Philippines amid calls for the revocation of the commercial permit of Golden Rice, a genetically modified (GM) rice variety.
In a statement, SEARCA said that aside from the safety questions on the BT products, an “effective communication and science-based regulatory frameworks” is also important.
It issued the statement weeks after the Philippine government has approved Golden Rice for direct use as food and feed as well as for processing (FFP).
To be specific, the Philippine Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) found Golden Rice “to be as safe as conventional rice” after rigorous biosafety assessment.
The biosafety permit was addressed to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
Such decision, however, earned the ire of environment group Greenpeace, who questioned the Philippine Government’s approval process which the group said has lacked transparency and public participation.
“Behind the hype, GE ‘Golden’ rice is environmentally irresponsible, poses risks to human health and could compromise food, nutrition and financial security,” Greenpeace said.
IRRI, however, said that for containing beta-carotene (provitamin A), Golden Rice has the potential to be a suitable complementary intervention to address vitamin A deficiency (VAD), a condition that afflicts 250 million people worldwide.
“We stand behind products of agri-biotechnology that increase agricultural productivity to feed a growing population in the midst of dwindling natural resources and erratic changes in climate,” SEARCA Director Glenn B. Gregorio said.
“Due attention must be given to our resource-poor farmers by providing them access to information, best practices, and new technologies that gives them a fighting chance to cope with the many challenges they face and to open up better opportunities for them and their families so that they can have better quality lives,” he added.
The FFP approval is just one of the regulatory milestone in the journey to develop and deploy Golden Rice in the Philippines. With this approval, PhilRice and IRRI will now proceed with sensory evaluations.
To complete the Philippine biosafety regulatory process, Golden Rice will still 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.
The Philippines now joins a select group of countries that have affirmed the safety of Golden Rice.
In 2018, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, Health Canada, and the United States Food and Drug Administration published positive food safety assessments for Golden Rice. A biosafety application was lodged in November 2017 and is currently undergoing review by the Biosafety Core Committee in Bangladesh.