The global commercial cultivation of genetically modified rice variety called Golden Rice can save as many as 190 million children in the world with Vitamin A deficiency (VAD), according to Filipino experts.
National Scientist Emil Q. Javier said in a statement that the recent approval of the Philippine government for the commercial cultivation of Golden Rice is a most welcome, long-awaited development for the science community worldwide.
Golden Rice is a new unique variety of rice specially bred that contains beta carotene, the precursor of vitamin A, an essential nutrient, which humans cannot synthesize on their own, and therefore cannot live without.
This rice variety is the first of its kind in the scientific world because the genes for beta carotene bred into Golden Rice were obtained by genetic engineering. The beta carotene genes come from a genetically distant edible relative, yellow corn.
VAD continues to be major nutrition and public health concern in low- and middle-income countries, including the Philippines. It affects some 190 million children under five years of age worldwide.
Lack of vitamin A predisposes people, especially children, to increased risk of respiratory diseases, diarrhea, measles, night blindness, and can lead to death.
“We had been long waiting for Golden Rice’s regulatory clearance,” according to Nina Gloriani, former dean of the College of Public Health, UP Manila.
The permit to cultivate Golden Rice was finally granted by the Bureau of Plant Industry after the proponent, the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), complied with the lengthy, rigorous food safety and environment regulatory requirements.
This rigorous regulation was prescribed by the Joint Department Circular issued by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Health (DOH), and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Laboratory and human feeding trials suggest that one cup of cooked Golden Rice can provide 30 to 42 percent of Vitamin A estimated average equivalent for pre-school children.
Since the beta carotene is naturally embedded in the GR grain, the needed essential nutrient comes at no additional cost and effort to the consumer, a significant benefit to poor households.
For his part, Eufemio T. Rasco, Jr., chairman of the Agriculture Sciences Division of the National Academy of Science and Technology, said the development of Golden Rice took 20 years because the beta carotene genes from yellow corn had to be meticulously transferred into popular rice varieties acceptable to farmers.
Initially, according to rice specialist, Reynante Ordonio, PhilRice will promote the cultivation of Golden Rice versions of two registered varieties — PSBRc 82 and NSICRc 283.
As the Golden Rice beta carotene genes are regularly incorporated in national rice breeding programs, more Golden Rice inbreds and hybrids are expected to be released in the future not only in the Philippines but also in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America where VAD is rife and where rice is the major staple.