What is ‘Golden Rice’?

Published June 2, 2022, 11:40 AM

by Faith Argosino

  • It is the first genetically modified rice variety developed to address a specific nutrition issue such as vitamin A deficiency (VAD).

* Vitamin A is an essential micronutrient for growth, development, and keeping the body’s visual and immune systems healthy.

  • The Filipino diet lacks vitamin A, with “only two out of 10 households meeting the daily required intake.
  • The beta-carotene content of Golden Rice is enough to provide 30 to 50 percent of the estimated average required vitamin A of vulnerable populations.

* Currently, Golden Rice is in the expanded seed production phase, and the department said that it is on track to distribute rice grains to selected communities later this year.

Last April the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) announced that after almost two decades of research and regulatory review, Golden Rice is already on its way to commercialization.

The department described Golden Rice as the first genetically modified rice variety developed to address a specific nutrition issue such as vitamin A deficiency (VAD). It was formulated through genetic engineering and plant breeding. Golden Rice contains beta carotene, which comes from genes of corn and common soil microorganism added to rice grains.

Golden Rice (Photo courtesy of International Rice Research Institute)

Beta carotene is the same organic pigment found in green leafy and yellow-colored vegetables, orange-colored fruit, and also is offered in vitamin supplements and food ingredients.

“While Golden Rice is expected to cost and taste the same as regular rice, its beta carotene content makes it a valuable asset in the battle against VAD. Vitamin A is an essential micronutrient for growth, development, and keeping the body’s visual and immune systems healthy,” explained Dr. Ronan G. Zagado, program leader of the DA-PhilRice, in an online interview with the Manila bulletin.

The DA representative said that the Filipino diet lacks vitamin A, with “only two out of 10 households meeting the daily required intake,” citing a 2019 data from the National Nutrition Survey of the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI).

To make up for this deficiency, DA-PhilRice said that the beta-carotene content of Golden Rice is enough to provide 30 to 50 percent of the estimated average required vitamin A of vulnerable populations such as zero to 59 months infants and pregnant or lactating women. Golden Rice will also improve the immune system which is essential to combat the Covid-19.

Commercialization 

Currently, Golden Rice is in the expanded seed production phase, and the department said that it is on track to distribute rice grains to selected communities later this year.

“Areas, where Golden Rice distribution will be prioritized are based on the National Nutrition Council’s Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN) data where VAD-related incidences are high like stunting rate, wasting, and underweight,” Zagado said.

Golden Rice (Photo courtesy of International Rice Research Institute)

“These provinces are Antique, Quirino, Catanduanes, Samar, Lanao del Norte, Agusan del Sur, and Maguindanao,” he added.

In a statement issued in April, the agency said that Golden Rice has already met all biosafety regulatory requirements in the country. The biosafety permit for commercial propagation, issued last July 2021, was at the final regulatory approval stage. This means that Golden Rice seeds may now be planted in rice fields and consumed when available.

In line with the rice variety’s commercialization, the department will implement a program-based and market-driven approach by integrating Golden Rice into existing agriculture and nutrition programs such as feeding and national rice programs within the mentioned areas. DA-PhilRice said it will also ensure that the commodity is affordable and accessible to the public, specifically to target consumers.

Other initiatives

Aside from Golden Rice, the DA-PhilRice and IRRI are currently developing biofortified high iron and zinc rice (HIZR) to help address anemia and stunting. The DA also promotes healthier varieties of rice such as brown rice, and develops rice-based products with higher nutritional value.

IRRI’s current research on low glycemic rice focuses on identifying genes for developing rice varieties with low glycemic index (GI) but with good eating and cooking qualities preferred by health-conscious consumers.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar and other DA officials tasting Golden Rice during its ceremonial tasting in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija October 15, 2021. (Photo courtesy of DA)

Meanwhile, the DA also enhances the capacity of rice farmers working under the new normal through programs such as the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) – Rice Extension Services Program, which provides training scholarships to rice farmers.

“We advise farmers to coordinate with their city or municipal agriculture’s office to know more about agricultural training programs offered not only by DA but also by the local government units,” Zagado said.

In promoting Golden Rice, the agency said that communication, stakeholder outreach, and policy advocacy are crucial to informing the public about the product.

“We do this by producing and distributing free Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) materials, conducting briefings with key stakeholders from various sectors, and engaging in conversations about Golden Rice through social media and other digital platforms,” the Golden Rice Program leader said.

 
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