The Department of Agriculture in the Philippines has approved the release of vitamin 'A' enriched "golden rice", clearing way for it to be cultivated commercially in the country.
Earlier, in December 2019, the genetically modified variety of paddy – expected to combat childhood blindness and save lives in the developing world – received approval for direct use as food, feed and processing from the Philippine government which enabled PhilRice, the national rice research institute in the Southeast Asian country, to conduct sensory evaluation research.
Before the sensory evaluation, PhilRice conducted years of rigorous lab research and field trials at research stations to ensure the highest compliance with environmental and health standards.
As a genetically modified crop, Golden Rice needed environmental and health safety clearance before it could be tried in the open fields and is finally okayed for commercial propagation.
The approval for commercial propagation came on 22 July 2021 after the local authorities were convinced with the outcomes of years of research that golden rice is as safe as any other variety and it could be an effective tool to curb vitamin A deficiency in target demographics.
In Bangladesh, an application for biosafety approval of golden rice is currently being reviewed by the environment ministry, which was filed by the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) in late 2017.
This new variety of rice received food safety approvals from regulators in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the USA several years ago, but the Philippines is the first country to approve its commercial cultivation.
"The approval for commercial propagation of golden rice in the Philippines is a major milestone in our fight against vitamin A deficiency not just in the Philippines, but in Bangladesh as well," said Dr Md Shahjahan Kabir, director general of BRRI, as he was congratulating PhilRice.
"The application for the biosafety approval of golden rice in Bangladesh has been pending with the environment ministry. I strongly believe the Bangladesh government will follow in the footsteps of the Philippines and clear the way for golden rice, which has been conceived as a sustainable, cost-effective solution for vitamin A deficiency in Bangladesh alongside other ongoing interventions," the BRRI DG said.
In the Philippines, around one in five children from the poorest communities suffer from vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which affects an estimated 190 million children worldwide.
The condition is the most common cause of childhood blindness, as well as a contributing factor to a weakened immune system.
Golden rice is genetically engineered to provide up to 50% of the estimated average requirement (EAR) for vitamin A of young children, the age group most susceptible to VAD in the Philippines.
PhilRice has been working with local partners to identify market and programme-based approaches for bringing Golden Rice first to selected communities with a high prevalence of VAD and other associated micronutrient deficiencies.
It is also increasing the volume of available seed and other remaining activities necessary for moving Golden Rice into farmers' fields.
Golden rice has been developed under the Healthier Rice Programme in the Philippines and Bangladesh.
It is the first rice developed to address vitamin A deficiency, and under the Healthier Rice Programme, rice researchers at PhilRice and BRRI are also developing biofortified varieties with enhanced zinc and iron content, with technical and resource support from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).