Philippine agency rules Golden Rice is safe

By Joan Conrow

December 18, 2019

The Philippine Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry has ruled that Golden Rice is “as safe as conventional rice.”

The agency’s ruling marks a major step forward in the regulatory process for Golden Rice. The grain has been genetically engineered to help fight the health scourge of vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which is estimated to affect hundreds of millions of young children and women around the world. VAD can cause blindness and early death in young children who are affected.

The biosafety permit, addressed to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), details the approval of GR2E Golden Rice for direct use as food and feed, or for processing (FFP).

“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,” said Dr. John de Leon, executive director ofPhilRice.

The ruling aligns with positive international assessments issued last year by the US Food and Drug Administration, Health Canada and Food Standards Australia New Zealand, all of which concurred Golden Rice is safe for consumers and livestock.

With this approval, PhilRice and IRRI will now proceed with sensory evaluations, giving some Filipinos their first chance to taste Golden Rice.

To complete the Philippine biosafety regulatory process, Golden Rice must be approved 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.

GR2E Golden Rice contains genes encoding phytoene synthase and carotene desaturase, components of the carotenoid biosynthetic pathway. These genes allow Golden Rice to produce the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene, giving it a rich yellow color.

Golden Rice, which provide 30 to 50 percent of the estimated average requirement for vitamin A of women and children, is intended to be a complementary, food-based addition to existing nutritional interventions, such as diet diversification and oral supplementation.

However, despite the success of these public health interventions, VAD among children aged 6 months to 5 years increased in the Philippines from 15.2 percent in 2008 to 20.4 percent in 2013, underscoring the urgent need for Golden Rice.

“IRRI is pleased to partner with PhilRice to develop this nutrition-sensitive agricultural solution to address hidden hunger,” said IRRI Director General Matthew Morrell. “This is the core of IRRI’s purpose: to tailor global solutions to local needs. The Philippines has long recognized the potential to harness biotechnology to help address food and nutrition security, environmental safety, as well as improve the livelihoods of farmers.”