Philippines to fight hidden hunger with recently approved “Golden Rice” variety

PHILIPPINES – Filipino authorities have greenlighted the planting of “Golden Rice”; a new, nutrient enriched rice variety developed by the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). 

Golden Rice was first conceived by Professors Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer in the late 1980s. IRRI became the first licensee of the scientists’ work in 2001. 

The rice variety adds an important nutrient to a staple food that is already consumed in volumes of almost 120kg per capita per year. 

Following the approval, Filipino farmers will become the first in the world to be able to cultivate the variety which contains additional levels of beta-carotene that is later converted into Vitamin A by the body.  

Providing enhanced Vitamin A to Filipino consumers will be timely as around one in five children from the poorest communities in the Philippines suffer from vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which affects an estimated 190 million children worldwide. 

According to IRR, Golden Rice is genetically engineered to provide up to 50 percent of the estimated average requirement (EAR) for vitamin A of young children, the age group most susceptible to VAD in the Philippines. 

“This milestone puts the Philippines at the global forefront in leveraging agriculture research to address the issues of malnutrition and related health impacts in a safe and sustainable way” said Dr. Jean Balié, Director General of IRRI, a CGIAR research centre.    

“The regulatory success of Golden Rice demonstrates the research leadership of DA-PhilRice and the robustness of the Philippine biosafety regulatory system.” 

Golden rice has already received food safety approvals from regulators in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States and is also currently undergoing final regulatory review in Bangladesh.  

In the Philippines where approval has been granted, DA-PhilRice has started working with local partners to identify market- and program-based approaches for bringing Golden Rice first to selected communities with a high prevalence of VAD and other associated micronutrient deficiencies.  

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It is also increasing the volume of available seed and other remaining activities necessary for moving Golden Rice into farmers’ fields.   

“We are committed to ensuring the highest quality of seed for farmers and a safe and nutritious food supply for all Filipinos,” said Dr. John de Leon, Executive Director of DA-PhilRice.  

“A comprehensive quality assurance and stewardship program for Golden Rice will be set in place, covering the entire value chain from seed production, to post-harvest processing, to marketing.” 

Previous interventions to tackle VAD have included providing supplements to families to add to their meals, or biofortifying products like oil or flour, which can be costly or require behavior change from under-nourished households.  

The Healthier Rice Program at IRRI is currently developing high iron and zinc rice (HIZR), with the end goal of releasing a stacked variety containing beta-carotene, iron, and zinc that can help address multiple micronutrient deficiencies affecting over two billion people worldwide. 

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