The Philippines on Friday became the first country in the world to approve commercial production of genetically modified “golden rice” which experts say will fight childhood blindness and save lives in developing countries.
A biosafety permit issued by government regulators paves the way for the cultivation of rice – fortified with beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A to make it more nutritional – by farmers across the country, its developers said.
“This is a really important step for our project because it means that we have passed this regulatory phase and that golden rice will be declared as safe as regular rice,” Russell Reinke of the International Institute told AFP. Rice Research (IRRI) based in the Philippines. the announcement.
The next step was to “take our few kilos of seeds and multiply them… so that they are more widely available,” he said.
IRRI has spent two decades working with the Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Rice Research Institute to develop Golden Rice, named after its bright yellow hue.
It is the first genetically modified rice approved for commercial propagation in South and Southeast Asia, officials said on Friday.
Golden rice has faced strong resistance from environmental groups opposed to genetically modified food plants. At least one testing ground in the Philippines has been attacked by militants.
Despite clearing the last regulatory hurdle, rice is still a long way from appearing in food bowls.
“Limited quantities” of seeds could begin to be distributed to Filipino farmers in some provinces next year, Reinke said.
Regular rice, a staple food for hundreds of millions of people especially in Asia, produces beta-carotene in the plant, but it is not found in the grain.
“The only change we’ve made is to produce beta-carotene in the grain,” Reinke said.
“Farmers will be able to grow them in exactly the same way as regular varieties… it doesn’t need additional fertilizers or management changes and it brings the benefit of improved nutrition. “
Vitamin A is essential for normal growth and development, for the proper functioning of the immune system and for vision.
Data from the World Health Organization shows that vitamin A deficiency causes up to 500,000 cases of childhood blindness each year, with half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.
Almost 17 percent of children under five in the Philippines suffer from vitamin A deficiency, according to IRRI.
“We always said we would provide 30-50% of those estimated average needs (for vitamin A), and when you add that to what’s in the diet, you put a whole cohort of the population from deficiency into. sufficiency, ”Reinke said.
Golden rice has been analyzed by food safety regulators in Australia, the United States and Canada and has been given the green light, he said, but it has not been approved in those countries for the commercial production.
It is also under review by regulators in Bangladesh.
© 2021 AFP