Philippines becomes first country to approve golden rice for planting

Photo of IRRI regular rice, paddy and golden rice (from left to right). Photo taken by Reaz Ahmad at IRRI Headquarters in Los Baños, Philippines Dhaka Tribune

Bangladesh regulators remain nervous over approval decision for 4 years

The Philippines on Friday approved the commercial cultivation of golden rice rich in vitamin A, long touted as a partial cure for child malnutrition.

It comes at a time when scientists in Bangladesh have expressed deep frustration with regulators delaying approving the variety in the country for nearly four years.

Now, Filipino farmers will become the first in the world to be able to grow golden rice, the daily consumption of which can potentially reduce child malnutrition prevalent in the Philippines as well as Bangladesh.

The Philippine variety of golden rice was developed by the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to contain additional levels of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A.

According to the World Health Organization’s Global Vitamin A Deficiency (CVA) Database, one in five preschool children in Bangladesh lacks this key vitamin. Among pregnant women, 23.7% suffer from VAD. Globally, VAW affects approximately 190 million children, a leading cause of childhood blindness.

Read also – Regulatory delay prevents highly nutritious rice from reaching vulnerable people

According to IRRI, golden rice is genetically modified to provide up to 50% of the estimated average vitamin A requirement of young children, the age group most susceptible to CVA.

Regulators fail in Bangladeshi scientists’ fight against VAD

Scientists in Bangladesh and the Philippines advanced their respective varieties of Golden Rice at around the same time, but while Filipino regulators regularly processed and expedited variety approvals, their peers in Bangladesh have long been sitting on the process of deciding. ‘approval.

Scientists involved in golden rice development at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) told Dhaka Tribune that since their submission of a petition seeking approval in 2017, there have been a few meetings of the country’s biosafety authorities.

“They asked for relevant data, test results etc. and we provided them with all the documentation, evidence and efficacy of the breed, but the regulators have been nonchalant after all these years,” said a scientist from the breed. BRRI who asked not to be named.

Neither regulators have denied the importance of golden rice, nor have they shown any reason for such dragging feet, according to the BRRI official.

In the Philippines, anti-GMOs (genetically modified organisms) even destroyed some of the golden rice test fields, but that never stopped the country’s biosafety regulators from reaching a scientific conclusion giving a final green light on Friday. .

In Bangladesh, there has been no such opposition, but scientists have blamed the anti-biotech lobby within the Ministry of Environment that chairs biosafety regulations for not approving golden rice so far. in the country.

In fact, Bangladesh was the first country in South Asia to launch a GM food product – Bt brinjal – in 2014, with then Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury leading the initiative. . In recent months, she, as head of the agriculture ministry’s parliamentary committee, has repeatedly inquired about what was delaying the approval process for golden rice.

IRRI and BRRI happy with Philippine decision

Congratulating PhilRice, BRRI Managing Director Md. Shahjahan Kabir said: “The approval of the commercial spread of golden rice in the Philippines is a major step in the fight against vitamin A deficiency, not only in the Philippines, but also in Bangladesh.

“The application for biosafety approval of golden rice in Bangladesh is pending with the Ministry of Environment. I firmly believe that the government of Bangladesh will follow in the footsteps of the Philippines and pave the way for Golden Rice, which has been conceived as a sustainable and cost-effective solution for vitamin A deficiency in Bangladesh, alongside other ongoing interventions ”, said the BRRI. chief.

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IRRI Director General Jean Balié said: “This milestone puts the Philippines at the forefront of the world in leveraging agricultural research to safely address malnutrition issues and health impacts. and sustainable.

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

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

Golden Rice has already received food safety approvals from regulators in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States of America, but the Philippines is the first country to approve cash cultivation.

A brief history of golden rice

Although Bangladeshi scientists have been at the forefront of research on golden rice since the development of this transgenic rice by Swiss and German scientists in 1999, the process only gained momentum when the plant biotechnologist from the IRRI, Swapan K Datta, infused the genes responsible for beta-carotene into BRRI dhan29 in 2002-03.

Genetic engineering technology to derive vitamin A in rice was first applied by Professor Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and Professor Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg, Germany, in 1999. All renowned newspapers and news magazines, including Nature, the Science and the Time, covered the breakthrough in 2000.

The first generation golden rice (known as GR1) was developed by infusing genes from the daffodil, but later the second generation variety (known as GR2) was developed by taking a gene from the daffodil. corn because it gave much better expression of provitamin A.

Some six lines of GR2 (scientifically referred to as “events”) have been developed and IRRI chose to work on a line called GR2R, which they developed and then infused into Filipino and Bangladeshi rice varieties.

After years of lab and greenhouse testing on the GR2R, the Philippines and Bangladesh finally halted the process on IRRI’s advice that another line, called GR2E, would work better.

Golden Rice co-inventor Professor Peter Beyer told this correspondent that there were issues with the GR2R event. He said the new event should work well. And he did.

About Alma Ackerman

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