Philippines Becomes First Country Globally To Approve Genetically Modified Rice
Jul 24, 2021

The Philippines became the first country in the world to approve the commercial production of genetically modified “golden rice,” a rice variant that develops beta-carotene in the growing process, thus giving it a yellow, or “golden,” colour.

This sort of rice was created as an effective crop for targeting Vitamin A deficiencies particularly in children living in developing regions were rice is a basic staple.

This deficiency is responsible for an estimated 670,000 deaths of children under the age of five and also for an additional 500,000 cases of irreversible childhood blindness, according to the World Health Organisation.

A biosafety permit issued by Philippine government regulators paves the way for the rice to be grown by farmers across the country, its developers said, according to AFP.

“As safe as ordinary rice”

“It’s a really significant step for our project because it means that we are past this regulatory phase and golden rice will be declared as safe as ordinary rice,” Russell Reinke of the Philippine-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) told the news agency.

IRRI has spent two decades working with the Philippine Department of Agriculture to develop golden rice which has become the first genetically modified rice approved for commercial propagation in South and Southeast Asia..

As a start, “limited quantities” of seed could now start to be distributed to Filipino farmers in selected provinces next year, Reinke said.

“The farmers will be able to grow them in exactly the same way as ordinary varieties… it doesn’t need additional fertiliser or changes in growing management and it carries with it the benefit of improved nutrition,” he added.

Nearly 17 per cent of children under the age of five in the Philippines are deficient in Vitamin A, according to the IRRI.

Under review in other countries

The rice variant was also analysed by food safety regulators in Australia, the US and Canada and has received positive assessments, but has not been approved in these countries for commercial production. It is also being reviewed by regulators in Bangladesh.

Golden rice has faced strong resistance from environmental groups opposed to genetically altered food plants. At least one test field in the Philippines was attacked by activists in the past who argued that the rice variant would endanger human health, local biodiversity and farmers’ livelihoods.

Critical farmers and environmentalists, including Greenpeace, are also not convionced of golden rice’s apparent benefits, saying that instead of developing genetically modified food, the government of the Philippines should just promote the planting and eating of indigenous and affordable fruits and vegetables that are rich in beta-carotene, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, spinach and broccoli.

Golden rice was developed by a Swiss-German scientists team in the 1990s, has been backed by US-based Rockefeller Foundation ever since and pushed by controversial former US agricultural giant Monsanto, today part of German pharma and life science company Bayer.

Photo by Sergio Camalich on Unsplash