By Rjhay E. Laurea
(Photo courtesy of Nmamilife website)
MANILA — Soon households in the Philippines will enjoy the first-of-its-kind Golden Rice which will save 190 million children from risks of vitamin A deficiency, respiratory diseases, diarrhea, measles, and night blindness.
The recent government approval for the commercial cultivation of Golden Rice (GR) is a most welcome, long-awaited development for the science community, according to National Scientist Emil Q. Javier and Institute of Plant Breeding founder.
GR is a new unique kind of rice especially bred that contains beta carotene, a source of vitamin A, an essential nutrient which humans cannot produce on their own, and they can not live without.
This type of rice is the first of its kind in the scientific world for the genes of beta carotene are merged into Golden Rice were obtained by genetic engineering, the beta carotene genes come from a genetically distant edible relative, yellow corn.
“We had been long waiting for Golden Rice’s regulatory clearance,” according to Dr. Nina Gloriani, former dean of the College of Public Health, UP Manila.
The license to till Golden Rice was finally granted by the Bureau of Plant Industry after the patron, the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), observed the lengthy, strict, food safety and environment regulatory requirements.
This strict regulation was advised by the Joint Department Circular issued by five departments in government, Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Health (DOH), and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Vitamin A deprivation induces people, especially children, to increased risk of respiratory diseases, diarrhea, measles, night blindness, which can lead to sepsis and death, vitamin A deficiency (VAD) remains to be the most nutrition and public health topic in low and middle-income countries, including the Philippines, it affects some 190-million children under five years of age worldwide.
Further, Dr. Gloriani said that the Philippines had been remarkably successful in fighting VAD in past years.
Between 2003 and 2008, we have brought down VAD prevalence among children from 40% down to 17% (DOST-FNRI, 2021). However, among the poorest fifth of Filipino children, VAD prevalence remains unacceptably high at 26%.
Also, these deficiency numbers have not changed between 2008 and 2018, and have a lot to be done.
The 2019 national nutrition survey by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI-DOST) said that only 2/10 Filipino households meet the estimated average for Vitamin A.
Some relief could be given by Golden Rice, laboratory and human trials say that one cup of cooked Golden Rice can give 30–42% of Vitamin A estimated average equivalent for pre-school children.
Since the beta carotene is merged naturally in GR grain, the needed essential nutrient comes at no extra cost and effort to the buyer, a significant benefit to poor households.
Dr. Eufemio T. Rasco, Jr., chairman of the Agriculture Sciences Division of the National Academy of Science and Technology, said the making of Golden Rice took very long (over 20 years) because the beta carotene genes from yellow corn had to be fully merged into popular rice varieties acceptable to farmers.
If not, farmers will not plant them, the new Golden Rice types must have high yield, which can resist risk to diseases, made to a wide range of growing conditions, and with superior eating quality.
Golden Rice looks very much like paella when cooked, a dish many Filipino chefs have adopted as very much part of Filipino cuisine.
At first, rice specialist Dr. Reynante Ordonio said PhilRice will promote the raising of Golden Rice versions of two registered types — PSBRc 82 and NSICRc 283.
As the beta carotene genes in GR are regularly absorbed in national rice breeding programs, more GR inbreds and hybrids are expected to be let out in the future in the parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America where VAD is rife and where rice is the major staple.
At last, National Scientist Javier proved that all along GR had been intended by its investors as an extra option, it should not be a replacement for occurring VAD-elimination programs, but it should be an accessory to diet variety, breastfeeding, vitamin A addition, and artificial food fortification of flours, cooking oil, sugar, dairy, and other products.
With Golden Rice, a naturally bio-fortified no-extra-cost option now available to consumers, multiple long-term durable answers to the cause of vitamin A deficiency in many parts of the developing world is in sight. (AI/MTVN)