Golden Rice: using agricultural biotechnology for nutrition
The International Rice Research Institute, together with its partners, wishes the Philippines a meaningful celebration of National Biotechnology Week 2013!
Biotechnology is one of the several means to achieve and sustain food security, equitable access to health services, a safe environment, and industry development. Each year, the Philippines commemorates the National Biotechnology Week (NBW) on the last week of November. Through Presidential Proclamation No. 1414, NBW highlights the safe and responsible use of biotechnology and its products.
In agriculture, biotechnology can be applied in many different ways, and one of the most well-known and talked-about is through the development of genetically modified (GM) crops. Farmers and consumers benefit from rice genetic research because it leads to new rice varieties that have higher yield, higher quality, and are more resistant to pests, diseases, and the effects of climate change. The potential benefits of GM rice are also important, particularly around improving nutrition.
Here at IRRI, only about 5% of our rice breeding work is GM, which is only used when all other breeding methods have been exhausted and when it offers a potentially very high humanitarian, environmental, or productivity benefit.
The Department of Agriculture – Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) is collaborating with IRRI to develop and evaluate Golden Rice because of its potential to help reduce vitamin A deficiency. If approved by government regulators, Golden Rice would be the first type of GM food that can help improve people’s nutrition. It is also important to note that Golden Rice is being developed on a nonprofit basis; it is an application of biotechnology for public good.
Golden Rice is being developed as a potential new food-based approach to improve vitamin A status. It is intended to complement other existing approaches to address the devastating impact of vitamin A deficiency, a condition that results from the lack of sufficient vitamin A in the body. Young children and pregnant and nursing women are the most vulnerable to vitamin A deficiency because of their increased need for micronutrients—it causes children to get sick, go blind, and even die. In the Philippines, vitamin A deficiency affects approximately 1.7 million children (15.2%) aged 6 months to 5 years. Subclinical vitamin A deficiency affects one out of every ten pregnant women.
Billions of people suffer from hidden hinger, a lack of vitamins and minerals in the diet. Golden Rice is is new type of GM rice that contains beta carotene, a source of vitamin A. It has the potential to help address vitamin A deficiency.
There are many ways people can get vitamin A, starting of course with a diverse and nutritious diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables and with animal products such as eggs, liver, cheese, and whole milk. Some people, however, have limited access to meat and other animal-based food products, fruits, and vegetables that contain beta carotene. Therefore, a variety of options are needed to help people get enough vitamin A. Providing adequate amounts of vitamin A, on the other hand, reduces overall child mortality by 23-34%.
Golden Rice contains beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A when eaten. Because rice is so popular in the Philippines, providing rice that is more nutritious and that contains beta carotene could help boost people’s vitamin A status. In turn, this could reduce the extent and impact of vitamin A deficiency among Filipinos.
Golden Rice is certainly an exciting development, and while it is not yet available, it is one that deserves attention during the NBW as we look at the ways biotechnology can help Filipinos.