More open discussion encouraged on Golden Rice
Vitamin A deficiency remains a significant public health problem globally and in the Philippines. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and its partners are working together to develop Golden Rice as a potential new food-based approach to improve the vitamin A status of people at risk, especially children and women who are most vulnerable as they have extra need for micronutrients.
Over the past couple of weeks, Golden Rice has featured in IRRI’s work with partners to provide the media with a broader context, especially regarding nutrition, into the issues related to rice research and the development of new varieties.
On opening day of the 7th International Rice Genetics Symposium held at Makati City on 5-8 November 2013, IRRI hosted a successful event dubbed Let’s talk GM rice, an opportunity for the media to meet with leading experts and ask questions about genetic modification in rice.
“We have searched for ‘yellow rice,’ but couldn’t find any in the known genetic diversity of rice. So that’s when we started to think how else beta carotene can be included in rice by looking beyond the rice gene pool. And the genetic diversity of rice is huge to start with, bigger than corn or other crops,” said Hei Leung, principal scientist at IRRI.
Achim Dobermann, deputy director general for research at IRRI, said that the Institute uses genetic modification only when other methods of breeding have been exhausted and that GM offers a potentially very high humanitarian, environmental, and productivity benefit. He stressed that, currently, no GM rice variety has been released in any country. But Golden Rice—a new type of rice that contains beta carotene, a source of vitamin A—is already in the pipeline.
Despite vandalism in one of the five multilocation field trials in August this year, data are being readied for submission to government regulators who will review Golden Rice against international standards for biosafety, according to Antonio Alfonso, coordinator of the biotechnology program of the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA) and leader of the Golden Rice project at the DA-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice). The timeline for the Golden Rice project is depicted in this infographic, showing the early history and what more needs to be done before Golden Rice can be made available for farmers to plant and consumers to eat.
We have already seen some media coverage, much of which includes factual stories about Golden Rice and the C4 rice project. The AFP story, First GMO rice to be launched in Philippines in 2016, has been syndicated very widely internationally and in major Philippine news organizations such as Manila Standard Today, Rappler, and ABS-CBN. The Business Mirror also ran a story linking yield loss with climate change and how IRRI could help by developing better rice strains. Scidev.net did a report on the development of C4 rice—the only other GM rice type being studied by IRRI outside of the Institute’s healthier rice research.
Just a week earlier, IRRI, in support of its partners—DA-PhilRice, DA-Regional Field Unit V, National Nutrition Council, and Philippine Information Agency-Region V—co-organized a seminar in the province of Albay in Bicol region. Media Seminar on Rice and Nutrition was attended by media practitioners and government information officers from the region. Participants were briefed about the nutrition status of Bicolanos and the interventions that the government and other partners are implementing to address malnutrition; the nutrition and health aspects of rice, during which much of the discussion involved brown rice and its health benefits; the National Year of Rice campaign; and healthier rice varieties.