The Philippines is known by the world as the 8th largest rice producer and is responsible for 2.8 of the global rice production. Given this piece of information alone, it says that the Philippines is fully capable of sustaining its own in terms of rice production but why is it that most of the country suffers hunger and would also need to import rice? Perhaps it has nothing to do with the production at all but with the composition of the rice itself. Is it giving enough nutrients to the people? Studies support the fact that majority of Filipinos suffer vitamin A deficiency. Recently, a group of organizations, both local and international, have started to conduct research on a possible solution for this problem, which involves GMO rice, or as it has been dubbed, “Golden Rice”. Golden Rice contains beta-carotene, which is a source of vitamin A. The International Rice Research Institute is working together with several other organizations to reduce Vitamin A deficiency in Bangladesh and the Philippines by working on this project. Since rice is the staple food of the normal Filipino, it will prove helpful if Golden Rice would indeed be a solution to the growing deficiency amongst the Filipino populace.
Rice is a very important part of a huge part of the world’s population. It is considered as the staple food for the most part of Asia and the West Indies. Rice is cultivated in warm climate and the grains will gradually form a large portion of the food of the inhabitants. Rice is a seed that comes from Oryza sativa (Asian Rice) or Oryza glaberrima (African Rice). Its parent species is a native to both Asia and parts of Africa, as defined in the previous statement but a lengthy period of trading and exportation has made it possible for it to be integrated into a lot of the world’s diverse cultures. It can be grown anywhere, even on a steep hill and even a mountain. Rice is ideally grown where labor cost is low and there is a high chance of rainfall since it is very arduous to cultivate rice. Rice is a good source of protein but not full protein. It is ideal to combine it with other sources of protein such as nuts. Since it is distributed so widely, it has become a common dietary energy source for a lot of people in several different countries, dominantly Asia, accounting for 20% of the world total. These factors coupled with that of the problems several countries are experiencing in terms of nutrition, more specifically Vitamin A deficiency. The International Rice Research Institute along with other organizations has come together to conduct research and find a possible solution to these problems. Golden Rice as it has been called has the same nutritional content as normal rice except that it has Beta Carotene, a rich source of Vitamin A.
Why is Rice Production important in the Food Industry?
Rice is an important product in the food industry mainly because it makes up such a large portion of consumption and is viewed as a healthy side dish. Naturally, most people would want to incorporate rice into their daily diet. Among these big players in rice production is the Philippines. There is also an economic importance to this, most especially for rice-producing countries. Despite the fact that we are a rice producing country, we are still subject to the importation of rice from abroad. This says a lot in terms that the rice the country produces is not enough to sustain the population. Rice is the staple Filipino food and if this were to be taken out of the equation, most of the establishments in the food industry here would suffer. Rice accounts for about 70% of caloric intake in most countries, you will only be left with 30% of caloric intake if you take rice out of the food industry. The Food Industry also has to take into account how fast rice is being produced. Is it being produced faster than how fast the population is growing? These are just some issues and factors that help to prove that rice is indeed an essential part of the food industry. It has the capability to cripple the industry as a whole if it is left unaided and no further research or development is done.
Production of Genetically Modified Rice
For the first time in the Philippines, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) will release genetically modified rice known as the “Golden Rice”. It contains enhanced levels of beta carotene which is a source of Vitamin A. It has also been successfully bred into different traits like IR64 and PSBRc82. In 2010, IRRI was able to complete one season of confined field tests for IR64-GR. A year after that, PSBRc82 was conducted a confined field test with the Golden Rice traits. In the year 2013, the Philippine Authorities will expect current field testing and regulatory compliance experiments in relation to the safety of Golden Rice regulatory dossiers. Since these traits are present in inbred lines, it can be saved for replanting and will have a similar cost as current conventional varieties. Once approved, this will be significant to China, Vietnam and Bangladesh which are evaluating the product with a view to deployment.
A child with Vitamin A deficiency has a high chance of having preventable blindness. This deficiency impairs immune system function and increases the risk of death from certain childhood diseases. Approximately 670, 000 children die every year while 350, 000 go blind because of Vitamin A deficiency. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, consuming a cup of Golden Rice daily could supply half of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A for an adult. Dr. Alfred Sommer, the professor and dean emeritus of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, states, “Since a large proportion of vitamin A-deficient children and their mothers reside in rice-consuming populations, particularly in Asia, Golden Rice should substantially reduce the prevalence and severity of vitamin A deficiency, and prevent at least hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths and cases of blindness every year.”. Since there is an enormous potential of Golden Rice to benefit public health, Prof. Ingo Potrykus and Dr. Peter Beyer, the inventors of Golden Rice, donated the technology in 2000 as a gift for poor farmers in developing countries. According to Dr. Clive James, Head of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, Golden Rice is one of the encouraging prospects in biotechnology up to 2015.
The Golden Rice Project is headed by the International Rice Research Institute. This leading organization is working with a range of other organizations and individuals which provide financial support and bring additional expertise in nutrition, plant science, agriculture, biosafety, stakeholder outreach, and communication. These organizations are stated as follows:
International Rice Research Institute is a non-profit independent research and training organization which mainly focuses on rice. Their aim is to help address poverty and hunger and to improve the health of rice farmers and consumers by developing new rice varieties and rice crop management techniques while ensuring rice production is environmentally sustainable. As stated above, IRRI is the administrative lead organization for Golden Rice Project. To introduce Golden Rice in the Philippines and Bangladesh, the work of other partners with expertise in agriculture and nutrition is being coordinated by the administrative lead organization. IRRI is also involved in agriculture-related aspects such as initial breeding work to insert the Golden Rice trait into leading rice varieties selected by PhilRice and BRRI, the national rice research institutes. This also includes laboratory work, greenhouse tests, and some preliminary field evaluation. Only potential varieties will be transferred to the national rice institutes for further development and assessment. IRRI’s other contributions include providing technical support and training to help with breeding and development; building scientific capacity at the national level; assisting in developing locally adapted plans to deliver Golden Rice to farmers and consumers; and participating in research and collation of data to assess the safety of Golden Rice for human health and the environment. For more than 10 years, IRRI has been working with Golden Rice and since 2006, has been the coordinator of the Golden Rice Network, a group of research institutions which help breed Golden Rice into local varieties for the benefit of farmers.
PhilRice is a government corporate entity which is part of the Department of Agriculture. On November 5, 1985, PhilRice was created to help develop high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies which can produce enough rice for Filipinos. PhilRice has six branch stations which coordinate with a network comprising 57 agencies and 70 seed centers. This coordination helped PhilRice accomplish its mission through research and development work. PhilRice’s goals of attaining and sustaining rice self-sufficiency; reducing poverty and malnutrition; and achieving competitiveness through agricultural science and technology. Since one of PhilRice’s primary functions is to conduct rise research that caters to the nutritional needs of consumers, it leads the development of new Golden Rice varieties that are tailored to specific rice-growing conditions. One of these popular rice varieties is PSBRc82. It is a popular, high-yielding, and widely grown rice variety currently being developed by PhilRice to have a Golden Rice counterpart. Since there is a need to follow regulatory requirements, PhilRice conducts field tests and trials of Golden Rice, and works closely with national stakeholders across the Philippines. PhilRice has been a part of the Golden Rice Network and is currently developing a 3-in-1 variety which can resist tungro and bacterial blight, two of the most devastating rice diseases in the country.
Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) is the national agency responsible for the development of Golden Rice in Bangladesh. It manages the selection and development of BRRI dhan29, one of the most important varieties in Bangladesh. Since there is a requirement for regulatory review, BRRI undertake biosafety research and conducts field evaluations of Golden Rice for several seasons. BRRI has been an active and long-standing member of the Golden Rice Network and is currently interacting with other institutions that are active in nutrition, seed delivery, and other areas related to Golden Rice. This made it possible for them to adapt Golden Rice to specific rice-growing conditions in Bangladesh.
Helen Keller International (HKI) is an international non-governmental organization founded in 1915 to prevent blindness and reduce malnutrition worldwide. HKI prevents these things by establishing programs based on evidence and research in vision, health, and nutrition. Its role in this project is to see how effective the Golden Rice is in terms of improving Vitamin A status, and its potential to be consumed those who are Vitamin A deficient. HKI have been working with local governments for more than 40 years to fight Vitamin A deficiency. For more than 25 years, HKI with the governments of the Philippines and Bangladesh, have implemented interventions to reduce Vitamin A deficiency. These interventions includes: Vitamin A capsule supplement; homestead food production to improve access to micronutrient-rich foods; promotion of micronutrient powders for in-home fortification of cooked foods; promotion of optimal breastfeeding; and nutrition education to encourage consumption of micronutrient rich foods for children 6-59 months of age.
Biosafety Resources Network (BRN) is a part of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center which coordinates and assists project partners in collecting data relevant to the safety of Golden Rice. In accordance and in compliance with international standards and national regulatory requirements, BRN generates idea to assess food and environmental safety. BRN also helps in developing a stewardship plan and good growing practices for farmers.
Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines (BCP), a stakeholder organization composing of scientists, medical school professors, clergy, farmers, civil society advocates, and media practitioners, advocates safe and responsible use of modern biotechnology to attain national development goals in the Philippines. BCP organizes and participates in frequent dialogue activities, with people on all sides of the biotechnology issue, and in conjunction with government authorities. This approach guides all Golden Rice stakeholder outreach activities, which are key milestones throughout the project.
Seed Stories (SS) is a consulting practice which helps and supports the communication of agriculture organizations in Singapore. SS also helps partners in developing outreach activities and implementing communications that engage stakeholder of Golden Rice, be it local, national, and global.
Benefits of Golden Rice
Golden Rice was genetically engineered by Professor Ingo Potrykus to combat Vitamin A deficiency. In nature, beta carotene is produced in the green tissue of the rice plant, not in the edible part of the seed. The outer layer of the seed known as the aleurone layer contains nutrients of value, but these lost during the milling and processing procedure. On the other hand, brown rice, also known as the unprocessed white rice, can maintain its nutritional value but is not suited for long term storage. Maintaining these nutrients in a rice grain will contribute to the decrease in incidence of blindness, disease susceptibility, and premature death. What makes Golden Rice different to traditional rice is the two genes that are inserted into the rice genome though genetic engineering. As a result, rice is genetically fortified with high levels of beta carotene which indicates the golden color. Since the grain contains high concentrations of beta carotene, micronutrients will still be present in the grain even after milling and polishing process. Golden Rice is a valuable complement to children’s diet and is a great contribution to the decrease of Vitamin A deficiency in countries such as India, Vietnam, and Bangladesh.
In Africa, over 204 million are undernourished and the agricultural sector is approximately 57% of its employment. According to the Committee on World Food Security, Africa’s regional average of food production has declined over the last 40 years. Its agricultural production is underperforming and undercapitalized. Even though the poverty is maintained in North Africa, food insecurity and malnutrition which follows poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to increase. In spite of its natural resources, Sub-Saharan Africa has encountered problems like epidemics, droughts, and political conflicts that restrict the access to resources vital to its development. Despite these problems, technology may benefit to Africa’s agricultural production since it is a great contribution to the overall condition of the economy.
“The challenge for Africa is the attainment of sustainable development goals of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the MDGs and the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). This requires renewed political and financial commitment to the development and application of research and technology at national, regional and continental levels. Research and technology will play an important role in Africa’s efforts to eradicate poverty, achieve food security, fight the diseases of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, reverse environmental degradation and increase the pace of industrialization and trade” (World Food Security, 2005, p. 6).
The production of Golden Rice is one way of eradicating poverty and increasing food security. According to the Monsanto Corporation, Golden Rice will be available in 2011 and help save children from blindness and premature death. According to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Golden Rice will aid over 18 million households in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Even though Golden Rice will decrease Vitamin A deficiency, there is a need for it to be introduced into food supply and production since it is not a staple of Sub-Saharan Africa. According to further researches, it is unlikely to alleviate Vitamin A deficiency because many children who suffer from this disease also suffer from protein shortages and intestinal infections that interfere with the absorption of beta carotene and its conversion to Vitamin A. Scientists also points out that there is a need for toxicological testing on GM foods because unexpected toxins or allergens may arise from the process itself. Such toxins may result to genetic disruptions which have an adverse effect on health. These disruptions came from enzyme activities working in different plant host like the case with the Golden Rice. These enzymes arise in a place where they do not normally occur and produce by-products that affect health.
We, the researchers, therefore conclude that the inclusion of Golden Rice in the food industry of the Philippines would be a fitting solution for the Vitamin A Deficiency currently being experience within the country despite opposition from activists such as Greenpeace. The world is ripe full of opportunities just waiting to be discovered, this is a research breakthrough the Philippines could use to address health problems without having to deviate from the norm of society is in the food industry.