Andrea Palmieri

One year after the government of Philippines approved golden rice for direct use as food, feed, and in food processing, Filippino farmers can now start growing it for commercial use. The commercial cultivation permit was issued July 21 this year after undergoing a satisfactory biosafety assessment conducted by the science-based regulatory departments. Thankfully, Greenpeace’s appeal to the Department of Agriculture to revoke the approval of golden rice was unsuccessful.

For the past two decades, the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) have been developing this new variety of rice that delivers additional levels of beta-carotene to help combat vitamin A deficiency which can cause blindness and lead to other diseases. Rather than the previous interventions such as providing supplements to their families to add to their meals, which can be costly, golden rice enriches a staple food that is already consumed in volumes of almost 120kg per capita per year. About one in five children from the poorest communities in the Philippines suffer from vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which affects an estimated 190 million children worldwide. Golden rice aims to provide 30 to 50 percent of the estimated average requirement of vitamin A for pregnant women and young children.

Golden rice has already received food safety approvals from regulators in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, but the Philippines is the first country to approve planting in their fields. DA-PhilRice has started working with local agencies to develop the best strategy for bringing the vitamin-A enriched rice first to targeted communities with a high prevalence of VAD and other associated micronutrient deficiencies.

This is the best example of how using genetic engineering and gene editing in agriculture can provide direct benefits to consumers. The negative connotation around the term “GMO” does not stand against success stories like this. Soon, the second generation of genetically engineered crops on the market will be addressing more micronutrient deficiencies around the world, helping save countless lives.

For example, the Healthier Rice Program at IRRI is currently developing rice with high levels of iron and zinc, with the end goal of releasing a stacked variety containing beta-carotene, iron, and zinc that can help address multiple micronutrient deficiencies affecting over two billion people worldwide. How can anti-GMO activists be against this?