By Andrea Palmieri

Philippines has joined Canada, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand in affirming the safety of golden rice, by approving it for direct use as food, feed, and in food processing. Living in a developing country that relies on rice as a major food source and where vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is endemic, Filipinos will significantly benefit from this regulatory decision. In the face of continuous brute opposition, the Philippine authorities have made it clear that Golden Rice will be added to the roster of interventions to combat preventable deaths due to VAD.

Golden Rice is a biofortified version of white rice that contains beta-carotene, which the human body converts to vitamin A. It was created by precisely adding one gene from corn, and one from a commonly eaten soil bacterium. Not only is golden rice as safe as conventional rice, but it is an accessible, cost-effective, and sustainable way to “ save sight and save lives .” When it is made available to the public, the seeds will be distributed for free to farmers. But before farmers can start planting golden rice in their fields, they must await for approval for commercial propagation.

The founders of the Golden Rice Project have been pushing to get golden rice approved for use for the past 20 years , but with little success. Activists and non-government organizations (NGOs) who oppose the use of GMOs, coupled with individual countries’ regulatory red-tape, have made it extremely difficult for this product to reach the market. In industrialized countries who have enough to eat, golden rice will have little benefit — yet these are the places where the most vocal opponents of GMOs are found and who’ve never had to suffer from the debilitating effects of micronutrient deficiencies. For example , notorious anti-GMO NGO Greenpeace recently filed an appeal to the Department of Agriculture to revoke the approval of golden rice, citing a “lack of data” as the cause, despite golden rice passing a rigorous biosafety assessment. This is how misinformation, scare tactics, and fearmongering can cause harm and suffering.

VAD is a public health problem in more than half of all countries, especially in South-East Asia, posing the highest risk for young children and pregnant women in low-income countries. Each year, it is responsible for up to 2 million deaths and up to 500,000 cases of irreversible blindness. Golden rice aims to provide 30 to 50 percent of the estimated average requirement of vitamin A for pregnant women and young children.

This is a huge achievement and marks a hopeful change in the attitudes towards GMOs!

This article appears in the February 2020 version of Critical Links.