Golden Rice gains third safety approval, further paving way for Asian adoption

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

IRRI has developed Golden Rice to mitigate Vitamin A deficiency in developing countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines.
IRRI has developed Golden Rice to mitigate Vitamin A deficiency in developing countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines.
GR2E Golden Rice, which is genetically engineered to bio-synthesise beta-carotene — a precursor of vitamin A — has obtained its third positive food safety evaluation in recent months, this time from the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA), further paving the way for Asian adoption.

Applications for its use are currently being assessed in both Bangladesh and the Philippines.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has developed Golden Rice to be cultivated for humanitarian purpose in developing countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines, to mitigate Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) there.

The US FDA agreement follows the safety and nutrition approvals from Food Standards Australia New Zealand​ (FSANZ) and Health Canada in February and March this year.

“Each regulatory application that Golden Rice completes with national regulatory agencies takes us one step closer to bringing Golden Rice to the people who need it the most,” ​said Matthew Morell, director general of IRRI.

These regulatory agencies carry out assessments based on principles in line with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

“The rigorous safety standards observed by the US FDA and other agencies provide a model for decision-making in all countries wishing to reap the benefits of Golden Rice,”​ added Morell.

A step closer

This latest development is a step closer to making rice available to those who struggle with VAD, especially in South and South East Asia.

An estimated 250 million preschool-age children alone suffer from the deficiency.

According to IRRI, once Golden Rice receives all the necessary national approvals, a sustainable deployment programme will ensure that Golden Rice is acceptable and accessible to the target communities.

Worldwide, VAD remains a pervasive public health problem. The WHO estimates, alongside children under five years old, a substantial number of pregnant and lactating women are afflicted with VAD.

South and South East Asia rank high among VAD-prevalent regions.

Complementary solution

IRRI is further working with national research partners in the development and deployment of healthier rice varieties that have more iron, zinc, and beta-carotene content to improve the nutritional status of vulnerable populations with limited access to diverse diets.

Because rice is already widely grown and consumed in these areas — making up an estimated 30% to 70% of energy intake — these bio-fortified rice varieties have the potential to reach and help many vulnerable people.

Further Asian developments

In Bangladesh and the Philippines, the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) are developing high-yielding inbred local rice varieties with the beta-carotene producing GR2E Golden Rice trait.

Golden Rice applications with the appropriate national regulatory agencies have been made by BRRI in Bangladesh, and a joint IRRI/PhilRice application has been submitted in the Philippines. Both were lodged in 2017.

However, these developments and approvals have not been without opposition. In the Philippines, as recent as April, activists gathered at the Department of Agriculture Central Office in Quezon City to protest the cultivation of the variety in the country​.

Dr Tan Siang Hee, executive director of industry body CropLife Asia, had released a statement decrying their actions.

“Make no mistake — this agricultural innovation is not a game-changer, it’s a life-changer. Golden Rice has the potential to address critical Vitamin A deficiencies here in Asia and around the world. Trying once again to hold this technology hostage and out of the grasp of those who need it most is a shameful act,”​ he had said.

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