Philippines approves genetically modified rice

Critics say ‘Golden Rice’ hasn’t received adequate scrutiny on safety and nutrition

Golden Rice grain compared to white rice grain in screenhouse of Golden Rice plants.

The Philippines has approved genetically modified “Golden Rice” for human consumption, but its approval may be premature, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network said in a news release Dec. 20.

The country hasn’t approved the crop for cultivation, but if it does, the grain could be the first genetically modified rice grown in the world, the release said. The Philippines is also the first country to approve Golden Rice where it will also be distributed.

Golden Rice is rice genetically engineered to produce beta carotene, which the body can convert to vitamin A. Beta carotene also gives the grain its yellow colour.

The International Rice Research Institute developed the rice as a tool to fight vitamin A deficiency, particularly in south and southeast Asia where two-thirds or more of daily caloric intake can come from rice.

According to the World Health Organization, vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases risk of disease and death from severe infections.

However, no regulatory authority has assessed Golden Rice’s ability to address vitamin A deficiency, CBAN said.

“This is a safety approval for a product that is not yet demonstrated to work as promised,” said CBAN researcher Taarini Chopra. “This approval sounds like a step forward for Golden Rice but it doesn’t make the product any more effective.”

CBAN released a report in November that found Golden Rice has low and variable levels of beta carotene, the beta carotene degrades significantly during storage and cooking, and has not been adequately tested for bioavailability.

“Up to now, proponents have failed to address concerns on the Golden Rice’s negligible beta carotene content, its fast degradation and the possible toxicity associated with the beta carotene degradation,” said Cris Panerio, national co-ordinator of MASIPAG, a farmers’ network in the Philippines which is part of a pan-Asian network called the Stop Golden Rice! Network.

Golden Rice has received three positive food safety evaluations, the IRRI website says, including from Health Canada in 2018.

“No potential public health and safety concerns were identified in the assessment of GR2E Golden Rice,” IRRI said.

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