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Philippines Gov’t tests Vitamin A-fortified
rice by Melody M. Aguiba
28-February-2008 Manila Bulletin
The government is set to conduct
a multi-locational testing of the genetically modified (GM)
pro-Vitamin A-rich rice which should benefit in about three
years nutrition-poor, rice-eating rural families.
Dr. Leocadio S. Sebastian, Philippine Rice Research Institute
(PhilRice) director, said may start in September the first
multi-locational field testing of the Vitamin A-rich rice,
also known as "Golden Rice," at ’s Muñoz, Nueva
Ecija experimental station.
Another site may be at the International Rice Research
Institute’s (IRRI) testing fields in Los Baños, Laguna.
Each site will have a 500-square meter area.
At least two seasons of testing will be conducted to comply
with the requirements of the National Committee on Biosafety
of the Philippines’ (NCBP) on the propagation of GM crops.
has transferred to local rice varieties the desired trait,
Vitamin A-enrichment through beta-carotene availability,
in order to make its nutrition advantages benefit more people.
Foreign rice varieties cannot be commercialized viably in
the local rice fields.
The trait has been transferred to NSIC 128 and PSB RC 82,
two of the most popular rice varieties in the Philippines
that are extensively consumed particularly by government’s
Moreover, the varieties are inbred so that the trait is
expected to be passed on to next generation seeds even after
repeated planting unlike in expensive hybrid seeds which
lose their hybrid vigor or traits after one cropping.
While certain groups contest the value of government’s
development of Golden Rice and question its benefits against
the huge investment in its development, believes there can
be no better alternative to developing a Vitamin A-enrichment
in the country’s staple food—rice.
"This has something to do with people’s preference.
There are other crops rich in Vitamin A like mungbean and
malunggay. But most of the poor eat only the staple. Forty
percent of the calorie intake of Filipinos comes from rice,"
said Sebastian in an interview.
While field testing of the rice variety’s suitability and
other agronomic considerations are on-going here, studies
on bioavailability of the Vitamin A enrichment are being
carried out in other countries. This will determine if Vitamin
A from its source, corn into rice, can be made available
for use of the human body.
And there are strong possibilities of efficient bioavailibity
due to the trait’s origin.
"The gene (carrying the Vitamin A-rich trait) came
from yellow corn. There has been trials conducted on this
showing high potential for bioavailability," Sebastian
The development of Golden Rice has been prompted by the
infliction of Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) of millions of
people in developing countries particularly by children
and pregnant women. VAD can lead to total or partial blindness
while its less serious form can weaken the immune system.
This raises risks of infection of measles and malaria on
immune system-weak people. It was reported that this nutrient
deficiency causes blindness on 350,000 pre-school age children
yearly and the same deficiency is associated with one million
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