Golden Rice trial Vandalized

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Golden Rice and other beta-carotene-rich plant foods,  by IRRI.

Today, about 400 Filipino activists vandalized a trial of Golden Rice in Camarines Sur in the Philippines. Golden Rice is a variety of rice that has been genetically engineered to produce beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. The rice is being trialled by the International Rice Research Institute, the Philippines Department of Agriculture, and The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), to better understand its potential use to help alleviate vitamin A deficiency, which is rampant in many developing countries.

According to the Business Mirror, a farmer group called Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bikol (Peasant Movement of Bicol, or KMB) and an activist group called the Sararong Inisyatiba nin Kahinwanmaan sa Wasakon ang Agrokemikals na Lasong-GMO (Sikwal-GMO) both claimed responsibility for the incident. 30 police officers responded to the vandalism, but were unable to prevent its destruction. A spokesperson claimed that they believed it was dangerous, citing objections by “concerned scientists and peasant leaders.”

The new genes added to the plant, however, alter the composition of the rice grain in a manner similar to how the orange color was bred into carrots. The golden-yellow color of the rice and the orange color of carrots are caused by the same pro-vitamin, beta-carotene. Several studies have shown that Golden Rice can provide adequate pro-vitamin A for deficient children and pregnant women, and have not raised safety concerns. The field trials are a necessary step to further study the engineered trait before releasing varieties of Golden Rice to Filipino farmers.

The IRRI has issued a statement and a short video explaining what has happened and emphasizing that research on Golden Rice will continue. The Biofortified Blog is currently arranging an interview with the IRRI and may soon have more details about the incident.

Malnutrition fight not over, Golden Rice research continues

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) – Philippines Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) are continuing to fight malnutrition in the Philippines, and continuing Golden Rice research as a potential way to reduce vitamin A deficiency.

“Golden Rice field trials are part of our work to see if Golden Rice can be a safe and effective way to reduce vitamin A deficiency in the Philippines – to reduce malnutrition,” said Dr. Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general of communications and partnerships at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). “Vitamin A deficiency is horrible and unnecessary, and we want to do our part to help to reduce it,” he added.

“Our Golden Rice research is part of our humanitarian work to reduce vitamin A deficiency that mostly affects women and children – causing sickness, blindness, and even death,” Tolentino said. “Earlier today one of our Golden Rice field trials located in the Bicol region of the Philippines was vandalized. We are really disappointed that our Golden Rice field trial was vandalized, but it is just one trial and we will continue our Golden Rice research to improve human nutrition.”

In the Philippines, vitamin A deficiency affects approximately 1.7 million children (15.2%) aged 6 months to 5 years. Subclinical vitamin A deficiency affects one out of every ten pregnant women.

Golden Rice is a new type of rice that contains beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A when eaten. Research so far indicates that eating about one cup a day of Golden Rice could provide half of an adult’s vitamin A needs.

IRRI is working with leading nutrition and agricultural research organizations to develop and evaluate Golden Rice as a potential new way to reduce vitamin A deficiency in the Philippines, Bangladesh and other countries.

In the Philippines, all GM research and development under contained conditions are overseen by the Department of Science and Technology National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines. The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI) strictly monitors field trials, coordinates evaluation of biosafety information, and approves GM crops if appropriate.

Golden Rice field trials are being conducted in the Philippines by PhilRice and IRRI. The field trials have been permitted by DA-BPI, the national regulatory authority in the Philippines for crop biotechnology research and development, after establishing that the trials will pose no significant risks to human health and environment.

The Golden Rice field site that was vandalized was located within the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Unit 5’s (DA-RFU5) Bicol Experiment Station in Pili, Camarines Sur. The Golden Rice trial site is less than 1,000 square metres (or 0.1 hectare). Nearly all plants have been uprooted and left on site.

“We all want to answer questions about Golden Rice,” Tolentino added. “Therefore, we need to test Golden Rice and test it according to the best and most rigorous research standards. This means continuing field trials to ensure there is adequate data and analysis that will enable informed decisions on Golden Rice.”

“At IRRI, we remain dedicated to improving nutrition for everyone in the Philippines and in other rice-eating countries,” Tolentino said. “We’re here for the long term, and Golden Rice and other healthier rice are part of our efforts to help reduce malnutrition among rice-consumers.”

Follow Karl Haro von Mogel:
Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He recently moved back to his home state of California. His favorite produce might just be squash.