Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) pushed through the field trials of the genetically modified golden rice in Munoz Nueva Ecija and San Mateo, Isabela to marked its 33rd founding anniversary last November 7, 2018. PhilRice and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) claim that the golden rice is the solution to Vitamin A deficiency. Golden rice is genetically modified rice with a gene from the maize plant and a soil bacterium (Erwinia uredovora), which forces the rice plant to artificially express beta-carotene. Golden Rice is a patented rice variety owned by agrochemical giant Syngenta and hailed as a solution to help curb Vitamin A deficiency in developing countries.
A growing movement from farmers and advocates of organic farming called on the public to support their campaign against the field testing of golden rice in the Philippines after Testbiotech, a non-profit organization founded as an Institute for the Independent Impact Assessment of Biotechnology, made an analysis on risk assessment presented by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) on Golden Rice. In its critique, Testbiotech concluded that the application does not show substantial benefits. Furthermore, they expressed that the risk assessment as performed by FSANZ is not sufficient to demonstrate safety of food derived from Golden Rice.
According to the Testbiotech report, the nutritional quality of Golden Rice produced a much smaller amount of carotenoids (3.5 – 10.9 micrograms per gram or ug/g) compared to the original Golden Rice which was supposed to produce more than 30 ug/g. The report further stressed that while previous publications identified beta-carotene as having a percentage of around 80 percent of the total carotenoids, the golden rice in the field trials only reached 59 percent. Testbiotech also stated that further significant reduction in the content of carotenoids has to be expected due to storage, processing and heating of the grains in food preparation. Testbiotech stressed the necessity of subjecting Golden Rice to the highest standards of risk assessment before the most vulnerable groups of the population are exposed to it. “However, no toxicological studies were performed with the rice. In the light of the humanitarian claims made in the context of Golden Rice, it is surprising that this application is not based on a full set of data to establish high safety standards” added Testbiotech.
It is correlated with the research of an independent researcher from Victoria, Australia, Madeline Love, who revealed that to consume the same amount of beta-carotene as in a carrot; one would need to eat 1.6 kg of uncooked rice, roughly 4 kg of cooked rice. However with the degradation of carotenoids, one would need to eat 13kg of uncooked rice or roughly 32kg of cooked rice after 75 days. According to Ms. Love, it means that the concentration of beta-carotene after 25 days would be 1.79 ug/g, after 50 days would be 0.89 ug/g and after 75 days 0.45 ug/g dry weight. The abovementioned estimated amount of rice to be consumed is adjusted for 12.2% to bring the cited 3.57 ug/g dry weight concentration to a fresh weight value, and then allowing for 150% water absorption during cooking. Ms. Love has also petitioned the Australian Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation to immediately review the report made by FSANZ.
Genetically modified golden rice does not address the underlying causes of Vitamin A deficiency, which are mainly poverty and lack of access to a healthy and varied diet. The solutions to fight Vitamin A deficiency and other nutrient deficiencies are known, available and cost effective, what is lacking
*Testbiotech comment on data for risk assessment of Provitamin A Biofortified Rice Event GR2E submitted to Food Standards Australia New Zealand by IRRI – https://www.testbiotech.org/node/2150
*Testbiotech is a non-profit organization founded as an Institute for the Independent Impact Assessment of Biotechnology in 2008 in Munich, Germany. Testbiotech provides information and scientific expertise on the risks associated with genetic engineering, that is completely independent of the biotech industry. In this way, the organization hopes that their efforts can help strengthen the decision-making competence of politicians and society.