Golden Rice grain compared to white rice grain in screenhouse of Golden Rice plants.
Earlier this week, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported in its 2013 State of Food and Agriculture report that two billion people suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies.
In other words, 26 percent of all children under five are stunted and 31 percent suffer from vitamin A deficiency. According to the report, “In social terms, child and maternal malnutrition continue to reduce the quality of life and life expectancy of millions of people.” Vitamin A deficiency is most prevalent among young children and pregnant women and lactating women as they have increased needs for important nutrients. Studies have shown that providing adequate amounts of vitamin A can reduce overall child mortality from common illnesses (including measles, severe pneumonia, and persistent diarrhea) by 23-34 percent.
According to the most recent data in the Philippines from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute’s (FNRI) 7th National Nutrition Survey in 2008, vitamin A deficiency remains a public health problem affecting more than 1.7 million children under the age of five and 500,000 pregnant and nursing women. Many of those affected live in areas that are difficult to reach with existing programs to prevent vitamin A deficiency, such as vitamin A supplementation, dietary diversification, food fortification, and promotion of optimal breastfeeding.
Golden Rice contains beta carotene – a source of vitamin A – and could be another way to address vitamin A deficiency. It could be a sustainable and cost-effective way to help those still affected by vitamin A deficiency in the Philippines, including some of the most vulnerable children and women.
Golden Rice has gone through all safety evaluations that have been appropriate and required at each stage of our project. We are following international and national guidelines for food safety of genetically modified crops, which require assessment of the nutritional value of Golden Rice and potential toxicity and allergenicity of proteins from the new genes in it.
Food safety-related studies that have been completed to date conclude that:
- Beta carotene in food is a safe source of vitamin A (1). Beta carotene is found and consumed in many nutritious foods eaten around the world, including fruits and vegetables.
- The beta carotene in Golden Rice is the same as the beta carotene that is found in other foods (2).
- The proteins from the new genes in Golden Rice do not show any toxic or allergenic properties (3).
Currently, Golden Rice is still under development and evaluation. It will be available to farmers and consumers only if it has been determined to be safe for humans, animals, and the environment and authorized for propagation and consumption by the appropriate regulatory authorities.
If Golden Rice is approved by national regulators, then Helen Keller International will evaluate whether or not daily consumption of Golden Rice improves vitamin A status among adults through a community-based study in the Philippines that could take a year or more to complete.
Human nutrition studies help us understand how well the beta carotene in Golden Rice is converted to vitamin A or how “bioavailable” it is. Knowing more about the bioavailability of the beta carotene in Golden Rice helps determine if it can improve vitamin A status. We also plan to develop a delivery program that would ensure that Golden Rice could reach those who could benefit most in vitamin A-deficient communities and contribute to addressing this important nutrition challenge for millions of women and children around the world.
1. Grune, et al. 2010. β-Carotene is an important vitamin A source for humans. Journal of Nutrition 140(12):2268S-2285S.
2. Paine, JA et al. 2005. Improving the nutritional value of Golden Rice through increased pro-vitamin A content. Nature Biotechnology 23:482–487.
3. Goodman, RE, J. Wise. 2006. Bioinformatic analysis of proteins in Golden Rice 2 to assess potential allergenic cross-reactivity. Preliminary Report. University of Nebraska. Food Allergy Research and Resource Program.
Photo courtesy: irri.org