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APPROVAL & PLANTS: Golden Rice’s feeding trial slated in the Philippines



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   GOLDEN RICE?S FEEDING TRIAL SLATED - PRO-VITAMIN A-ENRICHED VARIETY

SOURCE:  The Manila Bulletin, Philippines

AUTHOR:  Melody M. Aguiba

URL:     http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/332994/golden-rices-feeding-trial-slated

DATE:    02.09.2011

SUMMARY: "The Philippine Rice Research Institute and the International Rice Research Institute are tapping the Helen Keller International to carry out feeding trials for the pro-Vitamin A-rich Golden Rice which should boost the crop?s market potential. An institution aiming to prevent blindness and malnutrition, HKI has started mapping out a program with Philrice and IRRI on the feeding trial. This may happen at least two years from now after Golden Rice developers will have obtained approval for the nutrient-rich rice."

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GOLDEN RICE?S FEEDING TRIAL SLATED - PRO-VITAMIN A-ENRICHED VARIETY

MANILA, Philippines ? The Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are tapping the Helen Keller International (HKI) to carry out feeding trials for the pro-Vitamin A-rich Golden Rice which should boost the crop?s market potential.

An institution aiming to prevent blindness and malnutrition, HKI has started mapping out a program with Philrice and IRRI on the feeding trial. This may happen at least two years from now after Golden Rice developers will have obtained approval for the nutrient-rich rice.

?We would like to use their expertise, and they?re willing to share it in terms of evaluating Golden Rice?s bio-efficacy which tests its effectiveness as a Vitamin A deficiency reduction strategy,? said Dr. Antonio A. Alfonso, Philrice Golden Rice breeding chief, in an interview during a forum.

A rice enhanced with beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A or which is transformed into Vitamin A once taken in the body, Golden Rice will go through government?s regulatory approval for which Philrice will file commercialization permit by 2013. ?Helen Keller will conduct the feeding studies after bio-safety approval will have been granted to us. They will look into its effect of improving Vitamin A availability in the body if a person eats a certain amount and at a certain frequency,? he said.

The feeding trial sites will be in identified malnutrition-affected areas likely in Visayas and Mindanao. Once ready for release, Golden Rice will be distributed internationally as it is estimated that some 100 to 200 million children suffer from Vitamin A deficiency globally. But its use in the Philippines will also be extensive with critical population level of Vitamin A deficiency.

HKI?s feeding trial will be significant in enhancing marketability of Golden Rice. Golden Rice, originally developed by multinational Syngenta which donated this to the Humanitarian Board, is also being crossed with rice varieties in Bangladesh and India.

?The impact of the work of Helen Keller depends on how well we?re able to explain to the public the importance of Vitamin A deficiency. We need to explain to people that Golden Rice is safe and that it is effective in avoiding Vitamin A deficiency,? he said.

Another effort of Philrice to enhance its marketability is through an extensive breeding development. This is by making the rice acceptable to farmers by inserting the genetically modified pro-Vitamin A- rich rice trait in rice varieties that are already popular to farmers.



                                  PART 2

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   LAWMAKERS, FARMERS, CONSUMERS QUESTION SAFETY OF GOLDEN RICE

SOURCE:  The Manila Times, Philippines

AUTHOR:  Claire Mercado

URL:     http://www.manilatimes.net/index.php/news/headlines-mt/6465-lawmakers-farmers-consumers-question-safety-of-golden-rice

DATE:    04.09.2011

SUMMARY: "Lawmakers share the fears of consumer groups, farmers and some scientists that this genetically modified rice variety poses serious heath risks. [...] Committee on Health and Committee on Agriculture and Food of the House, leaders of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and Consumer Rights for Safe Food are wary of golden rice as it reportedly has the potential to cause harmful effects on humans and the environment."

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LAWMAKERS, FARMERS, CONSUMERS QUESTION SAFETY OF GOLDEN RICE

Lawmakers share the fears of consumer groups, farmers and some scientists that this genetically modified rice variety poses serious heath risks. In a round table last August 23 at the House of Representatives, legislators, farmers and consumers raised safety issues before biotechnology experts from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), Department of Science and Technology?s Biosafety Committee, and Bureau of Plant and Industry (BPI).

Committee on Health and Committee on Agriculture and Food of the House, leaders of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and Consumer Rights for Safe Food are wary of golden rice as it reportedly has the potential to cause harmful effects on humans and the environment.

For years, biotechnology experts here in the Philippines and abroad have been establishing the safety of golden rice, which was developed to produce the carotenoid beta-carotene that the body converts to vitamin A.

Supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the US Agency for International Development, among the agricultural research institutions advancing the development of golden rice are the IRRI, PhilRice (which is the government?s main rice research arm) and Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI). They believe that it is a solution to the serious public health problem of vitamin A deficiency (VAD).

Health studies say VAD impairs the immune system, hence it aggravates HIV-AIDS, measles and other infections, thereby increasing the risk of death, especially among children.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that VAD globally affects 190 million children and 19 million pregnant women, Dr. Antonio Alfonso, director of PhilRice?s Crop Biotechnology Center and leader of its golden rice project, told the House round table.

VAD is prevalent in Asia. In Southeast Asia alone, over 90 million children suffer from VAD. In Bangladesh, it affects 1 in every 5 children aged 6 months to 5 years, and 23.7 percent of pregnant women. Here in the Philippines 1.7 million children aged 6 months to 5 years and 1 out of every 10 pregnant women have it, according to IRRI.

Studies suggest that one reason VAD is prevalent in Asia is because Asians primarily live on a diet of starchy staples like rice, which lack beta-carotene and other sources of vitamin A.

IRRI, PhilRice and BRRI believe that golden rice can easily reach the poor people in developing countries, particularly in Asia who cannot afford other sources of vitamin A like animal products, vegetables and food supplements.

Both IRRI and PhilRice have conducted separate confined field tests of golden rice 2 (GR2), which, in the Philippines, produces 23 times more beta-carotene than the original golden rice (GR1). PhilRice is also developing popular rice varieties for these to have the golden rice trait. Other rice-producing countries like Bangladesh and Indonesia are also developing their own versions of golden rice.

Alfonso says the confined field tests are necessary to evaluate how golden rice growa in the field and to produce grains for biosafety and agronomic performance studies. The next step, he says, is the conduct of multi-location field tests. But both IRRI and PhilRice will carefully look at the results of the confined field tests before they proceed.

Studies, reports say golden rice is dangerous

Some scientists have, however, raised their findings that consumption of golden rice could cause harmful chemical reactions in the body.

First of all, the endosperm or the edible part of the rice grain does not normally contain beta-carotene. According to PhilRice, rice plant accumulates beta-carotene in its leaves not in its grains. Through genetic modification (GM), the carotenoid genes Phytoene synthase and Phytoenedesaturase were ?added to the rice plants? for ?beta-carotene to accumulate in the endosperm.? The result is golden rice.

The problem is that some studies and reports say that toxins or allergens may arise from the GM process to make the golden rice plant.

The article ?Golden Rice: A Dangerous Experiment? in the website of Ban GM Food Organization, for example, says toxins ?may result from genetic disruptions or disturbed biochemistry arising from new enzyme activities in a place where they do not normally occur. The same enzyme working in different plant hosts and cellular environments, as in the case with golden rice, can participate in different biochemical reactions and produce by-products that affect health.?

There are also reports saying that retinoids, a class of chemical compound derived from beta-carotene, are toxic and harmful to fetal development. Then there are articles in the Internet saying that high concentrations of retinoid called retinol are also toxic.

Moreover, there are reports in the Internet citing studies showing that excess retinoic acid, which is a breakdown product of beta-carotene, is ?extremely dangerous to infants and [to babies in the womn] during pregnancy.?

Scientist raised safety issues Congress roundtable

These research findings are similar to the report of Dr. Michael Hansen, a senior scientist working for the Consumers Union based in New York.

During the roundtable sponsored by the offices of Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Teddy Casiòo and Anakpawis Party-list Rep. Rafael Mariano, Hansen reported before legislators and groups of farmers and consumers that unexpected biochemical reactions can occur in the GM process.

In the case of GR1, Hansen said that it ?was supposed to produce lycopene,? so it was expected to be bright red. However, it produced beta-carotene due to an ?unexpected metabolic pathway.?

With GR2, Hansen said ?no such data have been published on GR2 that was used in human feeding trial [abroad]. No authority has evaluated GR2 at present.?

Moreover, in the report that Hansen shared with The Manila Times, he also wrote that when beta-carotene is in the gut, it is ?cleaved in half to generate retinal, which can be reduced to retinol (vitamin A), or oxidized to retinoic acid.? What is worrying is that ?retinoic acid and its metabolites are toxic and teratogenic.? ?Teratogenic? means a chemical or element that is able to disturb the growth and development of an embryo or fetus.

But PhilRice says in its website that ?there is no evidence that that conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A contributes to vitamin A-related complications even when beta-carotene is ingested in large amounts. This is because the body will not convert beta-carotene into vitamin A unless the body needs it. Hence, it has been considered virtually safe because humans tolerate high amounts of beta-carotene without apparent harm.?

Lawmakers wary of golden rice

The Committee on Agriculture and Food and the Committee on Health are alarmed. And the office of Mariano, a member of the Committee on Agriculture and Food, is studying the possibility of stopping IRRI and PhilRice from conducting multi-location field tests of golden rice through a resolution to that effect.

One fear is that the field tests might pose environmental risks such as the possibility that golden rice might cross-pollinate with the rice varieties already approved for consumption.

Another fear is that after IRRI and PhilRice conducted field trials and other evaluations, regulatory agencies may swiftly approve golden rice as early as 2013 and ignore studies raising safety issues.

This is highly possible considering the desperate need to provide the poor, which make up one-third of our population, with all kinds of help to make them healthier.

?My worry is rice is our major staple. Lahat ng Pilipino kumakain nito. Ngayon, are we going to risk using a product that has been modified and has the potential to harm? Hearing from Dr. Hansen, it seems that we are not ready for this,? said Third District of Albay Rep. Fernando Gon-zalez, a member of the Committee on Agriculture and Food, during the roundtable.

Another committee member, ABONO Party-List Rep. Robert Raymund Estrella has a similar opinion.

During the discussion, he asked: ?How sure are we that that [this] grain will not produce other side effects detrimental to health?...I would personally discourage this, and actually we would like to move for a ban on any GMO testing here in the Philippines.?

Una Ang Pamilya Party-List Rep. Reena Concepcion Obillo of the Committee on Health says that although the intention of IRRI and PhilRice to address VAD is very good, there are still unanswered questions regarding the effects of golden rice.

Alfonso says PhilRice and IRRI are ?going to answer them through good science.? He also reiterated IRRI and PhilRice?s stand that the golden rice lines they are developing for the Philippines will only be released for commercial planting after all the biosafety and regulatory requirements have been met.

The Department of Science and Technology-Biosafety Committee is conducting a regulatory oversight over GM research under contained conditions. BPI, on the other hand, is strictly monitoring field trials so that GM crops will pass through stringent safety requirements.

Does the world really need golden rice?

Should biotechnology experts established the safety of golden rice, there are still questions regarding the availability of beta-carotene in golden rice.

Carotenoids are susceptible to light and oxidation, but there are no studies published about how much beta-carotene in golden rice degrades during storage and there is no data available about how much beta-carotene remains after cooking; one study suggests only 10 percent, according to Hansen.

Moreover, since golden rice appears to be an expensive and dangerous experiment, why not instead promote the consumption of natural sources of beta-carotene to reduce VAD?

Hansen says there are many safe alternatives to golden rice like red rice, carrots, leafy vegetables, swamp cabbage, yellow corn, papayas sweet potato, mango, and cantaloupe. And ?according to the WHO, tried and tested remedies for VAD have already ?averted an estimated 1.25 million deaths since 1998 in 40 countries?.? Thus, he opines, the solution to VAD lies in food diversification and sustainable agriculture.