RP to test pro-vitamin A rice

PNS — To test the adaptability and performance of rice varieties containing beneficial amount of beta-carotene, the country will conduct field trials on these varieties come dry season next year.

Atty. Ronilo A. Beronio, PhilRice executive director, said the country’s progress in pro-vitamin A rice research will help reduce incidences on vitamin A deficiency. Statistics from Food and Nutrition Research Institute revealed that around four of 10 children aged six months to five years old and three of 10 school children suffer from the deficiency. One of five pregnant and lactating Filipino women also lack vitamin A.

Using conventional method in breeding, plant breeders had introduced the gene for beta-carotene production into a local popular cultivar from a donor variety. To be transferred to farmers by 2013, the beta-carotene-laden rice can be grown organically and will be sold in a price comparable with the regular polished rice.

“The first approval of this type of rice will likely be given to our country as plant breeders have successfully crossed the donor plant with PSB Rc82. PhilRice will test the variety’s adaptability and performance after signing a material transfer agreement,” Beronio said after attending the recent 15th board meeting of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board held in Singapore.

With the introgression of the beta-carotene gene to PSB Rc82, Beronio said deficiency in Vitamin A is expected to decrease as a study published in the June 2009 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that a cup of beta-carotene rice could supply half of the vitamin A needed every day. When consumed by the body, beta-carotene produces vitamin A.

Vitamin A deficiency results in poor eyesight and night blindness. The deficiency also damages the immune system increasing risk to common bacterial and viral infections and rate of mortality especially among children.

Beronio, who experienced night blindness while growing up in a fishing village in Palawan , said the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board is confident of the Philippines ’ capability to develop beta-carotene-rich rice owing to the country’s well-established regulatory frameworks on safety evaluation.

“The country’s National Committee on Biosafety under the Department of Science and Technology provides regulatory oversight on contained research, while the Bureau of Plant Industry strictly monitors field trials. We also have Administrative Order No. 8, Series of 2002 stipulating the rules and regulations on the importation and releases of plant and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology,” Beronio explained.

Other than the scheduled field testing of pro-vitamin A rice, PhilRice is currently increasing the rice’s resistance to bacterial leaf blight and tungro. Dr. Antonio A. Alfonsio, acting director of the Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology Center, leads the project.

Meanwhile, two acceptability studies conducted by PhilRice and Internationnal Research Institute in 2004-2005 and Strive Foundation in 2005-2006 revealed that 69 percent of the respondents accept biofortified rice produced through biotechnology while 58 percent of farmers and rural consumers are willing to plant, buy, and sell rice similar to the varieties to be tested by PhilRice.