SEARCA pushes for favourable biotechnology regulations amid calls for Golden Rice permit revocation

Pro Vitamin A-rich Golden Rice. Image credit: International Rice Research Institute

December 30, 2019

ASEAN’s farm research center SEARCA is boosting support for  favourable agri-biotechnology regulatory policies amid local calls for the revocation of the commercial permit of pro-Vitamin A-rich Golden Rice.

   Believing agri-biotechnology will be key to food security and upliftment of farmers’ lives,   the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture said it has

 partnered with three expert groups for this program to boost expert knowledge in regulations on Living Modified Organisms (LMOs).   LMOs include farm products more known to be the controversial GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

   This is through the opening of the program “Second Asian Course on Agribiotechnology.”

   Despite safety questions on these biotechnology products, SEARCA deems it important to harness the fully potential of agri-biotechnology through “effective communication and science-based regulatory frameworks.”

   SEARCA Director and National Academician Glenn B. Gregorio, highlighted SEARCA’s important role in advancing science-based innovations to address poverty and food security.

   “We stand behind products of agribiotechnology that increase agricultural productivity to feed a growing population in the midst of dwindling natural resources and erratic changes in climate,” Gregorio said. 

   “Due attention must be given to our resource-poor farmers by providing them access to information, best practices, and new technologies that gives them a fighting chance to cope with the many challenges they face and to open up better opportunities for them and their families so that they can have better quality lives,” said Gregorio. 

   According to Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan, ISAAA Global Coordinator, “we organized this training program to bring our Asian stakeholders updated information and hands-on experience on agribiotechnology, exercises on food/feed safety assessment, and tips on strategic communication, and risk management and communication.” 

   This year’s Asian Short Course on Agribiotechnology gathers 25 participants from both public and private sectors of eight countries. These are China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.  

   SEARCA’s partnership is with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA), Malaysian Biotechnology Information Center, and Monash University.    

   The program focuses on Agribiotechnology, Biotechnology Regulation, and Communication. 

   While government has just approved permit for use for food, feed, and processing of Golden Rice, Greenpeace  has reportedly filed a petition for the permit’s revocation.

   Golden Rice has been questioned by interest groups due to the technology that inserted a gene into the grain that enables the staple to produce increased Vitamin A, helping reduce massive Vitamin A-deficiency (VAD).

    It is targeted at preventing blindness that develops in around 500,000 people, mainly children, yearly, reported the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board (GRHB)

   “Nearly nine million children die of malnutrion every year. Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) severely affects their immune system, hence it is involved in many of these children’s deaths in the guise of multiple diseases. Malaria deaths in children under five years of age has been linked with deficiencies in the intake of protein, vitamin A and zinc,” said the board.

   The rice technology will have huge economic impact for poor farmers as they no longer have to invest more into the seed.  The technology is being offered for free by humanitarian groups that helped its development. 

   Developers include Sygenta, the Philippine Rice Research Institute and International Rice Research Institute, among others.

   “The technology is built into each and every harvested seed, and does not require any additional investment. Let’s consider the potential of a single Golden Rice seed: a single plant will produce in the order of 1,000 seeds; within four generations or less than two years, that one plant will have generated seeds (amounting to more than 10to the twelfth power)”.

   “This represents up to 28-thousand metric tons of rice, which would be already sufficient to feed 100-thousand poor people for one year,” said the GRHB. Melody Mendoza Aguiba

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