We must keep an eye on the nutrition of future generations
It is estimated that 20% of children in Bangladesh suffer from vitamin A deficiency (VAD). As per a recent estimation, 88 children in Bangladesh are getting blind each day due to VAD.
Bio-fortification of rice with vitamin A could be an easy and effective way to cope with the vitamin A deficiency in Bangladesh. Syngenta, a Swiss-based global company, has played a pivotal role to develop Golden Rice in its existing form.
Despite being a corporate body, Syngenta offered royalty-free access of its product Golden Rice for the International Rice Research Insititute (IRRI) and its partners so that they could have more research to develop varieties of their own to lessen VAD in rice growing countries.
Thus, Golden Rice has set out its journey from lab to the field, with scientists working with research institutes of certain countries like India, Vietnam, and Bangladesh among others, under the care of a humanitarian board comprising of experts from different prestigious institutes of the world.
Golden Rice has its pro-vitamin A pathway genes from sources other than rice, making it a genetically modified (GM) crop, a controversial topic to many across the world. Therefore, demonstrating safety of these rice varieties is a key issue for scientists.
BRRI (Bangladesh Rice Research Institute) and IRRI are committed to carry out the completion of the Golden Rice project, and satisfy all regulatory requirements to have well-documented, science-based evidence on the safety of Golden Rice. Like all products of modern biotechnology, Golden Rice is undergoing rigorous research and assessment to ensure it is safe before it reaches the consumers.
Ultimately, the scientists agreed that the proteins from the new GM genes in golden rice do not cause any toxic effects, and pro-vitamin A is identical to those of other sources. Golden Rice has also passed the assessments of three other national regulatory agencies.
Product safety testing has been completed and regulatory applications are getting a good head start globally, and in Bangladesh, we are optimistic that the results of applications will soon be announced. Additional testing is being planned for Golden Rice, including the evaluation of consumer quality traits and bio-efficacy studies to determine the effect of Golden Rice consumption on various measures of vitamin A status.
Golden Rice will only be made available to farmers and consumers as a complementary solution to address VAD after passing all required tests, and securing all necessary approvals from regulators.
The research and development of Golden Rice must continue toward deployment, for it makes a significant impact on improving public health.
IRRI and its partners recognize the importance of regulatory oversight in the development and deployment of these new and improved bio-fortified GM rice varieties, to enable both farmers and consumers to make informed choices that respond to their most pressing food and nutrition security concerns.
Shahreen Haq is Senior Specialist, Communications and Stakeholders Engagement, IRRI.
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