In December 2017, the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) issued a directive allowing the commercial sale of food derived from genetically modified (GM) rice line known as GR2E. FSANZ said food derived from GR2E is considered to be safe for human consumption. It also requires manufacturers to label their products as “genetically modified,” in line with Australia and New Zealand’s guidelines on food labeling and to give consumers an informed choice. Read more
Beta carotene-rich grain key to fight vitamin-A deficiency
Dhaka, Feb 5 (UNB) – Bangladeshi rice scientists have advanced a beta carotene-rich rice to a varietal release stage, heralding a new era in fight against vitamin-A deficiency (VAD). Read more
DEALING with controversies can be stressful and migraine inducing. Still, I welcome heated discussions over certain topics if only because it will give light and popularize what was once obscure but nonetheless important issues. Take for instance the recent decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to revoke the incorporation papers of online media site Rappler. Overnight, my social-media feeds are filled by posts of corporate law experts talking about Philippine Depositary Receipts and media ownership. Each posts will generate responses—and not just from lawyers or law students—either criticizing, defending or clarifying the SEC’s decision. Read more
Actually, I want more than just having Golden Rice — I want it to be widely available to people who eat rice as a staple food. And I want to see the results of that consumption in the decrease in the number of children worldwide who go blind because of vitamin A deficiency.
While the country takes baby steps towards the development of genetically modified food (GMO) products, there’s one company that isn’t happy about it and another group even fears it could only be a temporary solution to the country’s problems in terms of food security.
Genetically modified food is as safe as traditionally-cultivated and organic food and has additional nutrients to supplement the needs of common Filipino families, according to scientists.
Agriculture could be defined as the manipulation of plant and animal DNA to suit the needs of humans. We have been changing the DNA of our food for 10,000 years. For most of agricultural history, we’ve had no idea what DNA changes occurred in our food. The discovery of recombinant DNA technologies in the 1970s began to change that. For the past 20 years we have been using genetic engineering (GE) to engineer precise DNA changes in our food.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) will construct a P302-million biotechnology center in Nueva Ecija, which will allow the government to improve crop productivity and create new crop varieties.
Farmer-leaders and members of the Asian Farmers Regional Network Philippines (ASFARNET) from all over the country learned about the products, science, safety, and potential benefits of biotechnology as well as strategies and skills for biotech communication during the Trainer’s Training-Workshop Series 2017: Agri-biotechnology Capacity Building for ASFARNET-Philippines on September 21-22, 2017 at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), Muñoz, Nueva Ecija.
LAWMAKERS should be open-minded about the biotechnological developments being conducted in the country so as not to impede progress of projects, such as Golden Rice, that seek to curb poverty and improve the lives of Filipinos.
PRESS RELEASE, 19 May 2017: Biotech/GM corn production in the Philippines rebounds in 2016 as the country remains to be the top grower of biotech or genetically modified (GM) crops in Southeast Asia, and ranks as the twelfth biggest producer of such crops in the world, according to the latest report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).
ISAAA states that in 2016, 185.1 million hectares of biotech/GM crops were planted in 26 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North and Latin America. Of this area, 812,000 hectares of biotech/GM corn was planted in the Philippines in 2016, a remarkable 16% increase from the 702,000 hectares planted in 2015 which is equivalent to 110,000 hectares. The increase is due to favorable weather conditions, and high local demand for livestock and feed stocks. Biotech/GM corn, which was approved for commercial planting in 2002 is the only biotech crop planted in the country today.
Adoption rates of biotech/GM corn also increased from 63% in 2015 to 65% in 2016, when the number of small, resource-poor farmers, growing on average, 2 hectares of biotech/GM corn in the Philippines was estimated to be over 406,000. According to the report, the farm level economic benefit of planting biotech/GM corn in the country from 2003 to 2015 is estimated to have reached US$642 million, and for 2015 alone, the net national impact of biotech/GM crop on farm income was estimated at US$82 million.
ISAAA’s 2016 report which was launched on May 4, 2017 in Beijing, China also states that there are only 13 biotech/GM corn events approved for cultivation in the Philippines, with the last approval given in 2014. There have been 88 biotech crop event approvals for food, feed, and processing cultivation in the Philippines, including: alfalfa (2 events), rapeseed (2), cotton (8), corn (52), potato (8), rice (1), soybean (14), and sugar beet (1).
Current research and development efforts on biotech/GM crops in the Philippines include products from the public sector: fruit and shoot borer resistant Bt eggplant led by the Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (IPB-UPLB); biotech papaya with delayed ripening and papaya ring spot virus (PRSV) resistance, also being developed by IPB-UPLB; Bt cotton being developed by the Philippine Fiber Development Administration (PFIDA, formerly the Cotton Development Authority); and Golden Rice (GR), a biotech rice biofortified with provitamin A beta-carotene that is being developed by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
The Philippines continues to be at the forefront of biotech research and commercialization in Southeast Asia, and the acceptance of biotech/GM crops in the country has been demonstrated by key stakeholders including the general public, such that a Joint Department Circular (JDC) was quickly put together in record time of three months in 2016 after the Supreme Court nullified and invalidated the Department of Agriculture Administrative Order 8 (DA AO8) which served as the government policy for biotech/GM crops for more than 20 years. Future commercialization of Bt eggplant, PRSV-R papaya, Bt cotton, and Golden Rice will be regulated under the new JDC.
Despite a temporary decline in biotech/GM corn area in 2015, the Philippines has quickly rebounded production in 2016, when adoption rates for the crop increased due to the enormous benefits enjoyed by Filipino consumers, farmers and their families.
More than 18 million small farmers and their families have benefited from biotech crops in the last 21 years. ISAAA reports that the adoption of biotech crops has reduced CO2 emissions equivalent to removing approximately 12 million cars from the road annually in recent years. Biotech crops have helped conserve biodiversity by saving 174 million hectares of land from being ploughed and cultivated, and decreased the environmental impact of agriculture by reducing herbicide and insecticide applications and environmental impact by 19% in 1996-2015, and 18.4% in 2015 alone. Additionally, in developing countries, planting biotech crops has helped alleviate hunger and poverty by increasing the incomes for 18 million small farmers and their families, bringing improved financial stability to more than 65 million people.
Field trial shows high promise, people may get it by 2018
The first field trial of the Golden Rice in Bangladesh has yielded promising results, triggering prospect of the vitamin A-rich grain’s release as early as 2018.
Two months after harvesting the Bangladeshi version of Golden Rice line, GR2E BRRI dhan29, scientists at Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) found that rice grains retained 10 μg/g (micrograms/gram) beta carotene which is good enough to address vitamin-A deficiency (VAD).
Beta carotene, also known as pro-vitamin A, is a substance that the human body can convert to vitamin A.
With this development, a long wait is nearly over for rice breeders who have been trying since 1999 for a varietal development and release of Golden Rice, long being touted by the scientist fraternity as a key remedy to acute VAD problem.
According to the World Health Organization’s global VAD database, one in every five pre-school children in Bangladesh is vitamin A-deficient. Among the pregnant women, 23.7 percent suffer from VAD.
BRRI scientists analysed the post-harvest data collected from the first field test conducted on GR2E BRRI dhan29 during the last Boro season (November 2015 – May 2016) and drew the conclusion just recently that the results are positive.
“Two months after harvest, we’ve found an average of over 10 μg/g beta carotene in GR2E BRRI dhan29. The amount is good enough to meet 50 percent of vitamin-A needs of people consuming rice in their daily diet,” Dr Partha S Biswas, project leader of Golden Rice Project at BRRI, told The Daily Star.
The BRRI carried out the field trial on the campus of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) in Gazipur to keep Golden Rice segregated from other rice varieties grown in BRRI fields.
Provided the BRRI gets the necessary regulatory approval, the organisation would go for multi-location field trials of GR2E BRRI dhan29 in Boro seasons in next two years to set off the process of its commercial release, said Partha.
None of the major diseases like blast, sheath blight, bacterial blight and tungro was observed in the transgenic GR2E BRRI dhan29 and the yield was as good as that of the BRRI dhan29 (check variety) with good expression of beta carotene, according to a paper titled “Recent Advances in Breeding Golden Rice in Bangladesh”.
The paper coauthored by Dr Partha, and the IRRI’s Golden Rice Project Coordinator Dr Violeta Villegas, and Regulatory Affairs head Dr Donald J Mackenzie, was presented at the 4th Annual South Asia Biosafety Conference in Hyderabad, India in late September.
The Philippines is the only other country that is carrying out a multi-location field trial now on their homegrown Golden Rice line while the process of Golden Rice research remained at laboratory and greenhouse stages in Indonesia, India and Vietnam.
Although Bangladeshi rice scientists have been at the forefront of Golden Rice research since the development of this transgenic rice by Swiss and German scientists in 1999, the process gathered momentum only when then IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) plant biotechnologist, Dr Swapan K Datta, infused the genes responsible for beta carotene into BRRI dhan29 in 2002-03.
The genetic engineering technology to derive vitamin A in rice was first applied by Prof Ingo Potrykus of Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and Prof Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg, Germany back in 1999. All renowned journals and news magazines, including the Nature, the Science and the Time, covered the breakthrough in 2000.
The first generation Golden Rice (known as GR1) was developed through infusing genes from daffodil, but later the second generation variety (known as GR2) was developed by taking a maize from corn as it gave much better output of pro-vitamin A.
Some six lines of GR2 (scientifically called “events”) were developed and the IRRI chose to work on one called GR2R, which it developed and subsequently infused in Filipino and Bangladeshi rice varieties.
After years of lab and greenhouse tests on GR2R, the Philippines and Bangladesh eventually stopped upon an IRRI advice that Event GR2E would work better.
Golden Rice co-inventor Prof Peter Beyer told this newspaper that there were some problems with the Event GR2R. He said the new Event should work well.
Swapan K Datta, ex-IRRI scientist who infused beta carotene-producing genes into Bangladesh’s best performing rice variety, BRRI dhan29, said he was looking forward to see Golden Rice goes to farmers’ fields.
The BRRI dhan29, developed by BRRI in 1994, is the most productive dry season rice variety of Bangladesh that has gone beyond national boundaries to be grown in many other countries including India, China, Vietnam, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar.
Rice does not contain beta carotene. Therefore, dependence on rice as the predominant food source necessarily leads to vitamin-A deficiency, most severely affecting small children and pregnant women.
Consumption of only 150 gram of Golden Rice a day is expected to supply half of the recommended daily intake (RDA) of vitamin A for an adult. People in Bangladesh depend on rice for 70 percent of their daily calorie intakes.
The IRRI says VAD is the main cause of preventable blindness in children and globally, some 6.7 million children die every year and another 3,50,000 go blind because they are vitamin-A deficient.
In April 2011, Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sanctioned a grant of over $10 million to IRRI to fund, develop and evaluate Golden Rice varieties for Bangladesh and the Philippines.
Officials concerned at IRRI and Gates Foundation said as the Golden Rice inventors and subsequent technology developer Syngenta allowed a royalty-free access to the patents, the new rice would be of the same price as other rice varieties once released for commercial farming in Bangladesh, and farmers would be able to share and replant the seeds as they wish.
GENETICALLY modified organisms (GMOs) have been controversial, with a number of people around the world saying they have negative impacts to the environment, can cause “genetic pollution” and are not good for human consumption.
Yet, as of June 30, more than 110 Nobel laureates and over 3,500 scientists all over the world have signed a letter addressing and urging Greenpeace International “to reexamine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology; recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies; and abandon their campaign against GMOs, in general, and Golden Rice, in particular.”
According to the World Food Program (WFP), about one out of nine people in the world do not have enough food to live a healthy life. This amounts to 795 million people in the world who are hungry, most of who come from developing countries, where 12.9 percent of the total population lack food to eat.
Furthermore, vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is a public-health problem. A World Health Organization (WHO) data say an estimated 250 million preschool children suffer from VAD together with pregnant women, with 5 percent of this number leads to death every year for children within 12 months of losing their sight.
In the case of the Philippines, it has the highest poverty incidence among its Association of Southeast Asian Nations peers. With a national poverty of 25.8 percent, according to World Bank data, the Philippines has a lot of work to do to alleviate poverty and address issues of public health, such as VAD.
This is where GMO, such as the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, Bt talong (eggplant) and Golden Rice, enters as a solution to relieve and, eventually, end the battle against VAD and hunger; and give the farmers a chance to provide food while farming sustainably and efficiently without the threat of having shortage or attacks of insects that kill their crops, GMO experts and advocates say.
“The real debate is safety,” said Benigno Peczon, chairman of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines Inc. in an interview with the BusinessMirror. “We already have overwhelming evidence for 20 years’ use that they are safe,” he emphasized.
In his presentation at the forum on GM Crops: Public Perception and Trade Regulation Practices held at the University of the Philippines Law Center in Quezon City, Peczon discussed how the applications of modern biotechnology in the agriculture area has benefited farmers.
Bt corn has been planted in the Philippines for more than 14 years now, or since 2002, in more than 800,000 hectares by farmers.
“In traditional plant breeding, related plants are interbred until the desired trait emerges,” Peczon said, noting that it costs time and effort to do this kind of technique, where they shuffle and crossbreed recurrent parent plant with desirable characteristics, such as high yield and adaptation.
For Peczon, one of the main objectives in agriculture is to ensure that only the desired plant grows. He added, “as far as the farmers are concerned, anything that competes with the crop of choice is undesirable, getting rid of weeds is not easy and can be costly.”
Bt corn in the Philippines
Leonardo Gonzales, founding president and chairman of Sikpa/Strive Inc., said at the same forum in his lecture, entitled “Socioeconomic Impact Assessment: The Bt Corn Experience,” Bt is “a naturally occurring soil-borne bacterium where it produces crystal like proteins that selectively kill specific groups of insects.”
The Bt corn is a GMO which, through genetic engineering, the Bt gene was incorporated in the corn plant’s DNA to enhance its resistance against insect attacks, such as the Asiatic corn borer. This method helped many farmers produce corn resistant to insects and saved them money from using pesticides.
“Bt corn required 54-percent less pesticides than ordinary hybrid [OH] corn in order to produce the same amount of corn grain from 2003 to 2011,”Gonzales said.
For Gonzales, Bt corn has had other empirical findings. One of which is on fertilizer use.
He said, “Bt corn adopters, on the average, were 9-percent more efficient in the use of fertilizer than ordinary hybrid corn-seed users.” This, after more than 10 years of planting the GMO plant, has indicated positive environmental impacts among corn producers.
Another finding, according to Gonzales, was that the average yield advantage of Bt corn over OH corn, was 19 percent and a cost advantage of 10 percent compared to OH corn, with a 42 percent higher return on investment from 2003 to 2011.
Last, Bt corn consistently outperformed OH corn by 29 percent in meeting food and poverty thresholds in the same timeframe.
“Technological innovations, like the GM products, are sustainable if they provide socioeconomic impacts to society. They are either compliant with the basic requirements of the natural resources, and if it does not comply with that, it will die a natural death,” Gonzales said.
He added, “We believe in the hypothesis that in the long term, the role of new technology is to lower your cost so that you will become efficient in the production of that commodity.” To be concluded
-Written by Stephanie Tumampos, BusinessMirror. See article link here.
In 2016, the area planted to biotech maize in the Philippines increased to 812,000 hectares from 702,000 hectares in 2015 due to favorable weather conditions in the country.
I grew up in a Philadelphia neighborhood heavily influenced by the Mafia. My best friend sold football pools for the mob family of “The Gentle Don,” Angelo Bruno, and my walk to high school took me past his house, where there were often federal agents parked outside, noting who came and went. (The Don went to his final reward not so gently, after a shotgun blast to the head outside that house in 1980.)
The humanizing effects of “The Godfather” and “The Sopranos” sagas notwithstanding, I have no illusions about the mob. They were cruel, perverted and anti-social. As an adult, I have encountered an organization that is even more misanthropic: Greenpeace. Finally, it’s being called out in the courts–appropriately, under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law.
Greenpeace is the defendant in a RICO civil case brought by a Canadian lumber company, Resolute Forest Products. In its filing, Resolute documents that Greenpeace “has published staged photos and video falsely purporting to show Resolute logging in prohibited areas and others purporting to show forest areas impacted by Resolute harvesting when the areas depicted were actually impacted by fire or other natural causes.”
That’s par for the course for Greenpeace, which Hank Campbell of the American Council on Science and Health described as being “made up of Internet hackers and eco-terrorists using fear-mongering to get uneducated people to do their dirty work for them.”
From its early days of dodging harpoons and Japanese whalers in outboard motor boats, Greenpeace has parlayed media savvy, flagrant dishonesty and an aptitude for political theater into a $360 million-plus per year empire with offices in more than 40 countries.
But what few members of the public know is that Greenpeace isn’t just about saving whales and opposing logging and oil and gas exploration. For more than a decade, its PR machine has spearheaded an effort to deny millions of children in the poorest nations the essential nutrients they need to stave off blindness and death.
Greenpeace’s targets are new plant varieties collectively called Golden Rice. Rice is a food staple for hundreds of millions, especially in Asia. Although it is an excellent source of calories, it lacks certain micronutrients necessary for a complete diet. In the 1980s and 1990s, German scientists Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer developed the “Golden Rice” varieties that are biofortified, or enriched, by genes that produce beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A.
Vitamin A deficiency is epidemic among poor people whose diet is composed largely of rice, a carbohydrate-rich but vitamin-poor source of calories which contains no beta-carotene or vitamin A. In developing countries, 200 million-300 million children of preschool age are at risk of vitamin A deficiency, which increases their susceptibility to illnesses including measles and diarrheal diseases. Every year, about half a million children become blind as a result of vitamin A deficiency and 70% of those die within a year.
Golden Rice could thus make contributions to human health on a par with Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine. Instead, anti-technology groups such as Greenpeace have given already risk-averse regulators the political cover to delay approvals.
In a letter unveiled at a press conference on June 30, more than 100 Nobel Laureates from diverse disciplines voiced their support for genetic engineering in agriculture and called on NGOs, the United Nations and governments around the world to join them. The Laureates–in fields including Medicine, Economics, Physics, Chemistry, Literature and Peace–all signed an open letter asking Greenpeace and others who have been blocking progress and access to beneficial plant biotechnology products, like Golden Rice, to abandon their campaigns against genetic engineering in agriculture.
Genetically modified food has been a bête noire of left-wing, anti-technology activists for years, perhaps because it combines the “evils” of being somehow “unnatural” and often coming from corporate research labs. Greenpeace hasn’t been swayed by the scientific consensus about the safety of genetically engineered crops—a consensus that is the result of hundreds of risk-assessment experiments and vast real-world experience. In the United States alone, more than 90% of all corn, soybeans and sugar beets grown is genetically engineered, and in 20 years of consumption around the world not a single health or environmental problem has been documented.
Greenpeace has variously alleged that the levels of beta-carotene in Golden Rice are too low to be effective or so high that they would be toxic. But feeding trials have shown the rice to be highly effective in preventing vitamin A deficiency, and toxicity is virtually impossible. (There’s an internal feedback loop in humans that stops beta-carotene from being converted to vitamin A if levels become too high.)
So with no science to support its antagonism, the organization has been forced to adopt a new strategy: try to scare off the developing nations that are considering adoption of the lifesaving products. Greenpeace has gone so far as to concoct tales of genetically-engineered crops causing homosexuality, impotence and baldness, and of increasing the spread of HIV/AIDS.
The safety of Golden Rice was never in question. That had previously been established. The 2008 study demonstrated that the new varieties of Golden Rice did indeed deliver sufficient vitamin A and were superior to spinach for that purpose. As to the ethics of the study, the journal article states clearly: “Both parents and pupils [subjects] consented to participate in the study.”
The Greenpeace press release nonetheless produced a furor in China. Chinese news agencies inaccurately reported that the researchers had conducted dangerous, unauthorized experiments on poor children, and within days Chinese police had interrogated the researchers and coerced statements disavowing the research.
The manufactured “scandal” turned into a debacle. The journal that had published the article retracted it–on “ethical,“ not scientific grounds–and the principal investigator, a professor at Tufts University, was sanctioned. In the end, Greenpeace succeeded in significantly delaying, if not actually eliminating, further development of Golden Rice in China.
Greenpeace has since taken its scare-mongering about Golden Rice on the road to other nations, especially the Philippines.
It is unclear why Greenpeace—which has also raised money and its profile by bragging about sabotaging efforts to test insect-resistant crops that need less chemical pesticide—persists in some of its mendacious, anti-social campaigns. What is clear is that none is likely to be more harmful to the world’s children than its assault on Golden Rice.