Govt policies urged for biotech crops

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The Philippines needs to create policies that would ensure the availability to the poor of genetically modified (GM) crops like Vitamin A rich rice to solve the worsening hunger problem both locally and globally, a US-based biotech expert said.

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Dr. Wayne Parrott of the University of Georgia-Institute of Plant Breeding Genetics and Genomics said that GM technology could raise food production and nutrient level in crops, making it possible to meet the world’s increasing food demand.

Based on studies by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food production needs to be raised by 70 percent to 100 percent in the next 30 years as world populations is seen rising from seven billion this year to nine billion by 2050.

He said that the Philippines—which hosts field trials of the Vitamin A-enhanced Golden Rice the International Rice Research Institute based in Los Baños, Laguna, and the state-run Philippine Rice Research Institute—is liable to the poor of the world in helping solve hunger and malnutrition problems.

Besides golden rice, the country is also host to the field trial of the GM Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant by the state-run Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines-Los Baños.

Rice is the most consumed food in the world. The nutrient content in rice determines whether hunger and malnutrition are reduced as it is a staple of around 50 percent of global population, particularly developing countries in Asia.

Eggplant is the most consumed vegetable in Asia including developing countries like the Philippines, Bangladesh and India.

Last week, Parrott visited the Philippines in the aftermath of the uprooting of Golden Rice plants under field trial in Camarines Sur.

While GM crops are a positive development, he said that the government has to make decisions that will determine whether this increase in food production will happen.

“We have the technology to meet the need of the future. What we don’t have yet is the will power, the regulatory system to allow use of the technology that we need,” Parrott said.

“The recent destruction [of Golden Rice plants]that took place in the Philippines attracted global attention. The global spotlight is now on the Philippines because Golden Rice gets more positive press in the world,” said Parrott.

The National Institutes of Health in Maryland reported that Golden Rice contains up to 35 micrograms of betacarotene and is “effectively converted to Vitamin A in humans.”

Golden Rice is enough to eliminate symptoms of Vitamin A deficiency just by a regular intake of 50 grams a day. Its bioavailability or its conversion into Vitamin A in the human body has been tested favorable on target Vitamin A-deficient patients.

“If it’s approved, the Helen Keller Foundation for the blind will do monitoring of Golden Rice [efficacy],” Parrott said.

“There are 500,000 cases of irreversible blindness each year. It doesn’t stop there. If you’re Vitamin A deficient, you’re predisposed to other diseases. There are two million deaths from complications due to Vitamin A deficiency. And we can do something about it,” he said.

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