• Rice agency pursuing corporate goals vs. hunger

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    The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) is continuing the development of a beta carotene-rich rice, and undertaking research to increase the shelf life of brown rice, or pinawa, as it actively pursues its second corporate strategic goal, which is to help reduce incidence of malnutrition in the country.

    Dr. Marissa Romero, PhilRice food scientist, said that the beta carotene-rich rice being developed and brown rice have the potential to reach many people, especially the poor in far-flung areas who do not have reliable access to or cannot afford other sources of essential vitamins.

    While rice is a rich source of carbohydrates and contains good amounts of protein, it has very low amounts of micronutrients, Romero said. Also, Vitamin A deficiency remains a public health problem in the Philippines. A study conducted by the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute has shown that at least 15.2 percent, or 1.7 million children in the Philippines aged 6 months to 5 years, and 15.9 percent, or 500,000 pregnant and lactating mothers are vitamin A deficient.

    Brown rice, produced from removing only the outer hull layer of the rice grain and leaving the bran intact, has been shown to be more nutritious and healthier than white rice due to higher amounts of fiber, B vitamins, minerals (especially iron) and antioxidants in the bran. As a rich source of various macro- and micro-nutrients, Romero said that brown rice, locally known as pinawa, could help reduce the incidence of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes as shown by some clinical studies.

    The only constraint to increasing brown rice consumption, however, is its short shelf life. Brown rice can turn rancid in a few months.

    To address this, PhilRice is currently undertaking research to increase the shelf life of brown rice, which could lead to an increase in its consumption by more Filipinos.

    While the research in ongoing, PhilRice is campaigning for increased brown rice consumption.

    On the other hand, Golden Rice is being developed by PhilRice, the International Rice Research Institute and partners as a tool to help children and pregnant and lactating mothers who are vulnerable to blindness, infection and death due to a lack of vitamin A in the diet. Golden Rice contains beta carotene, which is converted into vitamin A as needed by the body.

    The beta carotene-rich rice is not yet available for consumers pending regulatory review and other studies.

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