In February, two major stories about Golden Rice appeared in The Guardian and Project Syndicate, sparking a number of other articles. They describe the long history of Golden Rice development and note its important potential contribution to addressing vitamin A deficiency.
While we join others in hoping that Golden Rice will soon be found to be safe and efficacious so that it can be put to use to help some of the most vulnerable people suffering from vitamin A deficiency, we want to clear up two potential misunderstandings.
First, we’ve seen statements that “In a few months, golden rice… will be given to farmers in the Philippines for planting in the paddy fields,” and “Finally, ‘golden rice’ with vitamin A will be grown in the Philippines.” A few headlines indicate that Golden Rice is approved in the Philippines.
In fact, Golden Rice will not be available for planting by farmers in the Philippines or any other country in the next few months, or even this year.
The Philippine Rice Research Institute, in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute and other partners, have recently finished two seasons of field trials in the Philippines, but this doesn’t mean that Golden Rice is now ready for planting by farmers. Data from these trials must next be submitted to Philippine government regulators for their evaluation as part of the biosafety approval process.
Secondly, the lead for the one story describes Golden Rice as “a new strain that boosts vitamin A levels and reduces blindness in developing countries.”
It’s true that human nutrition research indicates that the beta carotene in Golden Rice is readily converted to vitamin A in the body, providing encouraging evidence that eating Golden Rice could help reduce vitamin A deficiency.
However, it has not yet been determined whether daily consumption of Golden Rice does improve the vitamin A status of people who are vitamin A deficient and could therefore reduce related conditions such as night blindness. If Golden Rice is approved by national regulators, Helen Keller International and university partners will conduct a controlled community study to ascertain if eating Golden Rice every day improves vitamin A status.
In short, Golden Rice will only be made available broadly to farmers and consumers in the Philippines if it is approved by national regulators and shown to reduce vitamin A deficiency in community conditions. This process may take another two years or more.
In the meantime, we’re grateful for all the interest and support!
Links to recent stories about Golden Rice:
“After 30 years, is a GM food breakthrough finally here?” by Robin McKie, The Guardian
"A Golden Rice Opportunity,” by Bjørn Lomborg, Project Syndicate