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Golden Rice FAQs

Here are answers to common questions about Golden Rice. For more information, please send an email to info@irri.org.

General Questions

What is Golden Rice?

Golden Rice is a new type of rice that contains beta carotene (provitamin A, a plant pigment that the body converts into vitamin A as needed). This compound is what gives this grain its yellow-orange or golden color, hence its name.

Golden Rice is developed through genetic engineering. While ordinary rice does produce beta carotene, it is not found in the grain. Thus, scientists used genetic engineering to add the compound to the grain - a minor tweak that improved the grain’s nutritive value. The beta carotene in Golden Rice, which was made possible by the addition of two new enzymes, is identical to the beta-carotene found in green leafy and yellow-colored vegetables, orange-colored fruit, and even in many vitamin supplements and food ingredients.

Like ordinary rice, Golden Rice does not require any special cultivation practices, and generally has the same yield and agronomic performance.

While vitamin A can be obtained from food products and supplements, challenges regarding their availability, accessibility, and affordability make it difficult to address the problem of vitamin A deficiency (VAD). As rice is a staple food in many vitamin A-deficient communities in Asia, Golden Rice can be a significant help in improving these areas’ vitamin A status once the grain becomes available for public consumption.

How is Golden Rice better than regular rice?

Golden Rice is an enhanced version of ordinary rice designed to handle a specific nutrition issue, without any additional cost or difference in taste.

While Golden Rice is expected to cost and taste the same as regular rice, its beta carotene content makes it a valuable asset in the battle against VAD. Vitamin A is an essential micronutrient for growth, development, and keeping the body’s visual and immune systems healthy. VAD weakens the body’s resistance to diseases and infections, causes blindness, and may even result in death if left untreated.

For countries like Bangladesh and the Philippines where rice is a staple of nearly every meal, beta carotene-enriched Golden Rice can supply up to 30-50 percent of the estimated average vitamin A requirement, particularly for sectors that are most vulnerable to VAD: preschool age children and pregnant or lactating mothers. 

Is vitamin A deficiency that big of a problem?

Yes, VAD remains a major public health problem across the world, with women and children being the most vulnerable to it.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), VAD afflicts 250 million people worldwide, most of which are preschool children (190 million) and pregnant women (19 million).

VAD is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children, and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. Each year, up to 500,000 children go blind as a result of VAD. Half of them die within 12 months of losing their sight.

In the Philippines, VAD incidence continues to be asignificant public health issue affecting almost 17%, or 2 million children under the age of 5. This is based on the 2018 Expanded National Nutrition Survey of the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute.

Meanwhile in Bangladesh, the most recent nutrition data shows that 20% of under-5 children have VAD. This is from the 2011-2012 National Micronutrients Status Survey.

There are existing interventions in place against vitamin A deficiency. Is Golden Rice really necessary in this fight?

Yes. Current approaches (such as vitamin A supplementation, food fortification, diet diversification, and promotion of optimal breastfeeding), have made some successes in combating vitamin A deficiency. However, more work is necessary to address the needs of certain target populations, especially those in remote areas. Additionally, millions continue to suffer from VAD to this day.

Studies have shown that the addition of vitamin A (or some form of vitamin A) to the diets of children below the age of 5 could reduce all mortality by 24–30 percent. Meanwhile, vitamin A availability could prevent 1.3–2.5 million of the nearly 8 million late-infancy and preschool-age child deaths annually in developing countries with the highest risk.

With rice being a staple food in many vitamin A-deficient communities, Golden Rice presents a unique opportunity for meeting the nutritional needs of these populations. A simulated analysis study by De Moura et.al (2016) suggests that beta carotene rice (i.e. Golden Rice) could improve vitamin A intake and could reduce the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency among women and children.

It is clear that multiple approaches are required in fighting VAD. An additional tool in the toolbox such as Golden Rice—one that can be seamlessly integrated into the everyday lifestyles of even the poorest sectors of society—can be a concrete, sustainable solution to ensure proper nutrition.

Who developed Golden Rice?

Emeritus Professor Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Prof. Peter Beyer of University of Freiburg, Germany, started the research on Golden Rice in 1982 as a Rockefeller Foundation initiative.

In 1992, after years of research, various groups came together in New York and decided to pursue the project, successfully causing beta carotene to be present in rice grains in 1999 after using genetic engineering to add genes from daffodil and a common soil bacterium to rice.

The inventors of Golden Rice partnered with Syngenta and other scientists, producing an improved version—which was the result of adding a gene from maize and the same soil microorganism—with a level of beta carotene content twenty times higher than the first version. To help combat VAD, they donated this new version to developing countries (including the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Indonesia) through the Golden Rice Network in 2004.

When will Golden Rice be available to farmers and consumers?

As of now, Golden Rice is being prepared for deployment. It has achieved the target levels of beta carotene content, and has also been shown to produce equivalent yield to other varieties across multiple environments.

Product safety testing for Golden Rice has also been completed. This is in fulfilment of the requirements of various regulatory agencies worldwide. Golden Rice received positive food safety evaluations from Food Standards Australia New Zealand, Health Canada, and the United States Food and Drug Administration in 2018. In December 2019, Golden Rice passed a rigorous biosafety assessment in the Philippines, and was declared “as safe as conventional rice” by the country’s Department of Agriculture. As soon as the necessary approvals are in place, Golden Rice can be made available to the public.

I read about an alleged negative effect of Golden Rice that was not discussed in this FAQ. Can you clarify it for me?

Yes. This FAQ page answers the most common questions about Golden Rice, but the science and data on Golden Rice are open to the public, in order to ensure transparency. For more information, please send an email to info@irri.org, prri.mail@philrice.gov.ph (for questions specific to the Philippines), or dg@brri.gov.bd (for questions specific to Bangladesh).

For Consumers

What exactly is in Golden Rice? Does it contain new allergens or toxins?

The presence of beta carotene in GR2E Golden Rice is made possible via three newly expressed proteins (encoded information converted into proteins through genetic engineering). After fulfilling their functions, these proteins gradually diminish as the plants mature.

  • ZmPSY1 from maize, which makes the first step in adding beta carotene to rice possible;
  • CRTI from the Pantoea ananatis bacterium, which accelerates the creation of the precursor to beta carotene; and
  • PMI from the Escherichia coli bacterium, normally found in the intestinal flora of humans and animals, which plays a crucial role in completing the overall process.

Based on an extensive “weight-of-evidence” assessment, these three proteins:

  • Do not have any significant amino acid sequence similarity to proteins known to be toxic via oral exposure or to allergens (confirmed by bioinformatics studies);
  • Rapidly degrade in the presence of simulated gastric fluid containing pepsin (confirmed by digestibility studies); and
  • Demonstrate rapid inactivation at temperatures below those used for cooking or processing (confirmed by heat stability studies).

Additionally, oral toxicity testing of the CRTI and PMI proteins showed a lack of toxic effects, even at dosages thousands of times more than any realistically conceivable dietary exposure from consuming GR2E Golden Rice.

What this means is that the three proteins are highly unlikely to be toxic or produce allergic reactions in humans or animals. Furthermore, engineering GR2E Golden Rice does not alter the safety profile of conventional white rice, which is not considered a source of toxins or a common allergenic food.

How can you be sure that Golden Rice is safe to eat?

Aside from multiple tests confirming that the new proteins in Golden Rice are neither toxic nor allergenic, food safety-related studies have also shown that beta carotene in food is a safe source of vitamin A.

Golden Rice’s beta carotene content is the same as the kind found in other foods. Additionally, the body only converts beta carotene as needed; any excess is safely flushed out of the body.

Moreover, when taken as a whole, the data do not point to any potential health and safety concerns involving Golden Rice consumption. In fact, the data support the conclusion that Golden Rice is as safe as conventional rice types. Further proof of this is the fact that Golden Rice has passed the strict, meticulous safety assessment requirements of various regulating bodies worldwide.

Golden Rice is a genetically modified (GM) food. Are GM foods really safe to eat?

Yes. Golden Rice is safe to eat, just like other genetically engineered foods developed under strict regulation by experts.

Genetic engineering is simply a more precise method of breeding than conventional breeding. It makes it possible to accurately and effectively transfer a specific gene with a favorable trait (like additional nutrients or drought resistance in plant breeding) from one organism to another.

In the case of Golden Rice, it is impossible to use conventional breeding methods to achieve the desired level of beta carotene in the grain. Scientists know that rice plants do have the right mechanism for producing beta carotene; however, the pathway that makes it possible for beta carotene to be present in the grain itself is turned off. The two genes added via genetic engineering basically switch the pathway on.

Before any GM foods become available in the market, they must pass rigorous safety assessments and must not demonstrate a high likelihood of putting human health at risk. In the countries where GM foods have been approved, there have been no scientifically proven negative effects on human health due to consumption of GM foods. 

The May 2016 report of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, which was based on over 20 years’ worth of data across nearly 900 studies and publications on GMOs, attests that GM crops are safe.

Global health authorities (i.e. World Health Organization, American Medical Association, Royal Society of Medicine, etc.); scientific experts (i.e. American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Academies in many countries, International Council for Science, Pontifical Academy of Science, etc.); and government agencies (European Commission, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, US Food and Drug Administration, etc.) worldwide have also overwhelmingly endorsed the safety of GM foods. Moreover, in 2016, over 100 Nobel Prize winners signed a letter affirming the safety of Golden Rice and other GM foods, and rallying support for their adoption and distribution.

Will Golden Rice taste different from regular rice?

No, the beta carotene concentration present in Golden Rice is not expected to affect its taste. This will be confirmed before commercial release by sensory panels. Beta carotene is a nature-derived color additive; it affects the color, not the taste, of the foods it is added to. This is different from how colored rice dishes (such as paella and Java rice) don’t taste like regular white rice; that’s because of the ingredients used in preparing the dishes, and not the rice itself.

Will Golden Rice be more expensive than regular rice?

No, Golden Rice will not cost more than the white rice variety in which the trait will be introduced.

The cost of Golden Rice is expected to be similar or comparable to other rice varieties, because it is simply bred into rice varieties that farmers already plant, meaning it will not affect production cost. Furthermore, the inventors of the Golden Rice technology donated it for use in developing countries; there are no limitations (except export sale) on the use of Golden Rice harvest, which can be locally sold, or replanted by growers. As an inbred variety, farmers can save the Golden Rice seeds and use them again for the following planting season. As for vitamin A-deficient communities, a sustainable delivery program will be put into place for distributing Golden Rice after it gets all the necessary approvals.

Simply put, growers and consumers will not need to pay more for the extra nutrition—and those who need it the most will have easy access to it.

Have there been any unexpected changes in the nutrient content of Golden Rice?

None. Aside from the expected levels of beta-carotene and other provitamin A carotenoids in the grain, the composition of Golden Rice remains equivalent to conventional rice.

I read about a US FDA letter stating that the “concentration beta-carotene in GR2E rice is too low to warrant a nutrient content claim.” Does this mean that Golden Rice contains insufficient Vitamin A?

No. Consider the fact that Americans eat very little rice; on average, about 45g of dry rice per day. As Golden Rice is meant to be a complementary, food-based solution for communities whose staple food is rice (about 200 to 300g per day), it follows logic that American consumers would not benefit from Golden Rice as much as the average Filipino (who consumes 290g of rice daily) or Bangladeshi (where the average daily per capita consumption of rice is 367.19g).

For Farmers

Will I have to change the way I farm if I plant Golden Rice? If I do, will those changes harm the environment?

No. Golden Rice is not expected to require any changes in farm management or cultivation practices. Everything about local cultivation practices currently followed for conventional rice varieties, including the application of fertilizer, crop protection products, and labor, are directly applicable to the cultivation of Golden Rice.

Will I have to spend more on pest control if I plant Golden Rice? Will it result in stronger pests (because it’s more nutritious than regular rice)?

No. Golden Rice does not have any modified or introduced resistance to insect pests or diseases. As a result, it is not expected to drive the evolution of resistant pest populations or require any changes in pest control practices.

Will I have to deal with more pests or new crop disease problems if I plant Golden Rice?

No. Based on observations from the 2017 boro season in Bangladesh, Golden Rice did not emerge as a preferred host for pest insects, nor did it exhibit any altered disease susceptibility.

Occurrences of pest and beneficial insect species were also observed in the Philippines during confined Golden Rice field tests. Again, Golden Rice was not seen as a preferred host for pest insects, nor did it cause any harmful effects on the prevalence of beneficial species. 

Will planting Golden Rice have any harmful effects on other rice varieties through cross-pollination or out-crossing? And can it make weeds a bigger problem?

No, Golden Rice is not likely to impact organic agriculture through cross-pollination.

  • Cross-pollination in rice is rare if plants are separated by a short distance of a few feet or meters.
  • Cross-pollination is uncommon in rice, unless all the rice plants are flowering at the same time.
  • Rice pollen is normally viable for only a few minutes after flowering.

In other words, organically-grown rice will not cross-pollinate naturally with other cultivated rice, unless they are growing close together and flowering at the same time.

Additionally, the beta carotene-producing trait in Golden Rice is not intended to affect the growth-related characteristics of rice. It will also not make it any more or less viable than conventional varieties.

Confined field tests of Golden Rice at multiple locations in both Bangladesh and the Philippines have confirmed that there were no unintended or unexpected changes in the characteristics of rice concerning seedling germination and vigour, plant growth and morphology, reproductive characteristics, and susceptibility to pests and diseases resulting from genetic engineering.

Golden Rice can co-exist with organic agriculture and other production systems, and will not make any other species more invasive or less viable.

Is there any difference in the ability of pollen from Golden Rice to live, grow, or develop?

No, there are no unintended effects on Golden Rice’s pollen viability due to genetic engineering.

Based on comparisons of pollen morphology and viability between GR2E Golden Rice and conventional rice, there are no significant differences in pollen viability or appearance.

Is Golden Rice expected to produce more or less grains than other rice varieties?

No. Results of recently conducted tests have shown that Golden Rice has no unintended effects on yield or grain quality. Aside from the beta carotene content of the grain, Golden Rice is basically the same as conventional rice varieties.
 
Additionally, based on germination tests conducted under two different temperature regimes, genetic engineering did not result in any unintended changes that could affect Golden Rice’s seedling development or environmental growth.

Golden Rice Status and Updates

What is the status of the Golden Rice project?

In Bangladesh, the application for environmental and food safety assessment of GR2E BRRI dhan29 Golden Rice was lodged with the Ministry of Agriculture on 26 November 2017 and the Ministry of Environment and Forest on 04 December 2017. This is a necessary step for inclusion in the National Seed Board rice variety listing. It is currently undergoing review by Bangladesh’s Biosafety Core Committee.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Golden Rice is being bred into a range of well-known Philippine local inbred rice varieties (such as PSB Rc82) readily acceptable by farmers and consumers. In partnership with DA-PhilRice, IRRI continues to conduct research in accordance with regulatory requirements. Field trials for further environmental risk assessment were completed in September and October 2019, a necessary step towards its approval for commercial propagation. The Philippine Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI) declared Golden Rice to be “as safe as conventional rice” in December 2019, after a thorough biosafety assessment. In October 2020, DA-PhilRice lodged an application with the DA-BPI for the commercial propagation of Golden Rice. The public comment period formally opened on 20 November 2020, following the publication of a Public Information Sheet (PIS) in two national daily newspapers.

There have been reports that Golden Rice field trials resulted in stunted plants and reduced grain yield. Is this true?

Yes, but this was for an earlier version (or “event”) of Golden Rice called GR2R. This prompted the use of the G2RE event, which retains all the nutritional and agronomic characteristics of conventional rice.

This outdated piece of information comes from multilocation trials conducted in 2012-2013, which used GR2R, which was the most advanced event of Golden Rice at the time. Results showed that while the target level of beta carotene in the grain was attained, the average yield was lower than that of comparable local varieties. Thus, a decision was reached to use more promising events such as GR2E to advance the development of Golden Rice.

From October 2014 to July 2017, a series of confined field tests were successfully conducted at IRRI and PhilRice in the Philippines, and at five different locations within Bangladesh. The results showed that there were no unintended effects of the GR2E event on agronomic performance, yield, and grain quality, nor were there any observed differences for their pest and disease reactions. Additionally, besides the intended production of beta carotene in the grain, Golden Rice maintained all other nutritional components of conventional rice.

I first heard about Golden Rice in 2000. Why has Golden Rice taken this long to develop?

As with any type of research project done properly—especially when it is meant to have a significant impact on human health, nutrition, and safety—Golden Rice must pass all required tests and be approved by regulators before it could be released to the public.

Despite advances in modern biotechnology, the process of genetic modification normally takes many years. With each test in the sequence typically serving as a precursor before moving to the next step, the entire testing process, including meeting the requirements for moving from phase to phase, takes a long time to complete.

When Golden Rice made headlines in 1999, it was in its “proof of concept” phase. The process of researching and developing Golden Rice is rigorous, complex, and meticulous, and under no circumstances must it be rushed. For instance, climate-smart, flood-tolerant rice, which millions of farmers can now access, took more than two decades to develop.

If anything, this long, rigorous process of research, testing, and approval should be a source of assurance to the public—especially to the people who need a sustainable nutrient deficiency solution like this—that when it becomes commercially available, Golden Rice will be safe for consumption and effective in fighting VAD.

 

What can I do to support the Golden Rice project?

Aside from following the Golden Rice Project on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates, there’s one other very important thing you can do.

With the public comment period now open, you can now send a statement of support to the DA-BPI via direct mail or electronic mail. Further information can be found here

We are grateful for your support, and we commend you for wanting to make this life-changing project available for public consumption. Your voice on this matter can—and will—make a huge difference.