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High Iron and Zinc Rice (HIZR) FAQs

Here are answers to common questions about High Iron and Zinc Rice (HIZR). For more information, please send an email to info@irri.org.

About iron and zinc in the human diet

Why do we need iron and zinc in our diet?

Iron and zinc are among the most important micronutrients needed in order to have good health and quality of life. The human body needs iron to make hemoglobin, which the body needs in order to transport oxygen from the lungs to other organs, and myoglobin, which transports oxygen to the muscles. Iron is also a key component of other hormones essential for growth and development. Zinc, on the other hand, activates enzymes of protein metabolism, and serves  as a cofactor for up to 300 enzymes in the human  body.  It is important for immune function, cognitive development, and growth stimulation.

What is the effect of iron and zinc deficiency to human health?

Iron and zinc deficiencies are the most pervasive forms of malnutrition worldwide, and are key causes of anemia and stunting. According to the 2021 Global Nutrition Report, an estimated 30% of the world’s population is anemic and 162 million children under the age of five are stunted. Iron deficiency can affect productivity and cause serious health consequences, including impaired mental development and learning capacity, increased weakness and fatigue, and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Similarly, zinc deficiency is a major cause of stunting among children, putting them at risk of compromised cognitive development and physical capability, and a weak immune system.

Are iron and zinc deficiencies a serious public health concern in the Philippines?

Iron and zinc deficiencies, which are caused by chronic inadequate dietary intake of micronutrients, are a serious public health concern for all population groups, especially for children under 5 and pregnant and lactating women. According to the 2018-2019 Expanded National Nutrition Survey of the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI), iron is the micronutrient in lowest supply in the diet of all population groups, with rice as its top food source.

Anemia is a severe public health problem among infants 6-11 months old (43.1% prevalence), of moderate concern among pregnant women (23% prevalence), and of mild prevalence among other population groups. Stunting, which is a proxy indicator for zinc deficiency, is a moderate public health problem affecting nearly 1 in 3 children under 5 (29.6%).

High Iron and Zinc Rice (HIZR)

What is High Iron and Zinc Rice (HIZR)?

High Iron and Zinc Rice (HIZR) is a rice variety genetically modified to significantly improve iron and zinc content in the rice grain. It is intended as a complementary intervention to help address anemia and stunting, and aims to provide 30%  of the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for iron and and 40% EAR for zinc among target populations, such as children under 5, and pregnant and lactating women.

Aren’t iron and zinc fertilizers applied to the rice plant? Are they naturally present in the soil?

Iron is abundant in flooded soil, so there is typically no need to apply iron fertilizer in irrigated fields, but zinc content is limited in similar conditions, so zinc fertilizer is recommended for optimum nutrient management. An abundant supply of soil nutrition leads to good plant growth but does not lead to an increase of nutrients in the grain. 

The 16 ppm baseline zinc content of the rice grain is not increased by the addition of zinc fertilizer to soil, but zinc content in rice will decrease when the soil is severely zinc deficient. A foliar application can moderately increase iron and zinc content in the rice grain, but not as much as the iron and zinc content established in the HIZR proof of concept.

Why do we need GM HIZR when PhilRice already has conventional high zinc and high-Fe rice varieties?

Conventionally bred high iron and high zinc rice varieties do not have the sufficient amounts of iron and zinc that are necessary for improved nutritional status. Most of their micronutrient content is in the bran, which is removed during the milling process. Using advanced biotech processes to develop HIZR ensures that the additional micronutrient content is expressed in the endosperm part of the rice grain, which we eat as milled rice.

In addition, the 2018-2019 eNNS results also show that, despite ordinary rice having insufficient iron content, rice is the top food source for iron of all population groups because of the large quantities consumed daily.  As such, improving the iron and zinc stores of rice has the potential to significantly improve nutrition status.

How was HIZR developed?

During the course of HIZR research and development, IRRI’s research partner, HarvestPlus determined that rice should be able to provide around 10 ppm Fe and 28 ppm Zn in the milled form, in order to make a significant impact on human health. This corresponds to  30% of the estimated average requirement (EAR) for iron and 40% EAR for zinc, and takes into account the daily micronutrient consumption of women and children, as well as  the baseline content and bioavailability of micronutrients in rice. 

These intended target levels also take into account potential micronutrient loss in the rice grain after it has undergone postharvest and cooking processes.

Can we have Fe or Zn overdose if we eat a lot of HIZR?

No, because HIZR is intended as a complementary source of iron and zinc, providing 30% EAR for iron and 40% EAR for zinc and filling the gap of dietary inadequacy, for rice-eating populations with a chronic lack of these essential micronutrients in their daily diet.  In the case of the Philippines, dietary consumption trends from the DOST-FNRI surveys underscore 1) the chronic inadequacy of micronutrients in the daily diet; 2) the continued preference for consuming rice and related products, in comparison to other micronutrient-rich food groups; and 3) the incidental role of ordinary rice in contributing essential micronutrients in the daily diet, despite only containing trace amounts of these vitamins and minerals.      
 
Moreover, the 2020 Rapid Nutrition Assessment Survey indicates that food insecurity has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, with its impact of decreased quantity and quality of food intake  felt most among households with pregnant women or children. 

It is anticipated that consuming HIZR at current or the projected declining food intake levels will still provide target populations with 30% EAR for iron and 40% EAR for zinc.

Will there be a separate release for HIZR in the Philippines?

For the Philippines, the goal is to stack Golden Rice and HIZR traits to develop a “3-in-1” biofortified rice variety with vitamin A, iron and zinc. By doing so, our target communities with multiple micronutrient deficiencies will receive the added nutritional benefit of three essential micronutrients in just one type of rice.

About the HIZR field trials

Who is the proponent of the HIZR field trials?

As the lead proponent of HIZR research and development in the Philippines, DA-PhilRice is also the proponent of the proposed HIZR field trials (HIZR-FT). On May 27, 2022, DA-PhilRice submitted an application to the DA-Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI) for the conduct of the HIZR-FT for two separate events: IRS-1030-031 and IRS-1030-039. The selected events previously underwent confined tests (CTs) that demonstrated each event’s high iron and zinc content and desirable agronomic performance.

What is the purpose of the HIZR field trials?

The proposed HIZR-FT is intended to generate environmental data for assessment; collect materials for compositional analysis for succeeding regulatory applications; and harvest seeds for future field trials, as needed.  

Where will the HIZR field trials be held?

The proposed HIZR-FT will be held at DA-PhilRice Central Experiment Station in Science City of Muñoz, Nueva Ecija and PhilRice Batac in Batac, Ilocos Norte.

Which regulatory body evaluates the HIZR field trial applications?

The HIZR-FT applications are the first to be assessed under the revised Joint Department Circular (JDC) Number 1 series of 2021. The national government agencies involved in the assessment are: the Department of Agriculture, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Health, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Department of Interior and Local Government.

Why is DA-PhilRice applying for two separate events?

Previous CTs have identified two events–which meet agronomic, yield, and nutrient levels established by the project–for advancement to field trial research. JDC protocols require that separate applications should be made for each event. The HIZR events that have been identified for field trials will be used to advance research on the stacked biofortified rice variety with Vitamin A, iron, and zinc.

Where can I find further information on the HIZR field trials?

The Public Information Sheet is posted at the DA-BPI website and in key locations in the proposed locations. Further information can also be found at the HIZR Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page at IRRI and DA-PhilRice. You may also contact Dr. Reynante L. Ordonio, the HIZR Project Leader at DA-PhilRice at rlordonio@gmail.com

For questions regarding the JDC process, you may contact the DA-BPI director at bpibiotech@buplant.da.gov.ph.

How can I show support for the HIZR field trials?

Once the Public Comment Period has started, the public has fifteen days to submit comments and statements of support to the DA-BPI director at bpibiotech@buplant.da.gov.ph.