Philippines approves Golden Rice and GM Eggplant for commercial propagation.
Filipino farmers will become the first in the world to be able to cultivate a variety of rice enriched with nutrients to help reduce childhood malnutrition, after receiving the green light from regulators.
Golden Rice was developed by the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to contain additional levels of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A.
Around one in five children from the poorest communities in the Philippines suffer from vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which affects an estimated 190 million children worldwide. The condition is the most common cause of childhood blindness, as well as a contributing factor to a weakened immune system.
“This milestone puts the Philippines at the global forefront in leveraging agriculture research to address the issues of malnutrition and related health impacts in a safe and sustainable way” said Dr. Jean Balié, Director General of IRRI, a CGIAR research centre.
“A comprehensive quality assurance and stewardship program for Golden Rice will be set in place, covering the entire value chain from seed production, to post-harvest processing, to marketing.”
The ‘IRRI Transgenic Stewardship Policy’ released on 6 January 2017 via DG memo was developed with the following purpose:
To reflect IRRI’s recognition of the importance of ensuring responsible conduct of transgenic research with the highest ethical standards.
To minimise any potential risk of (intentional and unintentional) release of transgenic material, which may result in reputational, financial and/or operational risks.
To provide quality management, stewardship guidance and direction to IRRI’s transgenic research activities with global standards of governance.
After the release of this policy, IRRI’s stewardship team, led by Dr. Gururaj Guddappa Kulkarni, Director, Bio-Innovation Center and Global Head Research Infrastructure and Regulatory Compliance pursued Excellence Through Stewardship (ETS) membership and standards implementation across transgenic activities. This has resulted in tremendous enhancements across the research projects. These enhancements were greatly visible when IRRI received ETS certification in the General Stewardship, Maintaining Plant Product Integrity (Laboratory, Contained Facility, and Confined Field Trials), and Incident Response Management areas.
Moving forward, IRRI team will continue to support stewardship and regulatory compliance aspects in order to strengthen the stewardship standards and minimize the risks associated with such research projects. This expert team will continue to support the Golden Rice field trials managed by Phil Rice, Department of Agriculture Philippines.
The Philippines now joins a select group of countries that have affirmed the safety of Golden Rice. In 2018, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, Health Canada, and the United States Food and Drug Administration published positive food safety assessments for Golden Rice. A biosafety application was lodged in November 2017 and is currently undergoing review by the Biosafety Core Committee in Bangladesh.
In a statement, the DA’s Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) has issued Biosafety Permit No. 21-078FFP for the use of the Bt eggplant after a rigorous biosafety assessment in compliance with a joint department circular issued by the DA, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Health and the Department of the Interior and Local Government in 2016.
The circular sets rules and regulations for the research and development, handling and use, transboundary movement, release into the environment, and management of plant and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology.
The BPI found the Bt eggplant, locally called Bt talong, to be as safe as a conventional eggplant and can substitute for its traditional counterpart.
The Philippines is the second country, after Bangladesh, to certify the safety of the Bt eggplant.
Bangladesh was the first country to plant Bt eggplant in 2014. From 2014 to 2019, a total of 91,270 smallholder farmers in Bangladesh have planted Bt eggplant.
The Bt eggplant contains natural protein from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis which makes it resistant to eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB), the most destructive pest of eggplant.
The Bt protein affects EFSB worms only and is safe for humans, farm animals, and non-target insects.
“Bt eggplant is safe as it only targets EFSB. It is safe for humans, animals, and non-target insects,” said Dr. Lourdes D. Taylo, study leader of the Bt eggplant project from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).
She added that the FFP approval of Bt eggplant is the latest milestone in the biosafety regulatory process in the Philippines.
To complete the biosafety regulatory process, Taylo added that Bt eggplant will need commercial propagation approval for environmental safety assessment before it can be made available to the public.
“Ex-ante impact assessments of Bt eggplant adoption revealed that the commercialization of Bt eggplant will increase marketable yield by 192 percent and reduce pesticide application per hectare by 48 percent. When it is approved for commercial release, both the seeds of Bt eggplant open-pollinated and hybrid varieties will be made available to Filipino farmers,” she said.
The propagation and field testing of the Bt talong resumed in 2016, after the Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision in 2015 stopping the measure.
A petition filed by environmental group Greenpeace and farmers’ group Masipag opposed the measure, citing biosafety concerns.
Source – Public domain information and media publications.