Genetically modified (GM) Golden Rice is now waiting for food safety clearance certificate to be released as a new variety as the vitamin-A fortified rice will fight childhood blindness that affects country’s 21 percent children.
“The vitamin A enriched rice variety, popularly known as Golden Rice, would finally require the environment ministry’s permission … and then maximum two years will be needed for it to be released as the new GM rice variety for the growers,” said Dr Partho Sarothi Biswas, Principal Scientific Officer (PSO) of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI).After final approval within this year, the national seed certification agency under the Ministry of Agriculture will take steps to release the variety after two season trial production at the field level by some assigned growers at some particular locations, said the BRRI scientist.
In November 2017, BRRI submitted the proposal to the Bangladeshi Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change. The Bio safety Core Committee, a group of eight officials and scientists, has since been reviewing environmental risks, such as the plant’s potential to become a weed, as well as food safety, said the BRRI scientist.
Bangladesh could be the first to cultivate Golden Rice, genetically altered to fight blindness ever since the variety first made headlines nearly 20 years ago, according to a recent article published by Science (Journal), an academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in its recent publication.
After the environment ministry signs off, Golden Rice must be registered by a seed certification agency within the Ministry of Agriculture, which requires field trials in multiple places to test for seed quality.
If all goes smoothly, farmers might have Golden Rice seed to plant by 2021, said the Science Magazine, one of the world’s topmost weekly circulated journals with an estimated readership is 5,70,400.
Now, Bangladesh appears about to become the first country to approve Golden Rice for planting. “It is really important to say we got this over the line,” says Johnathan Napier, a plant biotechnologist at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, U.K., who was not involved in the crop’s development.He says approval would show that agricultural biotechnology can be successfully developed by publicly funded research centers for the public good. Still, environmental groups haven’t dropped their opposition-and the first harvest isn’t expected until at least 2021. And more research will be needed to show the extent of real-world benefits from Golden Rice.
But for now, all eyes are on dhan 29. “It would be great to see it approved,” Napier says. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Proponents are optimistic, however. The scientific evidence is strong, the committee previously approved another transgenic crop, and Golden Rice enjoys high-level political support in Bangladesh, they say. “We are hopeful that Golden Rice might get the green light soon,” says Arif Hossain, director of Farming Future Bangladesh in Dhaka, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to inform policymakers and others about biotechnology.
How popular it will be is uncertain. Farmers in Bangladesh quickly adopted an eggplant variety engineered to kill certain insect pests after its 2014 introduction, but that crop offered an immediate benefit: Farmers need fewer insecticides. Golden Rice’s health benefits will emerge more slowly, says agricultural economist Justus Wesseler of Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, so adoption may be slower as well. The government may need to promote Golden Rice and, Hossain says, even subsidize farmers to grow it.
Consumer acceptance may be another challenge, given the golden hue, says Sherry Tanumihardjo, who studies vitamin A and global health at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “People have a difficult time changing the color of food they eat,” and many people in Bangladesh prefer to eat white rice.
On the other hand, cooked Golden Rice resembles khichuri, a popular dish of rice and lentils cooked with turmeric, which may increase its appeal. With Gates Foundation support, IRRI and BRRI are developing a strategy for directing farmers’ harvest to rural regions and cities with high poverty and malnutrition rates.
Golden Rice was developed in the late 1990s by German plant scientists Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer to combat vitamin A deficiency, the leading cause of childhood blindness.
Low levels of vitamin A also contribute to deaths from infectious diseases such as measles. Spinach, sweet potato, and other vegetables supply ample amounts of the vitamin, but in some countries, particularly those where rice is a major part of the diet, vitamin A deficiency is still widespread; in Bangladesh it affects about 21% of children.
Over the past 2 years, regulators in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia approved Golden Rice for consumption. There are no plans to grow the crop in these countries, but approval will prevent problems if Golden Rice somehow accidentally turns up in food supplies, the journal said.