Statistics gathered from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) revealed that around four of every 10 children aged six months to five years old and three of every 10 school children suffer from vitamin A deficiency.
One of every five pregnant and lactating Filipino mothers also lack vitamin A, the FNRI records show.
Apart from poor eyesight and night blindness, vitamin deficiency also damages the immune system, increasing risk to common bacterial and viral infections and rate of mortality especially among children, it added.
Marilyn Sta. Catalina, the regional executive director for Bicol based here on Tuesday said field trials on pro-vitamin A rice will be conducted during the next dry season to test the adaptability and performance of these varieties containing beneficial amount of beta-carotene.
Using conventional method in breeding, plant breeders had introduced the gene for beta-carotene production into a local popular cultivar from a donor variety and Sta. Catalina said it can be grown organically and will be sold at prices comparable with the regular polished rice.
Its technology will be finalized during the next dry season test and eventually transferred to farmers by 2013, she said.
As learned from PhilRice Executive Director Ronilo Beronio, fresh from his attendance of the recent 15th board meeting of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board (GRHB) held in Singapore, the first approval of this type of rice will likely be given to the Philippines as plant breeders have successfully crossed the donor plant with PSB Rc82, the DA Bicol chief said.
PhilRice will test the variety’s adaptability and performance after signing a material transfer agreement, she added.
With the introgression of the beta-carotene gene to PSB Rc82 rice varieties, deficiency in Vitamin A is expected to decrease as a study published in the June 2009 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that a cup of beta-carotene rice could supply half of the vitamin A needed every day.
When consumed by the body, beta-carotene produces vitamin A, the study said.
The GRHB is confident of the Philippines’ capability to develop beta-carotene-rich rice owing to the country’s well-established regulatory frameworks on safety evaluation, Sta. Catalina quoted Beronio as saying.
Sta. Catalina said the National Committee on Biosafety under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) would provide regulatory oversight on contained research during the test, while the Bureau of Plant Industry is tasked to strictly monitors field trials.
“We also have Administrative Order No. 8, Series of 2002 stipulating the rules and regulations on the importation and releases of plant and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology,” she explained.
Other than the scheduled field testing of pro-vitamin A rice, the PhilRice is currently increasing the rice’s resistance to bacterial leaf blight and tungro. Dr. Antonio Alfonsio, acting director of the DA-Biotechnology Center who leads the project said in a statement.
Meanwhile, two acceptability studies conducted by PhilRice and Internationnal Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in 2004-2005 and Strive Foundation in 2005-2006 revealed that 69 percent of the respondents accept biofortified rice produced through biotechnology, Alfonsio said.
At least 58 percent of farmers and rural consumers are willing to plant, buy, and sell rice similar to the varieties to be tested by PhilRice, he added. (PNA)