Rice is the staple food of Bangladesh and children has vitamin A deficiency (VAD) at a higher level. According to the World Health Organization's global VAD database, one in every five pre-school children in Bangladesh is vitamin A-deficient. Among pregnant women, 23.7% suffer from VAD.
The polished rice grain now widely consumed in Bangladesh has minimum beta-carotene, a Vitamin A precursor that the body converts into Vitamin A.It has been recommended to eat dishes of rice with a side dish, such as vegetables or meat-based proteins to complement the lack of micronutrients in rice-rich diets.
Golden Rice (GR) is genetically modified to provide beta-carotene in the rice grain and it could potentially address widespread vitamin A deficiency in poor countries where rice is a staple.
GR research and development has gone on for almost two decades now. It is a transgenic variety, as a gene from maize has been infused into rice paddy for beta carotene expression. GR was developed in the late 1990s by German plant scientists Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer to combat vitamin A deficiency. It is the world's first Vitamin-A enriched rice varieties, presume to be new era in the fight against Vitamin A deficiency (VAD).
The civil society throughout the globe has been successful in launching campaigns against genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) including GM rice that managed to halt field trials and mass propagations.Many anti-GMO activists actively voice potential negative consequences of planting and consuming golden rice.
Risks include potential allergies or potential antibiotic resistance. There is also the possibility that genetically modified foods enter the food supply inadvertently from planting GMO crops near non-GMO crops, without knowledge from the consumer. According to them:
1. GM foods are inherently unsafe to human health and the environment. GR may pose risks of these kinds and thus will not achieve its humanitarian goals. This is still beyond properly tested safe food. Either GR may not provide enough Vitamin A to do any good or will provide too much, resulting in Vitamin A toxicity.
2. Malnutrition is a result of poverty and interventions already exist to address micronutrient deficiencies. They recommended that instead of developing GR, resources should be focused on poverty alleviation, sustainable farming, and proven strategies for nutrition intervention, such as supplementation and diet diversification through backyard or community gardens.
3. The patent and copy right arrangements are so that multinational company (MNC) may try commercially abuse the right over GR.
4. Since MNC back genetically modified foods, there is the fear of negative effects on small-scale farmers because market dominance may arise. This could negatively impact poor farmers who cannot compete with large biotech companies for land and a share of the rice market.
5. There are eating preferences deeply rooted in longstanding tradition. The yellow colour of the rice may not be accepted because of different countries' social and cultural history.
A scientist of the Philippines Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) and UP Manila College of Medicine, pointed out that Golden Rice is safe is not backed by in vivo or outside laboratory experiments and cannot pass the rigors of science.
Some of the studies being presented were based only on literature of individual protein characters.The debate presumed to be ended in 2015, after the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition retracted a scientific paper that claimed to show that genetically-engineered rice serves as an effective vitamin A supplement.
The research study in India find the unless preserved in refrigerated condition in vacuum packaging as paddy, GR can lose up to 84 per cent of its beta carotene in six months. The degradation of beta carotene level gets faster with processing and is the highest in polished golden rice. High temperature and humidity also influence the degradation of beta carotene, the research revealed. Besides, cooking can destroy up to 25 per cent of beta carotene as well, the research said.
The research recommended more work on finding out how rice boiling influences beta carotene concentration. In Asian countries, the warehouses where the government stores its rice have no system in place to control temperature and rice is preserved there in sacks.
Greenpeace International, the global champagne opposition to biotechnological innovations in agriculture, and asks for re-examination their stance as the scientists believe them to misunderstand the risks, benefits, and impacts that GMOs including GR could have, especially in developing countries. It raised the question of the potential benefits it could have if fully employed in developing countries.
On the other hand, over the past 2 years, regulators in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia approved GR for consumption. There are no plans to grow the crop in these countries. The Philippines has become country to approve GR as safe for humans and animals to eat according to newspaper report on 31st December 2019. According to a government report, it is as safe as conventional rice varieties.
ThePhilippine Rice Research Institute and the International Rice Research Institute will now carry out taste tests as they seek approval for farmers to grow specific strains commercially.Bangladesh, which also has a vitamin A deficiency problem, is expected to make a decision soon.
The BRRI is involved in a GR project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative), USAID, the Philippine Department of Agriculture, Harvest Plus, the European Commission, Swiss Federal Funding, and Syngenta Foundation.
The breeding division at IRRI is working with the BRRI to conduct confined field trails for some variety of rice including GR since 2015. Now, Bangladesh appears about to become the first country to approve Golden Rice for planting and consumption.
The study in Bangladesh is done under active patronization of policy makers. Bangladesh completed the confined field testing of GR at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), campus in Gazipur, in early 2017. BRRI researchers bred the beta-carotene genes into a rice variety named "BRRI dhan 29",
which is grown widely during the dry season in Bangladesh and contributes about 14% of the national harvest. In tests of BRRI dhan 29 Golden Rice at multiple locations. The study found no new farming challenges and no significant differences in quality-except for the presence of vitamin A.
Meanwhile, according to a source at BRRI, feeding trials to children are also planned to take place during 2018-2019 in Bangladesh, with the help of the Hellen Keller institute, a partner organisation of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, once the open field trials are concluded. The ethical question may raise of such trial on human without declaration. The authority should know the actual action of such organizations.
The local people are found of Khichuri cooked with pulse rice and turmeric together and may encourage them to eat yellowish Dhan 29. Even than consumer acceptance may be another challenge since the colour of Vitamin A enrich Dhan 29 is yellowish.
The Stop Golden Rice Network, a coalition of more than 30 organizations acrossAsia, appeal to the Bangladesh government, particularly the Ministries forAgriculture and Environment to protect and uphold the safety of the people and haltthe commercialization of Golden Rice. UBINIG, a Bangladeshi NGO is vocal against approval of GR for production and marketing in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is emerging an exporter of food products in different market especially for the Bangladeshi diaspora living in different part of the world. Many countries have restriction on GM food or at least restriction on packaging for identification of GM food. Bangladesh should be very cautious of having any contamination of food make of GM rice with other varieties.
If GR does prove to be successful in Bangladesh, then it could open the flood gates for GM crops worldwide. Additional varieties are already in development, such as varieties better adapted to other seasons or locations.
Bangladesh government is very keen to get the approval for commercial production and consumption of GR. To complete the biosafety review process, BRRI filed an application with the National Technical Committee on Crop Biotechnology (NTCCB) at the Ministry of Agriculture on November 26, 2017. It then forwarded the application to the National Committee on Biosafety (NCB) at the Ministry of Environment on December 4, 2017.
Government may let the NTCCB and NCB Department of Environment (DE) to take independent decision and also should consider the concerns of civil society and export potential of Bangladeshi food variety to export market. BRRI should evaluate the complain of probable of loss of vitamin A due to long storage of rice without control of temperature and also boiling influence of cooking process.
The writer is a legal economist
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