GOLDEN RICE, developed by biotechnologists to address Vitamin A deficiency, is still in the process of completing field trials before it applies for permission to be commercially propagated, officials said, amid the risk that it could get caught up in a broader debate about the safety of genetically-modified foods.

The Department of Agriculture’s Biotechnology Program Office (BPO) said the typical testing regime will take two years.

“For rice, kailangan i-validate mo yan sa iba’t-ibang locations, iba’t-ibang season. Yung ang tinitignan natin para makita natin yung stability nung variety (We need to validate the variety’s performance in various locations and seasons, to determine its stability),” BPO Director Dionisio G. Alvindia told reporters on Monday, without discussing when the field trials are expected to end.

Trials are being performed in Isabela and Nueva Ecija provinces.

“Usually ang testing nyan sa rice, a minimum of four trials… dalawang dry season, dalawang wet season, bale two years (The usual testing program for rice is a minimum of four trials, two in the wet season and two in the dry, or about two years),” he added.

The trials are being performed by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) in partnership with the DA.

According to the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, which helped develop Golden Rice, the variety is designed to address the “serious public health problem affecting millions of children and pregnant women globally,” and cited positive results from food safety evaluations conducted by regulators in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US.

The Stop Golden Rice Network Philippines (SGRNP), a group of 30 organizations and individuals, cited the risks from the lack of a long-term understanding of how the variety performs.

“We are alarmed that Golden Rice will be made available to children, pregnant women and other vulnerable sectors without being subjected to any long-term and credible studies to assure us of its safety,” Melvin Palmero a member of the SGRNP from SALINLAHI Alliance for Children’s Concerns said.

It cited a study from India indicating that Golden Rice’s beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A by the body, degrades rapidly after harvesting, processing and cooking.

“The Indian government research shows that 84% of the beta-carotene can be lost from Golden Rice after six months, unless it has been vacuum-packed and refrigerated. High temperature and humidity greatly contributes to the beta-carotene degradation, and cooking the rice will cause the further loss of 25% of the beta-carotene,” it said.

He said degraded beta-carotene is a cancer risk.

Mr. Alvindia said that these claims are not true and assured that Golden Rice is safe for humans.

Ito namang mga technology na ito, hindi naman basta ire-release sa public without verifying… Yung claim nila ay hindi totoo. Yung stability, pine-perfect yan ng PhilRice (This technology will not be released to the public without safeguards. Their claims are not true. The stability is being perfected by PhilRice)” he said. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang