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September 18, 2014

Can new rice improve health in the Philippines?

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Scientists are developing a new breed of rice that could help improve public health in the Philippines, but some say it will harm the environment.

Vitamin A deficiency can have disastrous results for malnourished children and pregnant women in developing countries. Every year, at least 500,000 children and several thousand women go blind from lack of the nutrient. People without Vitamin A are also more susceptible to infections. And foods that are rich in Vitamin A, such as meats and leafy vegetables, are often expensive and difficult to obtain.

Researchers say they have found a solution in golden rice, which is genetically modified to contain beta-carotene, a compound which converts to Vitamin A in the human body. Advocates say the rice could help combat Vitamin A deficiency in the Philippines.

But there is no proof that golden rice is safe for humans or the environment, according to Daniel Ocampo, a sustainable agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace. Introducing a genetically modified organism into the environment could destroy other crops, he said.

“There’s no way that you could actually have a recall of genetically modified organisms once they spread uncontrollably,” he said.

Golden rice is made by combining genetic materials from corn, rice and soil microorganisms. Studies show it could provide up to 60 percent of a child’s daily Vitamin A requirement.

The Philippines Department of Agriculture Rice Research Institute is currently testing golden rice to see if it is safe for the environment and human consumption. Environmental activists destroyed a government test field for golden rice in August 2013, which was a big blow to the project, according to researchers.

It is important to continue research since the rice could majorly improve people’s lives in the Philippines, according to Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general at the International Rice Research Institute.

“Our motivations are purely for the good of mankind,” he said.


Warm up questions
  1. Where are the Philippines?
  2. Why is it important to have a nutrient-rich diet?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What is a GMO? What are the risks and benefits of using them?
  2. What are the basic arguments from the Greenpeace campaigner? Are they valid?
  3. Do you think using genetically modified rice in the Philippines is a good solution to the mass Vitamin A deficiency? What other strategies could the government use to solve this problem?
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