The international effort to release a strain of rice known as Golden Rice is nearing completion. On May 24, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) became the third major regulatory agency this year to approve the product for consumption and release it from further pre-market review. That decision followed similar approvals from food regulatory agencies in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Golden Rice has been the source of much controversy, stemming from its status as a genetically modified (GM) crop. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has been working since 2006 to develop a strain of rice engineered to produce beta-carotene, which the human body converts into Vitamin A.
The bright yellow rice can deliver up to 30% to 50% of a woman or child’s average Vitamin A requirement, according to the IRRI. The group hopes to release this strain of rice for production in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia where poverty and malnutrition have created Vitamin-A deficiencies in hundreds of millions of people, primarily children and pregnant and lactating women. The deficiency can cause blindness and early death.
The FDA’s approval of Golden Rice “takes us one step closer to bringing Golden Rice to the people who need it the most,” IRRI Director Matthew Morell said in a press release. The variety is still waiting on regulatory approvals in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Vietnam and India before it can be cultivated there.
However, more than governmental red tape stands in the path of this strain of rice. Anti-GMO groups such as Greenpeace have led a crusade against Golden Rice, arguing that it is unsafe, under-researched and will lead to more GMO cultivation.
Protesters have famously destroyed experimental plots of the crop in the Philippines and lobbied against its cultivation in the Asian countries IRRI is targeting for production.
See the FDA’s approval of Golden Rice here.
See the IRRI press release here.